300 jobs hang in the balance at Chain Reaction Cycles
MORE than 300 jobs could go at Chain Reaction Cycles in Co Antrim, the world's biggest online bike retailer.
The potential job losses follow the sale of the Ballyclare based company earlier this year by British rival Wiggle in a £73 million deal.
The newly formed firm WiggleCRC said today it had decided to concentrate warehouse facilities in Wolverhampton.
That means152 jobs, and 161 agency positions at Chain Reaction's facilities in Ballyclare, Doagh and Carrickfergus are under threat.
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton expressed his concern at the possibility of job losses at the company.
He said he would work to try and keep as many jobs in Northern Ireland as possible.
"This is a deeply worrying time for staff at Wiggle CRC in Northern Ireland. They are foremost in my thoughts," he said.
"Chain Reaction was a highly successful homegrown firm. Its success led to the Wiggle investment. Whilst my officials are already in contact with the company, I will engage with Wiggle management at the earliest opportunity to explore ways of retaining as many jobs as possible."
The proposed redundancies will take affect next summer.
WiggleCRC said the consultation followed a post-merger review.
"For WiggleCRC to retain its position and remain competitive in the UK as well as increasingly global markets, we have concluded that this can be best achieved by concentrating the majority of our distribution through our warehouse facility in Wolverhampton," it said in a statement.
"This necessary step, will require the relocation of significant warehouse activities currently in Doagh, Carrickfergus and Ballyclare. As part of this proposal, bikes and frames, including bike assembly handling activities and our wheel build operation would remain in Ballyclare."
The company also said it will retain separate Chain Reaction Cycles and Wiggle brands and websites.
The redundancies would leave around 275 permanent workers at Chain Reaction's facilities in the north.
"Should the proposal go ahead, we would expect the relocation of stock and activities to commence in late summer 2017," the company added.
"We hope this extended period of time will help to smooth the transition for those affected. We recognise that these are uncertain times for affected employees and can confirm they will be treated fairly and in line with our values.
"We are fully committed to minimising the impact of these proposals and providing all the necessary support to affected employees in any way we can during and after this process."
WiggleCRC said it nevertheless remained committed to Northern Ireland.
Chain Reaction Cycles started as Ballynure Cycles in 1984 by George and Janice Watson with a bank loan of £1,500.
Within five years, they rebranded the firm Chain Reaction Cycles and in 1998 changed the focus to mail order.
The online offering was launched in 2000 and after significant growth, the firm opened its own 50,000 sq ft warehouse in 2005 in Ballyclare and followed this up with a 10,000 sq ft flagship retail premises in Belfast in 2011.
Almost half of its sales, before the merger with Wiggle, were outside Europe, with Australia and the US key export markets.
Wiggle, which also sells running and swimming gear, was founded in 1999 as a sister firm to Portsmouth bike shop Butlers Cycles.