Still independent, and proud of it

Bob Buckley, the president and founder of Marin, talks to BikeBiz.com about business independence, corporate jets, investing profits into real estate, company yoga sessions, the Grateful Dead and HRH the Princess of Wheels. Click within for the inside skinny on most things Marin...
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Buckley bought the rights to use the name Marin Mountain Bikes from MTB innovator Gary Fisher. This was in 1986, the start of the big time break for mountain bikes.

Yet whilst most of Buckley's contemporaries have capitulated, sold out, flopped or flapped, he's still around. Why?

"It's a fun business. That's why I'm still doing it," he told BikeBiz.com from the Marin booth at Interbike, Las Vegas.

Fun, yes, but Buckley has also made money. Wisely, he invested much of it in real estate. Marin has just upped sticks and moved into a 32 000 sq ft office-cum-warehouse that just so happens to house the Grateful Dead's recording studio. Marin's former office-cum-warehouse has been rented to a spice company.

The Buckley family trust owns both buildings, and Marin itself.

Marin punches above its weight. The company sells 120 000 bikes a year but has a profile of a company many times bigger.

Buckley has seen some of his contempories burn out by over-extending themselves.

"I love those guys, but some overstretched themselves. Some went out of business. They never managed to get a grip on stock turns. You can't survive on rolling close-outs, you die on the vine.

"Keith [Bontrager] got lucky. He sold early and found a good vehicle to take him forward."

Marin was founded thanks to a knee injury. Buckley was prescribed cycling by a doctor, and became one of the Mt Tam crowd, the mountain bike innovators who skidded down Mt Tamalpais in Marin County, the other side of the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco. Dropping out of the fashion business, Buckley started selling MTB accessories. He teamed up with rider/designer Joe Murray - then a mechanic at a Marin County bike store - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Buckley said he started investing his bike trade profits into property at the end of the 1980s.

"It's tough to make money in the bike trade, nobody can manage to make big margins, but I made enough to invest in real estate."

And it's this prudence that has seen Marin through lean times. Not that times are lean right now for the company. Buckley reports profits being 25 percent up year on year and this despite the US market being down.

His company has an annual turnover of $30m.

"We benefitted from the demise of Schwinn and GT and benefitted again when the brands were taken to the mass market."

Marin is a touchy feely company. There are twice weekly yoga sessions for staff. And in January, Buckley is paying for a staff outing. To Taiwan. All 20+ employees will be on board, and significant others are invited too. As well as a factory visit, the party will spend time in Bangkok and laze at an island resort.

This paternalism is in contrast to some other companies. Taking a dig at a publically listed bike company - now in private hands - Buckley says he doesn't have 33 vice-presidents, or a company jet.

'I have a 64-ft motor yacht but I paid for it myself, I didn't charge it to the company. My wife, Barbara, is the company's vice president. You know what it says on her business card? HRH The Princess of Wheels."

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