If you take one glance at the branding and design features of Lekker Bikes you can see the Dutch influence, but this relatively company with global ambitions is actually Australian born and bred.
We researched this story in two parts, firstly a visit to Lekker’s Sydney concept store where we took photos and spoke to the store manager and secondly an interview with Lekker’s founder Meindert Wolfraad, which we’ll start with before looking inside the Sydney store.
Bicycling Trade: What was your background before joining the bicycle industry?
Meindert Wolfraad: I studied medical engineering. It was always interesting to find the bridge between the technical aspects of engineering and the marketing and sales. When I arrived in Australia from the Netherlands I found a gap in the market. We were used to riding all Dutch bicycles every day. In Sydney I couldn’t find the normal bike like that eight years ago when I wanted to ride to the university.
BT: How old were you when you moved from Holland?
MW: I was 28. My goal was just to improve my English and culture. Then to go to the university I needed a bike, because that’s what we usually do. When I couldn’t find the normal bike I thought, ‘Let’s buy a bike in Holland, bring it over and see what happens.’ A lot of people loved it and said, ‘Can I buy one?’ So I flew 20 over and then more people were interested so I put one bike in the back of the car and drove almost all around Australia. Not Perth but Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Cairns and I pre sold 200 bikes to bike shops. I ordered the first container and when they arrived I shipped everything out.
It was very scary because you live for six or eight months in a country, you don’t speak very well English, you meet everybody for maybe half an hour in each shop. Based upon their word you place an order. All your savings have gone into a massive debt to start in business. You borrow money from your parents. Then the bikes are received into your warehouse. Probably around 60 or 70% were all shipped out straight away and you keep your fingers crossed that everybody will pay!
BT: And did they pay?
MW: Yes, maybe two didn’t pay. I had an EFTPOS machine for the first time and I didn’t know how it worked and a friend of mine gave me a tip. He said, ‘Why you don’t call all the retailers and tell them that their bikes have arrived and you’re sending them out and give them all 5% discount if they paid now by credit card.’ And that’s what I did. 50% of retailers took up that option. I was super happy because at least I had some money to live!
I think the bicycle industry, especially in Australia, it’s quite an honest industry. The reason why is because in Australia you have more sport bike orientation bike shops and the owners of most of the bike shops are ex pro riders or fanatic bicycle riders. I think if you do well at sports you can do well in business.
In the Netherlands you have quite a lot of random bike shops, selling second hand bikes and they change owners every year and they’ve no passion about bikes. It’s just like selling shoes because everyone needs shoes to get out of the house and in Holland it’s the same with bikes.
BT: Were those first bikes Lekker Bikes?
MW: No they were VanMoof bikes.
BT: Are you still selling VanMoof?
MW: No. They increased the prices quite a lot and I didn’t have control of what I was doing. They could do whatever they liked. They could increase the price, they could take over if it wasn’t successful, so I didn’t feel confident. I could have a contract with them but if I didn’t make my sales numbers, my contract was useless, the same as what happened with Gazelle in Australia. I thought I’d start my own brand and build a brand for myself rather than for somebody else.
BT: When did you start Lekker as a brand?
MW: April 2009. Maybe a year after I imported the first VanMoof bikes. I did them both for two years.
You start by placing an order in China. That’s a story in itself, because you have no idea what you’re doing. If I see myself doing stuff eight years ago compared to today, you’re just naïve. The Chinese love to play with you. They make the rules and you pay too much and the quality is absolutely crap and you don’t have control.
With Lekker I completely changed the philosophy of an old school Dutch bike. Everyone in the Netherlands is used to the omafiets (grandmother bike). It is often black, 25kgs, single speed, with an extremely upright position so you can’t climb any hills.
It was not made for Australia. So I changed a Dutch bike into an Australian bike. Not only the lifestyle for Australia, which is great, but also the technology, meaning you have to have between 12 kg and max 15kg depending on how many gears it can take and how strong you want the frame design. You also need to have to have different geometry to climb the hills. Still upright but more leaning forward and the triangle is different and the colour. So not only black but the rainbow of Australian beautiful colours.
I live by the ocean because kite surfing is still one of my biggest passions and the ocean in general. The way we treat out bikes in the Netherlands is that we don’t park them inside but always park them outside. That’s also something that I would like the Australian consumers know, that the bikes we are producing live on the streets in Australia.
Some streets are close to the ocean and because I live close to the ocean, I get very annoyed if I see parts rusting on a bike. People often think if it’s rusty, it’s not new and I need a new bike. The last thing I want is a bike that becomes old after six months if you live close to the ocean. A bike needs to have a life time of a minimum of 10 years or longer. My grandmother was riding the same bike for 40 years. The philosophy of buying a bike and using it for the rest of your life is important
It doesn’t matter where you live, testing near the ocean is the best way to do it. There is a lot of publicity too if you park bikes in front of the Icebergs clubrooms at Bondi Beach.
I didn’t have marketing material to promote my first Lekker bikes. So I locked maybe 10 bikes in the Sydney CBD around poles on footpaths. I put business cards with them. Every day I checked the business cards and a minimum of 20 for each bike were gone with only a couple left. I saw my Google analytics growing quite well. I got calls every day from people wanting a cool bike, and asking how much they cost, so it worked.
BT: Do you still sell bikes through dealers in Australia as well?
MW: Yes, we have about 45 dealers. We’re growing very fast at the moment. Maybe 30 retailers have been with me right from the start for the last eight years. I think it’s very important to give them exclusivity for a certain area. I don’t see the benefit of having a Lekker bike shop on every corner because nobody makes a good amount of money out of it. Every square metre of the shop needs to be used well.
BT: You have some shops yourself?
MW: Three. One in Sydney, one in Melbourne and one in Amsterdam. Next year we will have one in Brooklyn, New York.
BT: How long have you been selling in Holland?
MW: Three years. With every brand you introduce it takes a minimum of two years to get your name out there. Having the first thousand bikes on the street, if people are happy with it only then can you survive. The first two years are the hardest.
We have a warehouse in Rotterdam to service the shop in Amsterdam. We send everything from Rotterdam to America and all around Europe and then from Australia we distribute to Singapore, New Zealand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Emirates.
BT: How many countries are you selling bikes in altogether?
MW: We have agents in America, Chile, South Africa and Singapore and then Europe we do ourselves and then Australia, New Zealand. We sell online to Japan.
BT: How many staff do you have?
MW: In Melbourne five, two in Sydney, and three in Amsterdam. I don’t want to have too many people. I just want a good team spirit and passion.
BT: In your Sydney shop there seems to be only three models of bike, one of which has electric and non-electric versions.
MW: My key point is to keep range as simple as possible. I don’t go with six or eight different colours with three gears, seven gears, five different frames sizes… then you will be bankrupt quite soon! Keep it lean and mean. Everywhere in the world, all the colours, all the models, everything is the same.
BT: How many colours do you have of each bike?
MW: Three main ones: black, green and blue. We always do one unique colour: pink, purple, green, red that’s the new edition, but only about 5% sell out of those colours.
Next year it’s just black, blue and green for the women, for the men it’s black, blue and silver.
BT: How did you get the name Lekker? What does the name mean?
MW: I needed to come up with the name. The supplier told me probably two days before he painted the bikes, what’s the name? I went to a bar in Melbourne and just asked randomly around ‘Hey guys I’ve got a problem, can you help me?’
‘Oh, yeah! What’s the problem?’
‘I’m starting a bicycle brand but I don’t have a name.’
What’s better than brainstorming with random people in a bar?
There was one girl who had travelled in Amsterdam and she said ‘I know a nice name. Everywhere I went I heard the name Lekker all the time.’
Lekker has a lot of different meanings like ‘lekker weather’ and we use that all the time. It’s good weather, it’s ‘lekker weather’.
There are a lot of hot girls in the Netherlands so everybody says ‘That’s a hot chick, ‘lekker ding.’’ Or you can say also related to food. It’s tasty food, so ‘lekker food’. In South Africa lekker means cool. So I thought maybe this is the right name.
In the future I want to grow Lekker into a global brand, particularly in big cities around the world. Not only a nice bike, but with a good culture around it.
I’ve also started a boat brand called Lekker boats.
The next thing for our business is Lekker clothes. So I started the clothes caps, t-shirts, sweaters and that kind of stuff and I would like to make a Lekker clothes brand.
I’ve just come back from Fiji and I would like to start the ‘Lekker Life’ or ‘Lekker Dream’, meaning having your own island and having a nice lifestyle, where you can ride your bike on an island, you can use the boats to go around, you can snorkel, you can surf and you can just swim and relax.
Basically a Lekker travel accommodation business. So I’m looking into maybe buying a small property in Fiji and having the Lekker experience.
BT: That’s am ambitious set of goals! If you don’t mind me asking, from being almost broke and bringing your first bikes in eight years ago you seem to have grown very quickly. Do you still own the company or have you brought in partners?
MW: I bought in one good friend of mine as a partner who has a small percentage 25% average in two companies, the bikes and the boats. He is a guy who is very smart, passionate about sports and has been running a very successful business for eight years in the offshore industry (oil rigs, offshore wind turbines etc) that now has over 800 people, it’s a big company and he will step out and love to help entrepreneurs grow their business, not only financially but also in mentoring and coaching them.
He’s not just doing it for the money, we want to have some fun too.
Inside Lekker’s ‘Sydney Brand Store’
As you can see from the photos that accompany this story, Lekker’s company owned store in Sydney is in an elegant old terrace house. It’s located at 415 Bourke St Surry Hills, right in front of a very busy protected bike lane, just south of Taylor Square where the major shopping thoroughfare of Oxford Street intersects.
Despite being so close to the centre of the CBD, the this particular location has little through vehicle traffic and has more of a village feel.
The shop exclusively sells Lekker, which only has three models: the Sportief, Jordaan and Amsterdam.
But within these models there are a couple of price point options and in the case of the Sportief and Jordaan, men’s and women’s model options. Most models retail in a narrow price band between $698 and $848.
The two exceptions are a Gates Belt Drive, Nuvinci variable hub version of the Amsterdam of $1,598 and an ebike version of the Jordaan for $1,998.