A watercooler moment with Will Butler-Adams, managing director of Brompton Bicycle, the folding bicycle manufacturer
In a nutshell, what does Brompton Bicycle do?
Brompton Bicycles make getting about in cities a joy rather than a drag! The Brompton marries the performance of a full-sized, agile bicycle with the convenience of a portable, storable package. All our bicycles are hand brazed, built in London and made to last.
Where did the idea for Brompton Bicycles come from?
The bike was designed by Brompton founder Andrew Ritchie in the mid-1970s. He looked at folding bike designs already on the market and decided that he could do something better.
When did you start up?
Small numbers of Brompton Bicycles were made between the mid-1970s and 1988 but only when Andrew was able to secure funding from friends, family and early investors. In 1988 the company went into full time production.
How has it gone so far?
The entrepreneurial spirit and perseverance shown by Andrew in the early days has paid huge dividends. We’ve seen business grow by 20% every year for the past eight years and last year saw an increase of 25% in the number of bikes produced; this is in the same building we’ve been based in since 1998. These achievements are the result of sustained investment in the workforce, machinery and lean-manufacturing processes. Worldwide we’re now selling 45,000 bikes to more than 40 territories including Australia, South Korea, Russia and Mexico.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Finding the best people; a business is really a collection of people with a shared vision and passion to make something happen. Without ‘grey matter’, energy and perseverance of your staff, you will achieve nothing.
How would you say you differentiate yourself from the competition?
We make a bike that is built to last. As a company, we are committed to making all on-bike updates and changes retrofittable, meaning someone who bought their bike ten years ago can still fit our latest releases like improved brake levers and crankset. There’s also the fact we make the bikes in London; this means a lot to our brand. There is a sense of nostalgia and heritage that associates Britain with fine quality craftsmanship. British manufacturers are reviving that image.
What has been the best decision you have made to-date?
Not to go off and do an MBA in 2002 and take a chance on a peculiar folding bike that I had never heard of, which went on to change my life as well as those of many of our customers.
I’ve also recently become an ambassador for the Business is GREAT Britain campaign. The main aim of the campaign is to arm SMEs with the right information so that they too can access the support that will help turn their business into a roaring success.
Where do you see the business in 12 months’ time?
12 months is too soon – if we don’t know what we are doing in 12 months it is too late. Twelve years is more interesting: we want to continue to change how people get about in cities all over the world and bring back the humble bike, in the form of the folding bicycle.
If you had one piece of advice for entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Be patient. It will take twice as long and three times as much money as you first thought but if you believe in it, it will happen.