2011 / 5月
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。
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.
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.
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.
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!"