That some of the world’s keenest competitive cyclists choose to describe their hand-crafted Baum cycles as the “world’s best” starts with a cup of coffee at a modest industrial building in the Geelong suburb of North Shore.
Regardless of whether they are multi-millionaires with private jets or people of more modest means, the first step in the process of building bespoke bikes is for Baum staff to listen to what the client wants over a coffee.
It’s a convention, begun by business founder Darren Baum, and designed to get an answer from each and every client to the question ’why did you come to us?’
Equipped with that answer the process can begin of building a bike to exactly meet a customer’s needs.
In one week Darren’s clients might range from a Tour de France winner to a grandmother who needed a bike to address the biomechanical challenges which resulted from knee surgery, some arthritis and living in a hilly suburb.
“We get as much pleasure providing Cadel Evans with a bike as we do helping to change that grandmother’s life,” Darren Baum says.
An A-grade rider by his mid-teens, Darren had an accident which at 17 abruptly stopped his riding career. But the seeds of an idea for a business had been sown when he decided that he couldn’t afford European-made bikes nor did he like the Australian-made products.
Later undertaking an apprenticeship as an aircraft maintenance engineer, his workplace enabled him to experiment and innovate. This with the biomechanical problems he experienced following his accident- which were to give him an insight into both the geometry and handling of bikes- became pointers to the business that would become Baum Cycles.
“These factors ultimately resulted in a naïve decision to have a go at making bikes, something which capitalised on the enjoyment I get through working with my hands,” Mr Baum said. This was despite a concern expressed by his Father about starting a business.
Just as Mr Baum says there is no formal training for what he has done or the paths he has taken to build an internationally-recognised business in his home town, Baum Cycles does not conform to conventional images of a manufacturing business in today’s global marketplace. It is arguable that is why it is succeeding in a market dominated by much larger businesses.
A basic premise of the business is that hand-crafted or bespoke bikes are the best option for racing bikes, given that an individual’s biomechanical requirements dictate optimum performance of rider and machine.
If a cup of coffee helps start a dialogue to clearly define a customer’s needs, then the customer remains foremost in the corporate mindset of Baum Cycles.
“We look at everything from the customer’s point of view,” Mr Baum said.
In this age of multiple types of communication-from Snap Chat to snail mail- this presents a challenge as regards ongoing dialogue with the customer.
“So we operate with a single point of truth, namely a box in which all customer information is stored. This is critical to bespoke or customised manufacture.
“The acid test of success for us is if the customer has a smile on their face when they take delivery of their bike.”
The manufacturing process at Baum Cycles is a very manual one in which it is very obvious what people are doing. Unlike other forms of manufacturing, a lean and agile approach proved unsatisfactory at Baum.
Seeking the advice of a mentor as the company grew Baum was told to established cleaner, more defined work practices, advice that has Mr Baum says has paid dividends.
As part of a vibrant corporate culture, each workstation in the process of building a bike treats the next as an internal customer, something which supports an ongoing drive for quality.
Reflecting the company’s flat management structure and that its founder still enjoys being a welder Darren nevertheless plays a major role in training staff. He says the company has a corporate culture that may not appeal to everyone.
Echoing the experience of many successful entrepreneurs there have been failures along the way.
“Failures are the best time to prove yourself by the way in which you manage them,” Mr Baum said.
With the manufacturing process at the Geelong factory turning out about three bikes a week, the lead time for a bike can be between four and five months. But this is acceptable for people who look to express themselves through their bikes-whether they are former prime ministers, captains of industry or those who value a bike that is widely acknowledged as one of the best in the world.
Would a bigger workforce reduce the lead time? Mr Baum thinks otherwise, given the importance of the staff progressing up the curve that is learning to fit into the corporate culture.
“We also remain competitive by staying lean.”
Certainly diversification into products allied to bikes is a possibility but bikes remain Baum’s true passion
With a third of its production destined for export and Asia being its biggest market, Baum expects to continue steady growth.
Most customers in Australasia and neighbouring regions are direct. Further afield, such as in North America Baum very carefully selects retail outlets with whom it can partner.
While producing a world class product for a sport that has global appeal and following Darren Baum admits that financial support for a professional cycling team is beyond his small company’s capability.
Nevertheless the impact of the internet is such that Baum Cycles cannot be seen as small or think small.
“We are being judged by world’s best practice,” Mr Baum said.