She had watched the hustle and bustle for two years. The two gentlemen who tinkered with the little bicycles after work and at the weekend. First for their own children, then for hundreds more, who then did their first laps with the brand new bikes right in front of the garage. Their parents, who discussed every detail with the two inventors. The UPS drivers who picked up individual bikes. And then there were the trucks that delivered individual parts on pallets. All of this in this otherwise quiet one-way street on Wolfersberg, out in Vienna's 14th district. “At some point the garage landlady put the gun on our chests and said: You have to get out of here now,” says Marcus Ihlenfeld. He and his colleague Christian Bezdeka had to look for a new home for themselves and their joint start-up Woom, and we finally found what we were looking for in the industrial park in Klosterneuburg.
Now, just six years after the first move, Woom sells its bikes in 30 countries - and is again looking for a new home. The children's bicycle manufacturer currently employs 115 people in Klosterneuburg alone, and in less than twelve months it should be twice as many. This corresponds to sales increases of more than 80 percent in recent years. According to CEO Guido Dohm, a new office building is now needed in addition to the development of new production sites and sales markets: he has looked at around 30 properties in the past few weeks. There is still no one that can meet the special requirements of the rapidly growing company.
Focus on CSR at Woom
The two founders brought Dohm into the company's management shortly before the outbreak of the corona pandemic. Before that, he worked for decades in top management at large companies in the clothing industry. One focus of his new job is the implementation of standards for social responsibility and sustainability in all areas of the company. This is especially true for production in Asia, because Woom has its children's bikes manufactured in Cambodia as well as in Vietnam and Bangladesh. And that was not always undisputed in the past: At the end of 2019, the German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” published one Articles about poor working conditions in Cambodian factories for bicycle frames, including those where Woom had production. Much has also been done in response to this, and corporate social responsibility has been professionalized. Today, suppliers in Asia must adhere to the principles of UN Global Compact orientate.
“We pay more than others, but the money must also benefit the workers and is not used to ensure that the factory owner puts a Porsche in front of the door. We are checking this with new software, ”emphasizes Dohm. Among other things, a new plant is currently being built especially for Woom in Bangladesh, in which more than 300.000 bicycles will be manufactured annually in the future. There the company has completely different ways of influencing the working conditions from the outset: “We want a hospital ward and a canteen to be set up there. And we want a solar thermal system on the roof. These are all things that are easier to deal with when you say: I will conclude a long-term contract with you, but this is tied to certain framework conditions, ”says Dohm. In the Asian production countries, Woom also wants to invest in the training of new employees in the future.
Woom's recipe for success
A lot has happened since the founding of a garage, which was almost mandatory for a start-up in 2013, to the present day, when Woom leads the children's bicycle segment in Austria with a market share of more than 40 percent - but the recipe for success has been in effect since day one and to this day : To build bicycles close to the needs of children. “With the well-known brands, all of the money goes into the development of adult bikes. Children's bicycles are a waste product that results from shrinking adult bicycles, ”says Dohm. Quite different with Woom: Thanks to the lightweight aluminum frame, the bikes from the Klosterneuburg company weigh on average almost 40 percent less than normal children's bikes.
Christian Bezdeka worked intensively for years on the anatomy of children, spoke to orthopedic surgeons and trauma surgeons and came to the conclusion, for example, that the brake lever not only had to be reduced in size compared to an adult bike, but also needed a different shape, as the ratio of the Carpal bone is different to the rest of the hand. For beginners in particular, it is much easier to operate the precisely fitting Woom bicycles than to get heavy and proportionally inconsistent bicycles going. Word got around as far as Silicon Valley: A few months ago, Mark Zuckerberg's wife Priscilla Chan posted a photo on Facebook showing the three-year-old daughter learning to ride a Woom bike.
Woom bikes are available in today seven frame sizes, from the balance bike for two-year-olds to the 26-inch bike for teenagers. There are also mountain bikes and e-mountain bikes. And the range is constantly evolving, as Marcus Ihlenfeld reports: “We update our products every one to two years. The bike that we sold in the garage eight years ago has hardly anything to do with the product that we offer today. "
Shock follows woom boom
In addition to the idea and product, the right timing has contributed to the company's boom. “At the beginning we had to explain to every customer why they should invest 300 euros in a children's bike. Today most of them no longer ask why it is so expensive, ”reports Ihlenfeld. “Parents no longer want a bike for their children that slips the brakes after six months.” In addition, today parents tried to get their children out into the fresh air much more actively: “The experience of nature is a trend that was accelerated by Corona . The entire bicycle industry benefits from this, ”says Ihlenfeld. According to the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, bicycles are again the big hit this summer after the record year 2020. Worldwide demand is greater than supply.
Woom sold 230.000 bikes in the previous year, 70 percent more than forecast at the beginning of the corona pandemic. Because, according to Ihlenfeld, the boom in spring 2020 was by no means foreseeable: "In mid-March I said to my family: Be prepared that what we have built up over the past seven years will go down the drain." The most important one Spring is the time for bicycle sellers, the containers and warehouses are full of bikes. Then came the first lockdown. All of a sudden, ports and borders were closed, and traders had to shut down their businesses. “For me that was the worst professional situation of my life. For three months we somehow muddled through, solved one problem after the other. And then at some point we got into the situation that we noticed: Oh my God, that's completely reversed, "reports Ihlenfeld.
Not that the demand boom didn't cause management some sleepless nights. Due to delivery bottlenecks, customers had to wait months for their bikes. And used Woom bikes were sold above their original price via the Willhaben online marketplace. In the meantime, according to Ihlenfeld, the mega-jam is as good as worked up, and no customer has to wait more than eight weeks for their ordered bike.
In order to prevent future bottlenecks, the company is currently investing heavily in digitization and thus in strengthening the resilience of the supply chain. With the upcoming introduction of a cloud-based supply chain management solution, with the help of which buyers, technicians, factory operators, freight carriers, shipping companies and all other parties involved can share information in real time, the process should be made much faster and more efficient.
New sales markets
After all, even in the current core market - Europe and North America - Woom's market potential is far from being exhausted. In Germany, the market share is around ten percent, in Spain or France, for example, Woom is hardly present at all. That should change in the next five years. But Asia is also a growth market. “In China alone there are now 400 million people who have an income with which they can afford such a bike. That would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. This growing layer is of course a target group for us, ”says Dohm.
While the Asian market will continue to be supplied with bicycles made in Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh, children in Austria and Scandinavia will soon mainly be using bicycles from the neighborhood: in Swiebodzin, Poland, Woom children's bicycles have been available since the beginning of this year Manufactured for the European market, more than 100.000 pieces are to come off the production line there this year. “Labor costs in Poland are four times higher than in Asia. But our concept is simple: we want to produce nearby for the European sales markets and save ourselves the 35 days of sea freight. As a children's product manufacturer, we have an eminent interest in the CO2-To minimize emissions, ”says Dohm. This is made possible by a high degree of automation. "To this end, even the aerospace industry is now sitting down at the same table with people like us," says Dohm.
In order to continue to reach high levels, the research and development department not only uses aviation, but also the opinions of the children of Woom employees in a very down-to-earth manner. And suddenly the start-up spirit is blowing through the corridors of the Klosterneuburg company when their own children come to visit and test the prototypes - in the courtyard in front of the company headquarters or sometimes in specially rented gyms. “They come, drive and relentlessly tell us whether something is good or a junk. We make the product for children, so of course we also ask our children what they think of the products in the development pipeline, ”explains Dohm.
This year the company will bring a new design to the market for children. Dohm expects that it will “split minds”: “Some will say: It doesn't look like a bicycle.” However, the company management is very familiar with doubts about the meaningfulness of their own ideas. "At that time, eight years ago, everyone in the industry told us that Woom was a nonsense idea and that there was no market for high-quality children's bikes," reports founder Marcus Ihlenfeld. Christian Bezdeka and he did not pay any salary for five years. Today, CEO Guido Dohm says that a customer recently wrote to him that Woom was “the new one Bitcoin". The hype surrounding the Klosterneuburg children's bikes is likely to be based on much more stable bikes.
From Klosterneuburg into the world
In 2017 - four years after the start-up was founded by industrial designer Christian Bezdeka and marketing manager Marcus Ihlenfeld - Woom's business turned out to be profitable for the first time; then sales and profits increased rapidly: in 2020 Woom sold around 230.000 children's bicycles (as well as accessories and accessories) in 30 countries, generating sales of 55 million euros. In addition, Woom won last year new investors like the Runtastic founder Florian Gschwandtner on board. The two-thirds majority remains with the two founders. At the beginning of July 2021, Woom bundled its activities in Europe and the USA. The parent company based in Klosterneuburg and the US general importer will from now on be combined in one company. Woom currently employs around 200 people, 115 of them in Klosterneuburg, the rest of them work in the USA. Incidentally, the name Woom stands for the sound of a bicycle whizzing by.