"It’s a brand-saturated market," admits Clarke.
"It’s no good entering the fray with just another bike brand. There’s got to be a different angle if we’re to gain shop floor space from established brands."
And that different angle is seen in the logo above: underneath the name and the leaping wolf is the phrase ‘custom made’.
"You don’t enter a car showroom and walk out with a car, you choose the colour, add or subtract from the available specifications and wait for delivery. That’s what Steppenwolf brings to the bike trade," said Clarke.
He’s already got 12 UK dealers close to his Lincolnshire base thanks to a test marketing exercise, and now wants to roll out the concept nationwide. The full launch will take place at Eurobike in Germany, where the 2004 options will be on show.
Steppenwolf sells 15 000 bikes pa throughout Europe and is very much mid- to high-end. Customers can spec their bikes with set products, or can mix-and-match from a componant smorgasbord made up of P&A from Shimano, Magura, Manitou, Rock Shox, Mavic, Schwalbe, Ritchey, Syntace, Selle Italia, Fizik and others.
Clarke sees a major IBD benefit of such a mix-and-match customer selection process: less stock holding:
"It dramatically reduces total stock outlay, commitment and risk, and therefore frees up valuable cash-flow."
The thorny problem of customers who order bikes and then refuse them at point-of-sale has yet to happen in the UK and is rare in Germany too, said Clarke.
"We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Clarke has already started sending review bikes to the UK consumer press, with What Mountain Bike, MBUK and Cycling Plus soon to carry mentions.
"Magazines seem to like the fact that consumers get a choice from a product range that is not run of the mill, with specifications of bike that customers choose themselves, making a bike that is totally individual."
The Steppenwolf range includes bikes in the MTB, trekking/city and road bike categories.
Clarke will be at the Eurobike show on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th August.
Tel: 01778 560195
The website below is in German but will be translated into English soon.