Written by President, Reid Hemsing
I get asked a lot from curious onlookers how to start a company, develop a product, and start a business. Well its going to be a big job, I always say but its absolutely doable. I’ll try to share a little taste of the work we are doing at Two Wheel Gear. Here is a little commentary on a few things from 2015.
In 2015 we put all of our customer feedback to work and relaunched the 2.0 model of our classic bike suit bag. The full story of the re-design is on Carryology so I won’t talk much about that. It was an exciting time for sure but as I am learning, it definitely takes a long while to see any returns on your hard work.
This period can really take a toll on a team and although everyone gets excited and has the utmost optimism that your going to change the world, the extremely low pay (if any) in the outset is enough to quickly cause rifts and send people that aren’t fully invested in the business elsewhere. Talking completely frank, 2015 started with a team shakeup.
Although I have been at it for quite awhile with designing, building and selling bags out of the basement workshop, we really used to exist solely as a passion project purely to get more people cycling to work. In 2014 we brought people on board to help grow the business but to keep it short and sweet, those people are now gone.
Skipping back to the mindset of February 1, 2014, I made one of the biggest changes of my life. I left a solid career in the corporate world and cashed out my retirement savings to move to Vancouver to launch Two Wheel Gear with a team I thought could crush it with. This is going to be fun I thought…and it has been, but has also been one of the most trying and challenging undertakings of my life.
Shortly before 2015 started we moved the company into our first office headquarters in the legendary gastown district of downtown Vancouver. It was completely awesome to finally have a headquarters and get out of that dreary home office. I don’t care what anyone says…it is not better working from home all the time. Picking up the phone to make a sales call when you haven’t talked to anyone all day is like deciding your going to try a double front handspring for the first time without even stretching beforehand. Below is what our office came to be in a short period. The blue Devinci was my commuter bike before getting stolen outside the building a short time after this was taken.
Manufacturing is key
I used to finish every bag myself. I worked through them one by one meticulously armed with a rivet gun. But this was extremely time consuming and left little time to handle much else of the business.
After moving to Vancouver, I was persistent and ended up landing an exciting deal with MEC to retail our Classic Garment Panniers across Canada. I immediately needed to scale up production. They have strict requirements of their suppliers and I needed to work with the best.
After months of research in overseas manufacturing options and exhausting local opportunities I found a dream partner with the help of MEC. Accredited in MEC’s STEP Supplier Auditing Program, they manufacture technical equipment for some of the largest brands in the world. Better yet, we shared the same values in superior function, durability and aesthetics and I was extremely excited for the opportunity to start working with them. When I first walked onto our new production floor in Vietnam I was in awe.
In February I flew to Vietnam for my first big business trip to oversee production on the Classic 2.0 Garment Panniers and develop my Pannier Backpack prototype. The first impression of the factory was that it was busy, but in a great way. Everyone works efficiently on their various parts of production. The individual components move down a very well crafted production line. The employees are skilled, well paid and enjoy their work. I was surprised and impressed with the full catered menu of choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner (when working overtime) the employees had at their disposal for free. There was a lot of laughter and smiles as I towered around the production floor looking like an NBA player. I was amazed at the precision and blown away at their 0.05% defect rate. That is about 10x the quality I was able to pull off working locally.
Below are a few photos of our bags in production with some of the key people at our factory.
At 28, I was by far the youngest company president to show up at the factory doors ready to get to work. This was by far much more sophisticated production experience than I had on my resume. But it was extremely important for me to be there to oversee how we were doing things, explain our company vision, talk about the products we were making and most importantly for whom we were making them.
My second main objective was to build the new prototype of my Pannier Backpack Convertible I had been designing, prototyping and testing in Vancouver. I was ready to make it next level and start working on ways we could improve the build quality and tweak the functionality. After several design meetings, we had the new pattern pretty much tackled and I needed to give them some time to build version 2. It was a pretty amazing feeling to get to experience that.
I learned a lot about myself and myself in business during the trip. But as it moved forward, my mind started wandering to our next big project. When we landed back in Vancouver it was straight to camera and action time.
The Morning Ride – The Short Film
Over four glorious, early mornings we accomplished filming The Morning Ride with two of the best young guys in the film business Ben Johnson and Kurtis So. Check out areyoujamin to see more of their awesome work. The first time I watched our final cut, I had to hold back teary eyes. Two Wheel Gear has been such a labour of love over the last 6 years that it was a special moment when I watched us finally capture the feeling of being at peace with oneself and one’s surroundings. The pure joyful feeling that a simple bike ride to work can give you. That feeling is simply why I do this business. Not for competitive cycling and not to save the planet but because you will love it and you will really thank yourself once you start.
After chatting with some great new friends and unreal filmmakers, Chris and Melissa Bruntlet from Modacity (Check out their amazing work advocating for bikeable cities), I was encouraged to start submitting our video to some of the bike film festivals around. It was a great way to spread our message, open up new marketing channels and show the lifestyle of a work commuter. This is something that is rarely filmed and in the past often stereotyped as “dorky.” This is a perception my company is changing.
We even picked up a few awards for our film, winning the Audience Awards – Adventure Short Films Festival as most voted and the Award for Commendation at the Canada Shorts Film Festival. We were also screened at the New Urbanism Film Fest and the Inland Empire Bike Film Festival in LA, and the Adventure Awards Days Fest in Italy. The film is also submitted to four other film festivals awaiting decision.
Pounding The Pavement 2015
There is no shortage of pavement to be pounded with a new brand and new products. The knuckles are pretty sore. This is needed in any business and everyones knuckles will look a little different. In this business its a lot of getting out there and trying to grow some hype. There was rarely a weekend not spent hustling bags on the street showing people what they have been missing but also a hell of a lot of time sitting behind a computer. Below is a very short ensemble of a few of our favourite street hustling events.
2015 Major Media Favourites
In addition to pounding a lot of physical pavement, there is a never ending road of internet pavement to pound as well. Sending out product samples, pitching websites and chatting with magazines and newspapers was a major part of the job in 2015. Below are a few of our highlights.
Not a super flattering picture but I was pretty floored when my story landed on the cover of the business section in the Vancouver Sun on a Friday morning. Thanks Jenny Lee for that stellar opportunity.
One of our first reviewers of the Classic 2.0 Garment Pannier was author and journalist Tom Babin. I read Tom’s book Frostbike – The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling and absolutely loved and related to it with my experience starting year-round commuting in Calgary, Alberta. I had more than my fair share of cold winter rides and could just tell Tom was a great guy. I reached out, sent Tom our very first 2.0 bag to review and was blown away when he published a story in the Calgary Herald calling it “Maybe the Ultimate Bike Commuter Bag.” That week we sold more bags to Calgary than any other North American City by a country mile.
We have lots of love for and received lots of love from Bike to Work week Vancouver and Bike to Work Day Calgary getting some good air time on Global and CTV news. I owe a lot of thanks to founder, Lonni Balbi in Calgary and Erin O’Melinn, Executive Director of Hub Cycling in Vancouver for all the awesome support.
While in Las Vegas I also had the absolute pleasure of being interviewed by Universal Sports host Craig Hummer as part of the Universal coverage on Interbike 2015. The segment ran everyday on Universal Sports in the US for about two months. However, I couldn’t even watch the damn thing as I had no US cable subscription which was required to stream it online. But my US colleagues told me I was extremely passionate in the interview and that is enough for me!
The Juice is Worth the Squeeze
Some of the best and most gratifying moments come from seeing photos from our customers, friends and fans.
We had the utmost pleasure of connecting with Andréa French, General Manager of Vancouver’s Studeo55 and Electronic Arts’ facilities and fitness program. She was organizing the EA Sports Bike to Work Week Team and was hoping we could help her out with some prizes. Andréa had never commuted by bike before although she was already in crazy good shape. But after watching our video, she was stoked on making it happen. She ended up buying one of our Classic bags and was hooked. She invited us to the EA Bike to Work Week wrap party at EA campus and toured us around when they were shooting the cover of NBA 2016. We then ended up capturing her morning ride as one of our commuter profiles. Definitely one of the most kind, selfless people of 2015. If you haven’t seen her blog post, here are a few snaps.
Here is another short collection of some of our favourite photos sent in to us by customers and Two Wheel Gear friends! If you are reading this and have a few of your own photos to send, PLEASE share them with us! Tag photos with #twowheelgear! There is nothing that keeps us pushing harder than receiving feedback and seeing people use and love our bags.
Interbike 2015 – VEGAS
This was an intense work week in Vegas and I was so sick of the inside of the Luxor pyramid by the end of the trip I could not wait to get home. Late nights, early mornings on the show floor, hauling everything back and forth from Mandalay Bay to Luxor, setting up and running a trade show booth as a one man show is not a lot of fun. The media coverage was great and some of the business connections awesome, but in hindsight it may have been a little early to be there. I can tell you, other than a few Japanese businessmen, I was one of the only guys on the floor with collar and suit jacket. If nothing else, it made me appreciate the scale, magnitude and sophistication of the industry. This is the cyclists’ dream/information overload for anyone that has been curious on checking the show out.
There is a lot more to 2015 that I could talk about. The stress, the joy, the design process, the logistic nightmares, the inspirational meetings, the business dilemma’s that arise in the start-up groove, the highs, the lows and what I didn’t expect, but I’ll leave those for another day as I learn them more myself.
Until then, I want to leave this post with a huge thanks to all of our customers, partners and cheerleaders who helped us in 2015! We just can’t do it without your support! THANK YOU!