從家鄉小鎮出發

——鉅輪實業「Birzman」
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2011 / 5月

文‧王婉嘉 圖‧鉅輪實業提供


不讓大企業專美於前,中小企業也能用設計力讓企業價值翻身。彰化「鉅輪實業」用17年時間打造品牌,更用設計讓品牌加分。


走在彰化縣大村鄉間,一棟素雅的現代建築矗立在一片綠野稻田之中,清水混凝土牆,四面皆是大面窗以引進自然光線的設計,延伸自日本建築師安藤忠雄的綠建築語彙;旁邊另有一座生態池,池中的鯽魚,周圍栽植的水黃皮、九芎、茄苳等,都是台灣原生物種。這座占地1,900坪的寬闊廠房,是台灣自行車手工具品牌「Birzman」的總部基地。

近年來在國際市場快速竄起的Birzman,是專營自行車零組件貿易代工的鉅輪實業旗下品牌,Birzman是以年輕、創意、友善為概念出發點的新創字,品牌邁入第四年,已銷售全球三十多國,多次獲得德國iF、紅點獎項,甚至曾奪下由iF與全球最大車展Eurobike合辦、僅限自行車產品角逐的設計大獎。

台灣是自行車製造王國,彰化縣更有四百多家自行車製造及相關零組件廠商,占了全台近七成的市場,是單車產業一級重鎮,揚名國際的自行車品牌「美利達」,也發跡於此。

創業資本43萬元

49年次的鉅輪實業總經理郭中村,出身自彰化頗具名望的醫生世家,1980年代自英國威爾斯大學取得MBA學位時,正是台灣單車產業蓬勃發展的榮景時刻,他先至自行車貿易商工作數年之後,1991年靠著媽媽標會得來的43萬元為創業資本,成立鉅輪實業。

鉅輪以自行車零組件貿易商為定位,也承接國際品牌代工製造與設計的訂單,創業第一年營業額就達到新台幣800萬,在2007年創立Birzman品牌前,業績更高達3.8億元。

「但做代工就像失根的植物,開不出長久的花,」郭中村比喻。為了在國際品牌與國內代工廠的夾縫中求生存,也一圓創業之初因財力、經驗不足,未能達成的品牌夢,開始了他口中這場已「暖身17年」的耐力賽。

他想起,常聽到國外的自行車玩家抱怨,拆卸專業自行車的小型手工具不是重量太重,就是功能太陽春,為何沒有一套既輕便又功能齊全的手工具機?讓他頓生靈感,以此作為自創品牌的切入利基。

「Birzman的設計都源自於大自然」,郭中村舉例說,「迷你工具組」的靈感來自於羽毛,以輕量又富極高強度的鋁合金為原料;「迷你打氣筒」則是參考水筆仔外型,而「蜻蜓打鍊器」的弧形手把造形,取自於蜻蜓點水的那一瞬間,旋轉握把的設計則採用竹蜻蜓童玩為概念發想。

熱愛戶外運動,早在10年前即完成單車環島壯舉,至今每天仍騎重型機車上班的郭中村,更從使用經驗出發,領導設計團隊。

例如明星商品「ZACOO50」打氣筒,外型以樹木軀幹為靈感,筒身內傾5度,一改坊間打氣筒多為筆直外型,打到高壓處既費力也不順手的缺點,特殊角度的傾斜設計,既符合人體工學又較為省力。

參展廣結人脈,攻占國際市場

台灣自行車店普及,維修費用低廉,專業DIY維修工具需求不高, Birzman產品95%以上都是外銷。不過,雖然國外市場大,但已成氣候的品牌勁敵也多,因此如何在各國找到投契的代理商,成了重要關鍵。

自行車有別於其他產業的特殊之處,在於光是內含的零件就有上千種,品項繁多,因此類似只做一個小車輪軸,就能撐起一家工廠的例子比比皆是,由於重疊性低,同行之間,與其說是競爭對手,更像是相互支援依存的盟友。

郭中村個性親和豪爽,說起話來氣魄十足,業界闖盪近20年,廣結深厚人脈,透過國際參展、客戶牽線,打進各國市場反倒不是問題,目前英國、荷蘭、日本是業績前三名的主要銷售國家。「我是運氣好、貴人多,多虧大家成全啦!」他瀟灑說道。

要成功打造品牌,掌握行銷宣傳更是箇中奧妙。Birzman於2008年起,每年贊助世界冠軍級的職業自行車選手,包括歐洲選手Jos? Antonio Hermida、Josh Bryceland、Greg Minnaar等,並邀請他們出任品牌形象代言人,由鉅輪內部決定廣告策略後,再聘請車手所在的歐洲當地攝影師,跨海遙控拍攝所需畫面,統一由公司設計團隊製作廣告稿後,再發布至全球,建立一致性的宣傳調性。

而不包括車手贊助、各國專利申請費用,光是每年用於平面媒體廣告、參加國際車展等行銷活動,就得花上新台幣800萬元。「這才體認到,要做品牌,『燒錢』的程度還真驚人!」郭中村說,雖然鉅輪仍持續承接OEM訂單,但公司營運重心與資源多轉往Birzman,和過去巔峰時期的3.8億元業績相比,目前每年營業額約在2.8億~3億元之間。

做品牌,痛苦中有快樂

連續七次奪得自行車環法賽冠軍的美國車手阿姆斯壯,曾在賽後被問起比賽感想,他只簡短回答:「Pain(痛苦)」。

郭中村認為,做品牌也是一種痛苦的快樂,他以「掌舵者」自居,得理性兼顧企業經營成本,也必須以感性思維,開發美學工藝兼具的新產品。

以今年得到德國紅點獎的「Horizons」打氣筒為例,發想自地平線,服貼的端塞,可用指尖輕易開啟,而利用凹凸點來固定及保護氣嘴頭的設計,則能避免粉塵的堵塞,營造簡潔美感,前後足足花了一年才開發成功,與過去純代工時期相比,公司仍在摸索為設計所需付出的時間與人力成本。

由於鉅輪位在彰化鄉村,人才也是一大難題。目前的5人設計團隊,郭中村全數雇用剛畢業的社會新鮮人,一方面是認為他們可塑性高、潛力十足,符合新創品牌的精神,同時也回想到自己初入社會時,因沒有工作經驗而求職連連碰壁的情形;因地緣關係,有意前來面試者,多畢業自鄰近的彰化大葉大學或雲林科技大學,但是中部以外的學生,可能連大村在哪都摸不著頭緒,應試意願也低。

此外,對放眼全球市場的Birzman來說,極需英文說寫流利的國際行銷人才,然而有此條件的人才,多集中在台北都會區,既有能力,又願意待在彰化工作者,更是屈指可數。

郭中村說,卡在語言隔閡,如何更精準地闡述品牌精神,一直是個挑戰,目前多由他親自上陣撰寫品牌文案,再經友情力挺的Birzman英國代理商潤飾修改。

用在地資源做全球生意

從在地彰化起家的郭中村,很想為大村盡一份心力。他回憶在歐洲出差時,造訪各國小鎮,常遇見客戶熱情介紹當地風景,從釀酒廠、果園,到器皿刀具,有百年歷史的家族品牌比比皆是,這幅安居樂業、自給自足的景象,讓他反思起自己家鄉的未來。「大村以盛產葡萄聞名,但每當國外客戶來訪時,若非葡萄產期,還真不知道要介紹什麼?」

決定做品牌以後,他將原位於彰化員林的鉅輪辦公室遷回大村,一來著眼於大村具有強勢的供應鏈和產業聚落,二來帶動經濟發展,「用在地的資源做世界的生意」。

「做代工自由,賺錢比較容易,做品牌自在,更忙碌,但心中踏實,」回想起成立品牌以來的點滴心境,郭中村如此說道,語畢又連忙笑著補充,當然最希望Birzman能繼續擴大茁壯,才會「自由又自在」!

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近期文章

EN

From the Village to the World--Dirotech's Birzman Brand

Wang Wan-chia /photos courtesy of courtesy of Birzman /tr. by Scott Gregory

Not content to let the big operators dominate the market, small and medium-sized businesses can turn to design to build their brands. Chang-hua -County's Di-ro-tech took 17 years to establish its own brand, and it used design to create its brand's identity.


In Da-cun Township, Chang-hua -County, a minimalistic, modernist building rises above the verdant fields and rice paddies. Designed with unadorned concrete walls and large windows on all four sides to bring in natural light, it is an extension of the Japanese architect Ta-dao Ando's vocabulary of green architecture. This spacious factory of around 6,200 square meters is the headquarters of Birzman, a Taiwanese manufacturer of tools for bicyclists.

Birzman, which has made headway quickly in international markets in recent years, is a brand under the flag of Di-ro-tech, a dealer of bicycle parts. Now in its fourth year of operation, it operates in more than 30 countries worldwide. It has repeatedly won Germany's iF and red dot awards, and even received a bicycle product design award given jointly by iF and Euro-bike, the world's largest bicycle trade show.

Taiwan is the land of bicycle manufacturing, and there are more than 400 bicycle and parts manufacturers in Changhua County, accounting for 70% of Taiwan's market. It's an important spot in the bike world, also home to the international brand Merida.

A NT$430,000 startup

When Lawrence Kuo, the 51-year-old CEO of Dirotech, received his MBA from the University of Wales in 1980, Taiwan's bike industry was just beginning to flourish. After working in a parts trading company for several years, he founded Di-ro-tech in 1991 with NT$430,000 in capital his mother had borrowed from her mutual lending association.

Dirotech established itself as a bicycle parts trading company. It also takes manufacturing and design orders from international brands. In its first year, it did NT$8 million in business, and in 2007, before starting the Birzman line, it did NT$380 million.

"But doing contract work is like being a plant with no roots," Kuo says. "Its flowers won't blossom for long." In order to eke out a space between international brands on the one hand and domestic contract manufacturers on the other, and to fulfill his original dream of creating a brand of his own-a goal he at first lacked the capital and experience to achieve-he began what he calls the "17-year warmup" to the marathon to come.

He recalls often hearing foreign cyc-lists complain that portable bike tools were either too heavy or too simple, wishing they had a complete lightweight but fully-functioning toolset. That's when he had his moment of realization and found an entry for creating his own brand.

"Birzman's designs all come from nature," Kuo explains. He gives the example of the mini toolset, which was inspired by feathers. It is made of a light yet strong aluminum alloy. Or, take the mini air pump, which was designed with reference to the shape of the Kandelia mangrove. Then there's the design of the handle to the "dragonfly chain tool," which was taken from the instant a dragonfly touches the water. The inspiration for its rotation comes from a children's toy dragonfly made of bamboo.

Their star product, the Zacoo 5o floor-standing air pump, is modeled after a tree trunk. The body is angled back five degrees whereas most on the market are straight and hard to pump air to a high pressure with. The unique angled design of the Zacoo 5o pump makes it both ergonomic and easier to pump.

Global connections

In Taiwan, bicycle stores are everywhere and repairs are inexpensive, so there's little demand for DIY tools. More than 95% of Birzman's sales are in exports. But while the foreign market is big, there are also a lot of established competitors. That made finding dependable local representatives in each country crucial.

The thing that sets the bicycle business apart from others is that there are thousands of internal parts alone, in any number of categories. There might be an entire factory dedicated to making parts for hubs, for example. There's little overlap in specializations, so those in the industry who might be competitors are more like cooperating allies.

Kuo's personality is warm and straightforward, and his speech is full of spirit. He's been in the industry for 20 years and has a lot of business contacts. Through international trade shows and client networks, it's no problem for him to enter any market in the world. Currently, his most important markets are in the UK, the Netherlands, and Japan.

In creating a brand, marketing is key. Since 2008, Birzman has sponsored world-class cyclists including Jose Antonio Her-mida, Josh Bryce-land, and Greg Min-naar, and also had them act as spokespeople for the brand's image. Once Di-ro-tech headquarters creates an advertising strategy, they hire photographers in Europe local to the cyclists and direct them from abroad on what they need. The results are then matched up with the advertising team's plan and sent around the world as part of a unified campaign.

And in addition to sponsorships and patent fees, the company spends NT$8 million a year on marketing activities such as print media advertising and international expos. "Now I realize what a scary amount of money you have to burn to establish a brand," Kuo says.

Pleasure and pain

Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France, was once asked what he felt after a race. His one-word answer: "Pain."

According to Kuo, creating a brand is a mix of pain and pleasure. As master of the ship, he has to be sensible in managing the costs of operation. But he also has to use his passion to develop new products that are innovative in aesthetics and craft.

The Horizons air pump, winner of this year's red dot award, is an example. Modeled after the horizon, the perfectly fitting retainer end cap can be opened by flexing the top, and the mouth of the valve is held in place and protected by protruding and concave parts. This prevents blockage from dirt and provides a neat, simple aesthetic. It took a year to develop- the design-. With its roots as a contract manufacturer, the company was at that time still discovering how much time and human resources it takes to design.

Since Dirotech is located in Changhua County, attracting talent is a big difficulty. The current five-member design team consists of fresh graduates chosen by Kuo, who believes their flexibility and potential fit the spirit of a new brand.

Birzman has its sights set on the glo-bal market, so it needs marketers with fluent English speaking and writing skills. But such candidates are for the most part concentrated in the Taipei area. Not many with the necessary skills are willing to be located in Changhua.

Kuo says that accurately describing the brand's vision from behind a language barrier has always been a challenge. Currently, he usually writes documents relating to the brand himself and has his British distributor clean it up.

 

Kuo, a Dacun local, wants to make a contribution to the area. He remembers how, when he was doing business in Europe, visiting little villages in the various countries, his customers would often warmly show him the local sights. There was everything from breweries and orchards to family businesses with a hundred years' history making tableware and knives. Their contentment and self-sufficiency made him ponder the future of his own hometown.

Once he decided to create a brand, he moved Dirotech's offices from their original place in Yuanlin back to his home village. For one, it was closer to the supply chain and the rest of the industry, and also, he wanted to stimulate the local economy-using local resources in a global business.

Reflecting on the experience of establishing a brand, he says, "It's easier to make money as a contract manufacturer. It's more work running a brand, but it's more satisfying." When he's done speaking, he adds with a laugh that of course he hopes Birzman can continue to expand so he can be "free and at peace!"

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