Monday 27 March 2017

Teenager who's set up his own be-spoke company for cyclists

Jack O’Sullivan saw an opening in bargain-price trendy bikes
Jack O’Sullivan saw an opening in bargain-price trendy bikes

Student Jack O'Sullivan (18) is the founder of Vital Fixies, a new Irish fixed-gear bicycle brand. Along with craft beer and beards, these retro bikes have seen a massive surge in popularity among millenials in recent years. He saw an opportunity to significantly undercut competitors by sourcing bicycles from Asia.

"The idea for the company came to me a couple of Christmases ago. I wanted to buy a fixed-gear bicycle, but once I began looking was shocked by how expensive they were.

I couldn't find one for less than €450, which is far too much given that they are pretty simple products. I did some research online and realised there was a business opportunity there, and then started contacting suppliers in Asia.

It was difficult - bikes brands won't tell you who their manufacturers are - but eventually I found one in China who would build the bikes for me for a decent price. Then I developed a business plan and brand, and pitched it to my dad and brother, who invested.

There's been a massive resurgence in the popularity of fixed-gear bicycles in the last couple of years. People think of it as a hipster thing but the fact is, they are a great product. They are easy, great-looking, reliable bikes.

I'm still at school at Clonkeen College in Blackrock, Dublin, so juggling the business with schoolwork has been a challenge. There were a couple of all-nighters getting the website up and running. I built it myself with some input from my sister, who works in marketing.

At the moment we only sell online, but I am hoping to get my bikes into stores soon. I wear a lot of different hats - I look after a lot of the deliveries too.

There is a flat €15 delivery fee for Dublin and you will usually get your bike on the same day. We use a courier outside of Dublin.

Our main selling point is price. Vital Fixies start at €250 and the most expensive model is €300. I'm also looking at offering custom builds, where the customer chooses the colours on various parts of the bikes, and other extras. Our main competitor is doing custom builds for €500; I hope to significantly undercut that.

It is still early days; we've sold about 120 bicycles so far. I have a new shipment in from Taiwan coming next week. Bikes from China are taxed heavily so the Taiwan order was even cheaper.

It will really help us to expand. The biggest challenge so far has been getting the word out. Everyone is always delighted with their bike, we don't have any problems there. Word of mouth has been the biggest driver of business. Although I've just started doing a bit of Facebook advertising.

I am avoiding taking out a loan at all costs. We are reasonably well funded and revenue is doubling every couple of months, which is allowing us to expand organically.

It would be nice to have a bit more cash - particularly as you need to have a lot of stock to hand to build custom bikes -but I'm happy with my current rate of expansion. I'm also starting to thing about exporting. We have already had orders will start pushing the business in the UK this summer.

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