London Big Issue vendor Martin McKenzie has seen his business plans move up through the gears recently after showing off his bike expertise in the magazine.
Martin, who sells The Big Issue outside Sainsbury’s on Stroud Green Road, has ambitions to launch a mobile bike repair service in the capital and shared his mechanical skills in our weekly Vendor Expert column a few weeks ago – drumming up some trade almost immediately.
“After the column went in, the very first day I had a customer come straight back after reading the mag to invite me round to his place to service his and his wife’s push bikes,” Martin said.
“While I was working on them one of his neighbours came down, saw I was a bike mechanic and said he’d give me a shout. He came to my pitch about two or three days later.”
But as this job was further afield, in Brompton, East London, Martin is now saving to invest in an electric scooter to get him around the city quickly with his backpack full of tools.
I can turn my hand to anything. I’m educating myself in electric bikes at the minute
And his skills haven’t gone unnoticed on his pitch either, as the manager of the Sainsbury’s store has also called on his expertise.
“He had a rather expensive hybrid and he’d taken the chain apart and couldn’t get it back together, so I put it back together for him in less than a minute,” said Martin.
“He paid me £25, I told him not to bother because it was just a simple fix but he said he wanted me to have it. And he’s created posters for me for the store and the tree at my pitch, and people have been taking photos of my number from it.
“I can turn my hand to anything. I’m educating myself in electric bikes at the minute so I can have a general understanding of how the battery packs work, and the motors, and how to rechain them and so on. I’m considering trying to find a couple of damaged ones to reverse-engineer to see how they work.”
Martin’s mechanical knowhow goes back to when his dad was studying electronics and used to encourage his young son to try his hand at the coursework too.
“One Christmas he bought me an electronics kit and I haven’t looked back since,” Martin said. “That developed to bikes over the years when I got my freedom to make my own choices. I’ve been a cyclist all my life, since I got my first bike when I was six years old. It was an old BMX with the plastic mag wheels. I remember it like yesterday, they don’t make them like that any more.”
And now that Martin’s in the process of turning his passion into his livelihood, he’s come across a potential business partner from within the homeless community.
“He’s a nice chap and I noticed he had a passion for bikes,” Martin said. “He was mentioning all the work he’d done to his racer so I said to him, if I get the business off the ground would you consider helping with the workload? He nearly snapped my hand off.
“He’s got his own tools as well as his own service stand. I still need to get a few bits and pieces myself but I’ve got most of it. I’ve considered getting two service stands though so I can work on more than one bike at the same time.”
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
Another happy customer is a graphic designer who’s putting her skills to use to design a logo for Martin’s fledgling business, which is yet to be named.
“The bigger picture for the business is a rickshaw, but I’m getting work now and I need to be able to stretch to these destinations so the electric scooter will be an immediate fix for that,” Martin said.
“I can see me wanting two rickshaws though because if it’s taking off and my partner is quite comfortable with staying on he can rent the other one from me. Not to mention that they double as a cab as well and you could rent them out at night.”
To employ Martin to get your bike back on the road, call 07543 686554.