17 June, 2008

Shifting Gears at VO


We've been searching for shifters to use with Montmarte, Porteur, Left Bank bars and other road-sized city bike handlebars. These inexpensive Falcon shifters are not TA or Campy quality. What do you expect for $10 a pair? But they do function perfectly, have a nice ratcheting action, and the soft rubber tipped levers are actually very comfortable. And they look nice with inverse brake levers. They also work on MTB-sized bars such as the Milan, Promenade, Tourist etc. Heck, they even work on drop bars, though not on the sleeve. They should be in stock on Friday.

Speaking of shifting gears, there's a lot of that going on here at Velo Orange. We are now in our third year and still growing like crazy. I expected strong growth in the first two years; it's easy when you start from zero. But we're seeing no slowdown even as we become more established. This while a friend who owns a very nice racing and MTB-oriented bike shop is complaining of weak sales.

Surprisingly, I never wanted to own a bike shop. My main interest is in finding, designing, and sourcing new bike components. The number of VO-brand products will triple by year's end. We hope to have a range of complete bikes to sell by late next year. And we will introduce a line of "Grand Cru" components; the best of the best. VO is becoming more like a manufacturer than a regular shop.

So it's time to launch a real effort to get these new items into other bike shops. Tom Martin, who was the buyer at a major West Coast bike wholesale company, just joined us and is taking over management of VO Imports this week. VOI is the new wholesale-only company I've started. It has a different warehouse, separate inventory, and it's own staff. My hope is that it will become the wholesale equivalent of Velo Orange. VOI will sell a complete line of products from many manufacturers, not just VO components. Within a year or two, a local bike shop selling city, rando, and touring bikes might not need to order from any distributor other than VOI.

At the same time we'll start offering Velo Orange brand and Grand Cru components and accessories to other distributors both in the US and abroad. And we're still looking to buy an established distribution company to merge with VOI.

Of course there are problems too. I continue to underestimate the amount of stuff we'll sell and we keep running out of popular items. Our ever increasing orders plays havoc with planning at the small manufacturers we prefer to use and so production gets delayed. Of course I don't get much sleep or riding time these days and fear I've become a bit of a grumpy bastard these past couple of months. But things will calm down when we have more staff. And it's still fun.

Wish us luck.

28 comments:

Jan said...

Best of luck!

Michael S said...

Congrats on the success, Chris. The VO business model of consumer input certainly is a new one.

I should state that I didn't notice any grumpy bastard-ness when we chatted at Cirque, so I think you're fine.

hal said...

Chris,

You've done a spectacular job building a niche shop into a national (international?) business. You've had a bit of luck with the timing as interest in your kind of bikes and components has seemed to burgeon lately, but I think it is hard to separate the cause and effect of this. Speaking solely for myself, I would not have become as interested in the historical concept of city bikes, porteurs and randonneurs had your shop not been there.

My hope is that your business continues to grow and that you are able to adhere to your vision as well.

Ethan said...

I didn't detect any grumpiness at the Cirque.

QuickDraw said...

Hey Chris,
It's obvious that you love what you do. It's also obvious that we love what you do as well, I wish you and your family all the best! Can't Wait to see what new products VO has in it's future.

2whls3spds said...

Keep up the excellent work! As parts are added I will keep purchasing, I am more of the Raleigh Superbe crowd, but can surely appreciate a well turned out City Bike, Randonneur or Porteur.

Aaron

zman said...

Sounds like a good problem to have1

Gunnar Berg said...

Grumpy? You? Naw.

Anonymous said...

Chris,
Thanks for all your efforts in
making these products available, and
I hope things soon settle down enough
for you to get in lots of rides.
Preston

lamplightsg said...

My favorite bike proudly wears several Velo Orange-specific products. These are items that I would not have been able to buy had it not been for your efforts, and they are also items that just happen to make this particular bike my favorite. Where else can you get affordable traditional French-ish fillet brazed racks? Nowhere that I'm aware of, and that's just one example. You are filling a void that has been missing in this industry for too long. Keep up the good work!

nv said...

Exciting times for bike enthusiasts...
Very much looking forward to future VO offerings - just today was wondering about the VO city platform pedals!
nv

Joel said...

The bike as a real travel and commuter tool is coming of its own here in the US.

Not surprised your business is growing while bike as toy businesses are not.

fmackay said...

Re:shifters. What I'd really like to see are non-ugly replacement shifters for hub gears. All the current examples I've seen are horrible lumps of plastic. How about a nice metal lever with an interchangeable part to control the indexing for different hubs?

Another part I'd like is a chain-tug/tensioner for frames with forward-facing dropouts. You'd sell one to everybody in the world riding a fixed-wheel coversion, and I'd take several for my hub-geared bikes. Something like these old Cyclo ones.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure it's all that possible to sell parts wholesale and sell them directly on the internet as well. It's a problem many small manufacters/importers have right now.

I like your website and blog, but selling off all your retail trade might really help your business, or drive it under. It's a tough, tough choice.

good luck-

Alan said...

From one grumpy bastard to another, best of luck with the future of VO and VOI. I know nothing of the traditional aspects of the bike components you emulate, but I do appreciated quality and asthetics. My meager bikes have a lot more style because of your company and your blog. All because oneday I stumbled upon your ebay listing for leather toe clip covers; key word in the search field - 'Rivendell' in my case looking for the backpack company not the bike company.

Gino Zahnd said...

As a Silicon Valley/software/web veteran, it has been fascinating for me to watch you turn an idea (non-tech idea, at that) into a business, and then watch it take off. You've done some innovative things, and I look forward to watching VO's future continue to unfold. Congrats, and best of luck.

Rene said...

Congrtulations and may more successes come to Velo-Orange. Keep those new offerings coming and keep up informing us through this blog.

nordic_68 said...

This is about the only retail site I regularly browse to learn about and contemplate items for practical bicycles. The combination of locally made items (such as racks) plus decent imported bits from Asia (that we otherwise wouldn't see) is an excellent way to appeal to a broad range of cyclists and budgets.

You chose a good time to get in this line of work since traditional brick & mortar shops just don't carry much, or know much, about practical or even touring bikes. Thanks and best of luck.

BTW - if you haven't yet seen the CopenhagenCycleChic blog, I think you'd really appreciate it!

veloChine said...

Chris,

I gave my LBS your e-mail address sometime last year when you mentioned that your desire to distribute VO products. He said that you never returned his e-mail. Is there new contact info for VO Imports? I could not find it on your blog or yahoo store site.

Thanks!

C-

Chris Kulczycki said...

fmackay, That chain tug is a good idea; I'll look into it.

Velochine, Thanks. The e-mail probably got stuck in the spam filter. The best contact is tom-at-voimports.com

Anonymous said...

Best of luck, sir. Your website and blog have been some of my favorite bicycle-porn on the web. Once I have sufficient funds, I will spend them all on your imports.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!

I gotta tell you, your business model- actually asking your customers what they want -is fantastic. And providing lower-cost alternatives to the usually overpriced world of "gentleman cycling" is fantastic.

If you ever feel like making a reproduction simplex suicide shifter, I'll be the first in line...

Anonymous said...

Any plans for the Grand Cru-Super LJ derailleur?

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
loophole said...

In response to fmackay, Surly sells the Tuggnut which accomplishes your purpose and also opens a beer bottle. See http://www.surlybikes.com/parts.html

fmackay said...

Loophole - I wasn't aware that the Tuggnut worked with forward-facing dropouts. However it is ugly and expensive. A solution can also be bodged with an on-one chaintug (cheap but still quite ugly) but it'd be nicer to have a part designed for the job. While failing to find the picture I was looking at the other day illustrating this bodge, I came across this forum thread which has more pictures of and comments on the old cyclo 'tugs.

loophole said...

fmackay - I looked at the Tuggnut again and apparently it is for rear-facing drops as you say, so it won't help you. Sorry for the red herring.

Cottered Crank said...

Ya know, what would be really cool would be a chain tensioner like the one linked above, but with a provision for making use of the holes for the Olde Tyme adjusting screws (in Campy 1010 dropouts, for example) to keep the new device lined up with the axle slot. Maybe a small pin could thread into the hole, after the original screw was removed, and a corresponding bore in the end of the new adjusting screw could keep everything lined up.