So you like bikes, do ya? You’ve probably thought about working in a bike shop, maybe wrenching in the back, or being that smiley, friendly person on the sales floor. Maybe you’ve even dreamed a little bigger, toying with the idea of opening your own bike shop. Imagine the dealer pricing you’d get on all the newest stuff, and the sweet rides you could build up new for yourself each season! Good times, for sure… And maybe, if you’re one of the truly inspired, you’ve even thought about starting your own bike company, getting in on the ground-level with R&D, production, marketing, the whole bit! But, probably like the vast majority of us, you simply choose to keep your regular day job, so you can just go on being able to afford the bikes and enter the races you want.
Well, a guy I know took a road that, admittedly, I’d never even considered – he decided to become the Distributor.
I sat down with Rob Pryor, from Sri Importing to talk about his new business, and how it came to be:
1) What gave you the idea you wanted to become a bike distributor, and how did you go about it?
For some time I’d been walking around bike shops, wondering what ever happened to all the bicycles from Italy or France that I used to drool over. They just seemed, gone… Most of the bicycles I see today, come out of Taiwan or China, and I started to wonder if there were still any small manufacturers producing bicycles in Italy. The answer, as it turned out, was ‘yes’, and after months of emails, we decided to take the plunge and order our first shipment of bikes. Then, it was just shortly after that, we traveled to Italy to meet with two manufacturers, Sintesi and Viner.
I’d already been working the numbers so I knew it was possible for the Italian bicycles to be a competitive product in North America. So, once we’d established the quality and availability of the product, the next obvious question for me was ‘how do we efficiently market and create interest for unknown brands in the cycling community back home? How do you make shops and consumers aware?’
Outside of a grass-roots approach, visiting shops and talking to cyclists when you’re out for a ride, we’ve now started placing ads in cycling magazines for 2011. We also attended Interbike, which was really exciting! It’s a cyclist’s heaven! If you ever have a chance, you should definitely attend. It was at Interbike that we very quickly realized that Viner was actually already somewhat known in North America for being Italian hand-built and had been around to some degree since the 1980s.
2) How did you decide on the brands you have? What’s going to make them appeal to the North American market?
I had a few requirements to help narrow down the selection:
1. The bikes need to look good and not be similar to anything we have in North America
2. The bikes must be of high quality.
3. The bicycles need to be produced in their country of origin.
There is definitely a demand for handmade steel bicycles in North America and having handmade carbon frames really perks people’s interest. This stuff is truly built in Italy.
3) What’s it been like out in the market? Have you found shops receptive? Where are you getting the best pick-up?
The market has been good, as there is a lot interest, but we’re getting most interest from boutique shops. Geographically speaking, interest is scattered across the US and Canada so far. The interesting thing is that there is a lot of interest in the custom-built top-end frames. They are not the cheapest by any stretch but do display the Itailian craftsmanship.
4) What are the long-term plans for Sri Importing?
I see Sri continuing to import the hand-built bicycles, and I can also see Sri looking at other interesting products. We just signed a deal with Quarq Power Meters to be able to add a power meter as an option to the frame or complete bicycle. The most important aspect of all this for us right now though, is to have people ride the bicycles and have fun, no matter the make or model.
You can check out a review of one of the Italian-made, Sintesi mountain bikes here, and watch for an upcoming review of a Viner cyclocross bike . You can contact Sri Importing for more information here.