Chris Keller Jackson visits the Taichung factory on behalf of BikeBiz and discovers a brand preparing for a productive future
On the outskirts of Taichung, Taiwan, a short drive from the increasing hustle and bustle of the sprawling central industrial city sits a brand new white faced facility belonging to Lezyne, the uber cool brand that produces pumps, tools, luggage and most recently bike lights. You can't fail to have seen the adverts and the strong campaign around the products in the UK, Upgrade (the UK distributor) even picked up a BikeBiz award for P&A Marketing Team of 2012.
The brand is only 6 years old, and is the brainchild of Germanic American ex-racer Micki Kozuscheck, who sold his previous company (Truvativ) to SRAM, so they could bolster their own brand portfolio ‘in house’, making component purchasing a “one stop shop” with SRAM.
Lezyne's own portfolio continues to grow beyond the initial stall of products, designing in the US and making and sub contracting within the Taichung area of Taiwan, assembling testing and QC is done in house. Rare within the Taiwanese marketplace, Lezyne don’t make products for anyone else.
Lezyne products have a few things in common that are different and shaping the market sectors:
Design. The ethos is function led, some might say 'no frills', I'm more of the opinion that the design is minimalist and this tends to filter all through the product categories. Products are designed to perform a function without drama and as a result 'just work'.
Look. Being design led, Lezyne products tend to have a minimalist look that sits well with the design. Tools and Pumps all have a very specific look, an aesthetic which is very clean, consistent and somewhat clinical. Where the look diversifies slightly is in the high end lighting products, where the design needs for cooling and robust mounting come to the fore, though even the cooling fins on the MegaDrive light have an aesthetic that is definitively Lezyne.
Customer focus: Products are nothing without a customer focus, and here Lezyne employs the classic “Good, Better, Best” product approach with price points, functionality and material usage to match. This leads to a wide range of pumps, tools, saddlebags, lights and accessories, all with very strong Point of Sale credentials and bold colourways to entice the customer and to give a real choice within the brand itself.
Brand Awareness: Key factors to sales within the accessory business are brand credentials, keen pricing and functional specifications (unless a purchase is 'distress' - where these are less relevant). What Lezyne do well is their brand 'cachet'. The design and look of the core products is aspirational, you want to be included in the 'family' – something Apple have done very well in recent times. The minimalist design, bold POS and consumer marketing along with a quality brand perception in the marketplace are all key elements that have developed the cachet within the UK.
Lezyne's business is broadly non seasonal as products (other than lights) are applicable throughout the year, and whilst there is the 'brand cachet' to consider, the price points are in line with the mainstream for accessories.
Talking of lights, this is year 3 of the lighting products arm of Lezyne. Whilst the category is expanding in range there is no specific remit to change products every year. Lezyne don't want (or need) to catch up with competitors, instead minor tweaks are intended as running changes when better cells, emitters and logic becomes available. It is quite refreshing to see lighting products that don't need to compete in terms of 'Horsepower' – you get to a certain point in off road lighting technology where performance reduces the fun / technical challenge of night riding. There are plans to change and adapt the products of course, but not to the detriment of the customer, or to the retailer, who otherwise had to discount 'last years' model.
Lezyne as a company is split across two different sites, Taichung in Taiwan and the Head Office in California USA. The two offices are almost identical, even down to the furniture, layout and networks, so that wherever a member of staff is, the surroundings are familiar. Both are connected by high bandwidth data so that conference calls are smooth and product data can be shared across the sites. Computer Aided Design file packages, Computational Fluid Dynamics and other product analysis tools require serious data transfer capabilities, and the connectivity is there to support the business needs, now and into the future.
In terms of manufacturing, Lezyne have sidestepped the normal Taiwan Cycling approach and don't ascribe to the Toyota Production System (TPS), nor do they work closely with the 'A-Team' Taiwanese Cycle Business dynasties or their ethos. This is unusual within the industry, within Taiwan and goes against the generally accepted norm. Lezyne is not a Taiwan owned company, and the business links are more European and US centric, and this shows in the manufacturing ethos.
This is not to say that Lezyne don't employ lean and efficient manufacturing techniques. Whilst manufacturing is predominantly outsourced, assembly is done in house using 'flexible cells', capable of moving from one product to another as a batch is completed, this flexibility reduces the need for dedicated workstations, gives more interest to the local workforce and upskills them too. The use of jigs, tools and specific gauges / QC for a product is high, and this enhances the assembly stations and improves the teams capability. The workforce all looked happy and productive when I was there.
Part of the happy nature of the workforce could be because Lezyne had just announced their best month of sales in its history, bolstered by the rapid consumer uptake of lighting products which accounts for over 20% currently. I went to the Taichung Factory on the Friday before a long weekend of activities planned for the staff, food, drink and an 'away day' to help develop the Lezyne team's focus on the workforce, and on team work, which is very strong. I hear that the employees enjoyed the hospitality, and should probably have ...Article continues below
Whilst the assembly, warehouse and QC staff were predominantly local hires, the design, finance, planning and support staff were a real mixture of local talent, interns and US and European staff, some of whom work across both sites, splitting their time between the two.. This flexible attitude and mixed nationality workforce further removes Lezyne from the standard Taiwanese mould, certainly giving a more Western feel to this slice of Taichung.
On our way out of the building, at the end of the visit, Micki points out storage racks that will soon disappear, making way for 'in house' machinery, and an adjacent field with diggers clearing the site, ready for another building. He also mentions more expansions of the product range, which I'm not at liberty to divulge – if you sell Lezyne (or want to) then I'd suggest you think about how you'll clear some space too.