We've had a lot going on over the past 8-weeks or so here at VO. We went to InterBike as an exhibitor for the first time, shipped off our biggest order ever to the largest bike distributor in the U.S., got some new employees, lost one of the best (we'll miss you Perry!), and launched a new website. And had our best ever retail sales week. Needless to say, all of this change makes me want to take stock of things.
So, it seemed like a good idea to write a little history–from the conception of VO to where it stands today and where it might be headed. Looking back at where we began 4-1/2 years ago and seeing where we are today is pretty amazing, if not a little scary. I'll write four posts on the subject, beginning with the origins of the company and concluding with where we are today.
About 11 years ago Annette and I sold a company I'd founded and decided to take a few years off. We traveled a bit and also enjoyed lot of cycling. Eventually, I went looking for a new bike. Having raced a little in my youth and owned several racing bikes, as well as a couple of touring bikes, I wanted my new bike to be something in between. I knew that my racing days were long over and that we now preferred staying at B&Bs to camping. So this new bike would be for credit card touring and long rides alone in the country, and also for the fast club rides I went on almost every weekend. What I wanted was a rando bike!
At first I thought I'd just order a sports touring bike from a well known California company; I rode one and it was nice, but not exactly to my tastes. I'm just not a fan of fancy lugs, two-tone paint, and ornate decals. I also preferred the ride and geometry of several older French bikes I'd owned. I got a Kogswell Model P as an interim bike. I soon sold it and bought an Ebisu, which I think was, by far, the best production (or semi-production) frame available at the time.
It was during this bike search that I realized just how scarce some of the components and accessories that I wanted to use were, and how difficult it was to find a production frame that rode the way I liked. Plus, I was getting the itch to start a new company. So, I decided to form a really small company to source various parts I thought were both cool and useful. I never intended to make much money from it or to grow it beyond one or two employees. It was just something to keep me off the streets, to have a little fun with and, most importantly, to provide a service to other cyclists who shared my tastes. I formed an LLC and deposited the hefty sum of $6000 into its bank account. That was 4-1/2 years ago.
The business plan, if you can call it that, was to import some hard-to-find parts, make a few small items like bell mounts and decaleurs, and maybe to eventually to have a semi-production frame made. That was the extent of our plan. The name came from my orange bike, which was in our living room when we were trying to think up a name over a few glasses of wine. I'd had zero experience in the bike business, had never sourced anything overseas, and didn't even want to work full time. The only thing I was sure of was that there was a need for practical, well, made, attractive, and reasonably priced components for cyclists who wanted an alternative to the racing-style bikes and parts that, at the time, dominated most bike shops.
Many of our first items were new-old-stock (NOS). We bought most from an old acquaintance and parts distributor. We soon started making contact with European distributors who had stocks of interesting NOS parts. Then came some new stuff from Japanese and European firms including MKS, Stronglight, and Ostrich. Next we started to having racks and decaleurs made by a local metal fabricator and then bags, flashlight mounts, and more leather goods. This was fun and the company was starting to grow rapidly.
Reading the 685 posts on this blog will give you a pretty detailed history of what's happened since, but I'll write about some highlights in Part 2.