Friday 28 October 2016

A Dutch woman who sells bikes fit for the rough Irish roads

The couple behind the Dutch Bike Shop started their business with €5,000 - largely from redundancy money and the sale of a motorbike, writes Louise McBride

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

Astrid van Gelder-Fitzpatrick, co-founder of The Dutch Bike Shop: ‘Dutch bikes are made to take the rough roads, potholes and the dirt on Irish roads.’ Picture: Colin O'Riordan
Astrid van Gelder-Fitzpatrick, co-founder of The Dutch Bike Shop: ‘Dutch bikes are made to take the rough roads, potholes and the dirt on Irish roads.’ Picture: Colin O'Riordan

Dutch woman Astrid van Gelder-Fitzpatrick cycled the 20km return journey to school for most of the year when growing up in Holland. She has been living in Ireland for more than 14 years now, and she still cycles 20km to work - a bike shop which she runs with her Irish husband, Frank.

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"My secondary school was 10km from my house," says van Gelder-Fitzpatrick. "I only ever got a bus pass for the months of December and January. So come rain or shine, I was on the bike."

This upbringing has clearly steered van Gelder-Fitzpatrick towards her current career: selling Dutch-made bikes from her shop in Goatstown, Co Dublin - which is simply called The Dutch Bike Shop.

The company was set up in 2011.

"The idea for the company came to me back around late 2009, early 2010," says van Gelder-Fitzpatrick. "I found out around then that I was expecting my third child. So I started to look for a bike which would allow me to carry my two other children - one on the front and one on the back - and still leave room for me to get on the bike while pregnant."

The Dutch woman, who was living in Ireland at the time, couldn't find the bike she needed in this country. "I found the bike I wanted online - but it was in Holland. So my friend bought it for me over there and my mother and brother brought it to Ireland for us. The costs of getting it to Ireland were ginormous. I was convinced I wasn't the only one looking for something more practical than what Ireland has here."

Van Gelder-Fitzpatrick's husband, Frank, was also out of work at the time, having lost his job as a builder. This, along with the difficulties encountered by van Gelder-Fitzpatrick finding the right bike here, inspired the couple to open a shop which only sells Dutch bikes.

Van Gelder-Fitzpatrick is from a village on the edge of Amsterdam but she lived in Amsterdam as an adult - until she moved to Ireland in 2002.

"When I moved to Dublin, I worked in a salon in Newlands Cross for a few years," she explains. "When my children were born, I only worked the Saturdays in the salon. Then Frank lost his job, we were both on the dole, and I knew that wasn't enough for us financially. So we decided to make the leap and set up our own business."

All of the bikes in the shop are made in Holland.

"Before setting up the company, I did all the groundwork and got supplies lined up," she says.

"I tried several suppliers in Ireland but found it hard to get what I wanted - so I went to Holland for everything. That's where all my supplies are coming from. We started the business from home - with a website and €5,000. That €5,000 mainly came from Frank's redundancy money and the sale of his motorbike. We had tried to raise some money from the banks but had no joy."

Van Gelder-Fitzpatrick believed there would be a demand for Dutch-made bikes in Ireland because she feels Dutch bikes are sturdier and more practical than many of the bikes sold here.

"Dutch bikes are made to take the rough roads and potholes - and the dirt on Irish roads," she says. "They have good big tyres and are sturdy. Many of the other Irish cycling shops cater more for the sports end of things."

Some of the shop's most popular bikes are cargo bikes - which have cabins for children to sit in. The shop also sells a cargo bike which is specifically designed to carry a dog. Cargo bikes are typically priced from about €1,500 at the shop, with the more expensive models priced at between €2,500 and about €4,000. Another popular model is its transport bike with a carrier on the front.

"Cargo bikes are starting to really take off," says van Gelder-Fitzpatrick.

"We sell a transport bike with a carrier on the front with room for a child on the front and the back. They're also quite popular."

Although van Gelder-Fitzpatrick says the shop's bikes "wouldn't be the cheapest", its sales have been helped by the government-backed Cycle to Work scheme (which gives employees a tax break if they buy a bike to cycle to work on) and the Dublin Bike scheme (the bike-sharing scheme in Dublin city).

The popularity of cycling as a hobby - and as a way to keep fit - has also increased in Ireland in recent years and this too has been good for van Gelder-Fitzpatrick's business.

"The Cycle to Work scheme allows people to stretch themselves a bit further financially when buying a bike," says van Gelder-Fitzpatrick. "The Dublin Bike scheme also encouraged people to cycle and was helpful for the business.

"Over the last five years of trading, we have seen a huge improvement in sales. Between the middle of April and the middle of May of this year, I turned over as much as I did in my first year in business. We had a record summer compared to the first five years. Every year, there are more people buying bikes. The more normalised they become in the street view of Dublin, the more popular they become. People see other parents taking their children to school on these bikes and so are encouraged to buy them. A lot of people ditch their car - or their second car - to buy one of our bikes."

People have also started coming into the shop looking for electric bikes. "In Holland, electric bikes have really taken off and I think Ireland will soon follow suit," she says.

Although there are other bike shops in Ireland which sell Dutch-made bikes, the Dutch Bike Shop is the only shop in Ireland which exclusively sells Dutch bikes, explains van Gelder-Fitzpatrick. "My business is very much a niche business here in Ireland. If I had this bike shop in the Netherlands, I'd be one of thousands. People come from Donegal, Belfast, Cork - and everywhere around the country - to buy my bikes."

Like many businesses, the early days of the company were very challenging for the couple.

"For years, we didn't even take a wage," explains van Gelder-Fitzpatrick. "Everything went back into the company. When we first set up the business, it was based in the home. When the main rooms in the house got too full, we were even stocking bikes in bathrooms."

This prompted the couple to start storing stock in a unit in Ballymount Industrial Estate in Dublin 12. "Eventually we ended up in a 1,000 sq. foot centre in Ballymount which was used as showroom," says van Gelder-Fitzpatrick.

The couple had just started to pay themselves a wage when a fire broke out in Ballymount Industrial estate in late April 2015 - damaging their stock and showroom.

"Our stock got fire and water damage and so we couldn't stay there," says van Gelder-Fitzpatrick. "We had to do something. We could either sit down and wade in misery - or make the move to open a shop. So we opened up a shop in Goatstown. Before the fire, I had started to pay myself a wage - but the fire knocked that back a bit. At the moment, however, we are both in full-time employment in the shop. We are not earning a huge pot but we can pay the mortgage and put food on the table." and

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