On June 19, Josh Hon, formerly with Dahon, announced the launch of a new folding bicycle company, Tern Bicycles.
As a person who rides folding bicycles, I found the prospect of a new folding bike company exciting. At the same time, I wondered about the future of Dahon, given the exodus of quite a few people from that company. Assuming owners and prospective buyers of Dahons also had concerns, I directed several questions to Steve Cuomo, Dahon’s public relations manager.
Here’s what he said (my questions are in bold):
Is Dahon the same company it was six months ago or three years ago? If not, what’s changed: global reach, product line, mission?
On the whole, to U.S. consumers and bicycle retailers we haven’t changed, except that our global marketing team has stopped devoting such a big part of our resources to pushing the BioLogic brand at the expense of the Dahon brand. We’re refocusing solely on the venerable Dahon brand, and will not use the BioLogic brand any more, which we feel removes a distraction and is a step in the right direction. Internally, several Dahon employees have gone on to launch Tern. They will also assume the BioLogic brand for their accessories. While their departures leave a void, we’ve hired some significant talent recently, and Dahon still has 1,200 employees and global partners, and more than 100 current distributors around the world who are 100 percent behind the brand. The 2012 line of products has some new technology and models. These will be unveiled publicly at Eurobike this August, and will begin shipping the latter half of this year and in early 2012. The company’s future is bright, and we are very excited about the future.
Let’s talk about the BioLogic brand. As someone intrigued by the seatpost/pump and brake lever/bell of the Dahon Bullhead bicycle, I’m wondering how the loss of this brand affects how Dahon will spec its bikes in the future.
The previous marketing team put the BioLogic brand on many more-or-less “off the shelf” components that Asian parts makers offer to anyone. The brake lever with integrated bell is an example of this, and we will continue to use it minus the BioLogic logo. We plan to upgrade a lot of the components that were labeled BioLogic while leaving that brand off. The PostPump is not one of these examples. This unique design was licensed by Dahon, and Dahon did significant development work on it, improving it over the years. It will continue to come as standard equipment on many Dahon models, branded Dahon.
You have an interesting challenge from a communication standpoint: Do you expect any changes in the way Dahon communicates to prospects and customers?
As mentioned, we will launch 2012 models at Eurobike this August. We will also increase advertising with the Dahon brand. By some crazy coincidence, the outgoing marketing team seemed to de-emphasize the Dahon brand toward the end of their tenure while focusing more and more on BioLogic. We plan to increase advertising under the Dahon brand significantly, and will continue to attend trade events as always.
We all favor the organizations we’re involved with, but I’m interested in what Dahon really does right. What are its strengths? What is it working to improve?
Some say Dr. Hon is the father of the modern folder. He’s been refining the ride, fold and quality of folding bikes for about 30 years. We have our own factory (always have), 100 percent under our own control, with vast experience in engineering and manufacturing only folders. From the beginning the company was founded on the premise of increasing the use of bicycles and mass transit, and decreasing pollution. Dr. Hon has always felt strongly that by increasing the utility of the bicycle, making it easier to use under more circumstances, we can realize these ideals. There’s just so much history of Dahon being devoted to the folding bike category and the idea that more people can and should commute and simply get around in more environmentally friendly and healthier ways. I’m proud of Dahon’s support of groups like Transportation Alternatives, Complete Streets, MassBike, Clif Bar’s 2-Mile Challenge, California Bicycle Coalition, etc., etc. On the other hand, the bikes are not perfect. We continually work to make them easier to carry, lighter weight, fold smaller, look better. We feel they are the best on the market in terms of balancing all of these aspects, but they’re certainly not perfect. There’s always room for improvement.
I read recently that Dahon will serve all of Europe from a European factory. So, what does the “new” Dahon look like? How do recent events affect your employment levels and production channel?
Some of our production for Europe was being made in Europe for past several years. The difference is that we will now produce 100 percent of it there, and from a factory with new, state-of-the-art technology. We own our own factory in China, and plan to add another, but we’ve also supplemented our production with third-party factories quite a bit over the past few years and that will also continue where appropriate. Our employee level hasn’t changed significantly. We still have about 1,200 employees and partners around the world.
Is there any business relationship at all between Dahon and Tern?
None that I know of.
Given Dahon’s historic focus on lowest-cost production, what is the benefit to Dahon of being headquartered in the United States?
Doctor Hon was working as a physicist at Hughes Aircraft in the U.S. when he first developed his folding bicycle design. He developed prototypes and, at first, tried to sell the idea to existing bicycle companies. In the end, he moved to Asia to make the bikes himself. His family remained in the U.S. for several years until he was able to build up the business. They still have a residence in California and the global home base and North American sales and distribution hub is located in Duarte, California. We do not produce bicycles there. We have more than 100 distributors around the globe, and will likely add more over the next few months. I’m not sure you’d call a company that sells a lot of bikes priced over $1,000 “focused on lowest-cost production,” but nearly all companies need to remain price competitive, so we source our product where we get the best balance of quality at a competitive cost. Producing in our own factory give us the luxury of not disclosing all of our proprietary information to third-party factories. It also allows us to oversee quality under our own roof. It seems there is a trend toward more and more companies being spread around the world with employees in remote locations. And fewer consumers are concerned about where products are made, as long as the products have good design and quality at a fair price.
Finally, could you give me a brief summary of your history with and prior to Dahon?
I was the head of product at Cannondale, working there 1985-96. I was also vice president of Product Design and Engineering at Schwinn/GT, working in Santa Ana, California, from 1996 to 2000 (mostly before the Schwinn merger). Since 2001 I’ve been a sales and marketing consultant in the industry for many companies but mainly managing OEM sales for Selle Royal Group globally (crankbrothers, fi’zi:k, Brooks) and, since 2004, PR/marketing for Dahon. In the early 2000s, I launched Topolino Technology with Rafe Schlanger, and the I-Beam system with SDG.