Powabyke has just notched up ten years in business and on this anniversary there are both reasons to celebrate and cause to focus harder than ever on consistent sales. Mark Sutton talks to Powabyke MD Nick Child about a slow starter thats picked up pace every year since its creation...It’s PowaByke’s 10th anniversary – could you pick any highlights from the past decade?
We have sold circa 35,000 bikes. In the early days, people thought we were ‘proper bonkers,’ and I dare say, a few still do, but the sales speak volumes, both about the market and the products’ potential.
Our second high point was when our ‘survey’ showed us that e-bikes were being used as a form of transport and not just selling as nothing more than a ‘trendy fad.’
Were there any low points?
I think during the early days we suffered with some very high return rates and it was difficult to catch up on our perceived QC problems. However, it turned out that the customers were putting roughly ten times the annual use into the bikes than we could have anticipated and this was the key reason we had the problems.
Once we understood the ‘why’, we were able to permanently engineer our way out of the problem.
The second real low point was when I found out Frank Curran was actually on the payroll. Up until then I thought he was just a Powabyke groupie.Article continues below
The electric market hasn’t always been as strong as it is now – how difficult was it to create an initial dealer base and begin growing the brand?
Very difficult. In 2000 and 2001 we were visiting dealers and introducing the concept of e-bikes. 70 per cent of the time we were refused entry on account of the bikes looking awful and were told that only ‘a overweight nut job’ (as one dealer put it) would buy an electrified bike.
This started to change from about 2003 onwards.
The sector now seems to be being accepted by the average dealer – why do you think IBDs suddenly have confidence in the e-bikes ability to sell?
Because a vanguard of IBDs have been leading and, indeed, creating the market. At a certain point in a new market you hit a critical mass and the majority begin to find that they can participate.
I also think the new designs of bikes help. Obviously we have gone out of our way to create in the X-Byke a dealer friendly product. It’s also very profitable when compared to your average complete bike sale.
Any plans to attend any of this year’s shows?
We will be at the London Cycle show, January Heron Club event, as well as one of the big German shows towards the end of the year and probably InterBike in Las Vegas during September.
What growth have you forecast going forward?
In the current climate we are being modest. However, we do see ourselves selling a very cheap form of transport and think sales will be strong and progressive.
Any exciting new technology in the works?
Yes – we have some really exciting stuff. But I can’t tell you yet, otherwise I will have to shoot all of your readers.
How’s the 2009 range going so far? Have you had feedback?
Simply brilliant. Feedback has been great and we have opened a lot of new accounts, and ‘re-energised' some old ones. We believe that this is all down to the strength of the new product.
Tell us a bit about your pedal before power system:
A common misconception is that it has something to do with extending the life of the circuit boards. It hasn't – it’s to save piles of battery energy.
If you don’t ask the battery to haul you off the start line you improve the range. Imagine the improved MPG you could get from your car if you could pedal it to get started.
It’s also a good safety feature that helps to prevent standing start ‘prangs.’ Can you imagine losing the 'family jewels’ by inadvertently turning on the throttle just before you mounted the seat properly. Ouch!
Do you get many warranty issues? How and where are these dealt with?
Not many – we avoided the problem normally associated with new products and reliability by selecting parts from previous bikes that we knew worked really well. For instance the motor. We have 12,000 of this model on the road, 5,000 of the throttle and even 1,200 of the battery.
While not complacent, I also think our parts and technical team are second to none in terms of dealer support. Also our dealer base has grown in technical experience over the past few years and on most occasions deal with any problems quickly and efficiently.
Has it been difficult sourcing reasonably priced li-ion batteries? Will these decrease in price going forward?
It’s very difficult to say. The Chinese are producing cheaper product, but most of what we have seen is seriously toilet quality, and the supply is still low following the recent German fire that certainly put the product into short supply and squeezed the prices up. All the promising volume gains we have made in recent years have just been lost in the Sterling currency crash.
If the world ever returns to normal, then yes the batteries will reduce in cost, but don’t forget Lithium batteries last for a very long time and, while the capital cost is perceived as high, the running costs are comparable with SLA batteries. The public needs to be educated on the benefits of good quality batteries.
Why should a consumer choose a Powabyke over competitor brands?
Simply because it’s a good product. We want more business and we will always try to go the extra mile in customer service.