Geekhouse – Launching a bike company.Posted: May 22, 2011
Today I met Marty, Greg and Brad at Geekhouse who spoke to me openly about launching and running a modern bike company.
Geekhouse aim their bikes at a young, modern urban demographic, making mainly track, road, cyclo-cross, mountain and touring bikes.
A sense of fun is always present in both their web presence and their bikes, with lots of bright colours. Geekhouse began in 2002/3, when Marty, who has worked in bike shops since the age of 16, started out by designing dirt jump bikes on napkins, and then enlisted the help of a friendly mechanical engineer. The bikes were firstly outsourced to a US company, and then to Taiwan. This meant long development times, bulk orders, transport times and inventory hassles.
Marty liked bikes by Fat City, Merlin and Independent Fabrication, so approached one of “Indy Fab”‘s founders, Mike Flanigan when he wanted someone to teach him how to build frames. It was important to Marty that his teacher was connected to the lineage of these Boston-based bike builders that he respected. The trouble was, Mike said no, he didn’t teach frame building. Undeterred, Marty thought outside of the box and later took a broken frame to Mike to get his foot in the door. Marty’s bike store experience was sales-only, and so he didn’t have any hands-on skills to offer, but Mike told Marty that he could use his book-keeping skills, so this was what Marty traded for being shown the skills of frame building.
Geekhouse were able to capitalise on the fixed gear scene, taking influences for their aesthetic and colours from the bmx scene.
Marty gave me the following advice and lessons from his own experiences:
– Bond with your target market – it’s important to have a story about how you came to build bikes.
– Choose a name – Marty was a bike geek, really into bikes and bike parts; in his own words, they were a “bunch of geeks in a garage”.
– Talk to everyone, treat everyone the same, regardless of age, experience or knowledge.
– You have to have a logo and a font that you stick to and repeat.
– Your website is your retail store – Geekhouse sell 90% of their bikes by email.
– Blog- communicate stories and make regular updates. You must demonstrate consistency and that you will be there tomorrow, but also show progression.
– Include any interested people on a mailing list. Most people are looking for information at least for a while every day.
– The internet allows the smaller frame builders to exist – the recent growth in numbers of builders is all due to the internet. (Geekhouse are now selling to Indonesia, and are also being counterfeited in the far east).
– Take awesome studio pictures of your bikes. Include all information on your website.
– Think of other ways to promote your bikes – Geekhouse now have a cyclo-cross team.
– Try to have a unique aspect – whether it be colour, machined parts, carved lugs, curved or super-light tubing.
– Talk to as many people as possible – never stop talking, emailing, giving out cards and custom-building mailing lists for different groups of people based on their interests.
– Find a good website guy if you’re not orientated that way yourself.
– The best marketing is building something great, taking photographs, then sending them to other blogs, etc – go “fishing” and see if you can catch more business.
– Bike shows can be important – Geekhouse put in a lot of effort to their shows and they’re always really successful.
– Ask open-ended questions to people you want to talk to, and always have business cards. After a bike show, the orders tend to come in a few weeks later.
– Be prepared for the worst-case scenario – you will sell less bikes than you think you will, so keep a safety margin.
– Bookkeeping – learn to prioritize outgoings to maximize cash flow.
Here are some pictures from Geekhouse’s open house event:
Marty also kindly gave me directions to Seven Cycles, where I got a full tour and run-through of the workshop from Karl Borne, and then I cycled over to Marty’s other friends at Independent Fabrication where I bagged another factory tour and took lots more pictures. It was encouraging and inspiring to see these companies thriving and expanding.
The next visit on my trip will be Peter Weigle in Lyme, Connecticut.