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Frog Bikes interview – Jerry & Shelley Lawson

22 October 2013

New brand Frog Bikes entered the market for quality, lightweight children’s bikes earlier this year and saw immediate success. Youth Cycle Sport interviewed founders Jerry and Shelley Lawson about how they built their company – and what they are planning next…

How has children’s cycling changed over the last generation?

Shelley: British cycling success in the Olympics last summer and at the Tour de France has had a huge impact on kids aged eight, ten and above. These days it is as aspirational as football has been for generations.

Jerry: Yes, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics British cyclists became much more visible and I think that’s probably the start of a lot more adults becoming involved. I think that London 2012 and Bradley Wiggins’s success has made it much more aspirational for kids. Now it’s not a “niche” sport at all: everybody is talking about cycling.

Shelley: When we launched Frog Bikes we thought that our market would be relatively niche, that it would only be pure cycling families who would understand the benefit of a lightweight bike for their kids, but that’s not the case at all. Everybody gets that it’s easier for their kids to ride and go faster with a lightweight bike.

Do you see the boom continuing or do you think it will drop off?

Shelley: It’s got a long way to go still – I wouldn’t imagine a plateau is on the horizon. It’s only really just started and I think it’s going to continue for a lot further.

Does it give you satisfaction that you’re contributing in some way to children’s fitness?

Shelley: Hugely. When you become parents you become much more aware of obesity and of “screen time”. Anything that gets kids away from the lure of the screen, TV and computer games is positive. If cycling can be a passion for them then that’s fantastic for us as well.

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We’re seeing a resurgence in cycling in schools now which is exciting and absolutely vital, both from an environmental point of view and a health point of view. More and more funding is coming that way. We’re talking to councils like Ealing and Harrow who are buying bikes for training. Cycling is becoming more core to the curriculum in schools. We’re not quite there yet, but there’s a movement towards it which we haven’t seen before.

Do you see a full spectrum of customers or is there a certain profile? Is cycling accessible to less privileged, urban children too?

Shelley: To address the overall point: I think BMX opens up a completely different market that is led by the kids and not by the parents, and that’s slightly different. We support anything the sport can do to make cycling more affordable, accessible and open to schools. We’re doing some work with Herne Hill velodrome at the moment. They’ve got a set of Frog Bikes and they run weekly events around South London schools and summer holiday projects as well. That’s right at the grass roots. So that shouldn’t be too socio-demographic specific, and it should be open to anybody.

Jerry: I think cycling does span the whole of society, and we have stockists across the whole country. We have a stockist in London which has become big for us. They’re in a very urban area and it’s a BMX store, but they’re selling Frog Bikes and they’re doing really well.

Probably where we come in to our own is that we’ve made good bikes affordable. So, yes, customers pay a little bit more than if they’re going to a big box retailer, but they get a bike that they enjoy riding. It means children of all sizes and from all walks of life can ride decent bikes.

Shelley: We’ve got a fantastic store in Glasgow that sells a lot of our bikes. They’re working with a community group and have some government funding and lottery funding, and their whole aim is to bring cycling into an impoverished area of Glasgow – to help kids get outdoors, get some exercise, start to race, and just try to reverse the cycles of poverty and boredom amongst kids.

All you need is a bike and the outdoors – you don’t need any more equipment than that.

What help do you think parents and children need to get started in cycling and racing?

Shelley: Danger on the roads is something that a lot of urban families are concerned about, and that’s probably the biggest barrier to getting out cycling more. It’s alright in semi-rural places with nice quiet roads and a park around the corner, but it can be hard to find somewhere safe in large cities.

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Jerry: We probably need more organised events allowing kids to spend time on bikes. Maybe it’s away from the parents, maybe it’s with parents. We’ve been keen to give kids the opportunity to ride our bikes at events. It also helps us by having a little extra product testing done.

Shelley: We’ve been involved with Human Race this summer down at Dorney Lake at their Scootathlons for young children – they’re phenomenal! The kids do a short scoot, a bike ride and then a run to finish. It’s a really good, non-threatening route into competitive sport.

How do you approach design for the youth market?

Jerry: The main thing is making bikes easy for children to utilise. So we test our specifications with children and ask how things work for them. For example, we’re avoiding thumb-shifters because kids aren’t strong enough to flip them. We’ve used the best twistgrip shifters on the market instead.

Making the bike simple was important. A lot of other brands are actually very complicated – there’s a whole load of toys on their bikes that kids don’t use. Suspension is a good example.

Shelley: Light weight and simplicity are at the heart of our brand. There are some brands out there that have a lot of bespoke, non-standard components, which is a real pain if anything goes wrong. So almost all of our components are standard. If somebody wants a shorter or longer stem it’s easy to swap, which the bike shops have loved.

As a new brand, having well-known branded components throughout has helped Frog Bikes quite a lot. It gives people confidence. “Oh, Tektro gears, Tektro brakes – yes I know where they are with those”. Same with our stores: they like to have Tektro and Shimano.

MM0_2439_WEB-LGEJerry: And they’re fully guaranteed, so if anything goes wrong with a Tektro brake they can pick up another Tektro brake. They can get it from us, but they’re probably already dealing with the company which brings Tektro into this country. Similarly with Shimano.

Shelley: When we were first developing the spec Jerry was passionate about finding the smallest possible brake levers and the lightest possible pedals.

Jerry: I’d actually like to make the bikes even lighter. It’s quite harsh that I can have a 7 kg mountain bike but our largest bike weighs 10 kg.

When we looked at the market (and this is why we went in to it) there was nothing lightweight available from the independent bike shops. Independents have the market and they are the volume. There isn’t an alternative product right now so the luxury we have is that we are the first company to do this through independents.

My years working in retail have taught me to study the customer and start with them. I think other manufacturers often start with top-end racing and then look at how they can bring that into the mass market.

Shelley: If it’s not comfortable, safe and light, then we’re not having it. We could have made choices which would have made our life easier but which wouldn’t have been right for the customer. I think that’s starting to come out in the reviews – people are seeing that thought has gone into our design.

We always like kids to lift up the bikes which shows how light they are. One kilo of weight to a ten year old is the same as several kilos to me. We always talk about the bike’s percentage of body weight.

Jerry: The other thing I always focus on is our sizing. The old fashioned way of sizing is to use the age of a child to set the size of the bike. Our approach is based on how tall the child is, not how old – everything we do is about the height of the saddle. So the inside leg measurement of a child is the right starting point.

Shelley: We’ve seen so many kids lose their confidence because they’ve been put on bikes that are too big because parents want them to last three years. But the kids are stretched out too far forwards, can’t touch the ground, and are put off cycling. I think until they’re quite competent riders they need the security of actually being able to get their feet down.

Jerry: We’ve got long seat posts so we do still allow lots of growth. When riders get bigger their riding position flattens out a bit as they become more experienced.

How do you handle production and distribution?

Jerry: Some of the big, well-known brands have their own factories. We’re small and we don’t have a dedicated production line (apart from at the time of production itself). The rest of the time the factories are producing for other people too and that’s no different to some of the other brands. But what happens in the future and how we develop is going to be different to everybody else.

Because we’re small we have a lot of interaction with our stockists, and they’re always happy to pick up the phone to give us useful feedback. One of the things that we need to think about as the number of stockists grows is maintaining good interaction with them.

MM0_2464_WEB-LGEThe relationship with our stockists is key for us in developing the product. Our road bike project is a really good example because the dealers want them. We already had it on our agenda, but they were driving the demand because they love our product.

The other thing that makes us different is that our brand is very kid-friendly. For example, none of the other brands have a logo aimed at kids and I think even that helps us in lots of ways. We’ve made sure all the way through that it’s about the child.

It helps us that we’ve got four or five funky colours. In each size, there are choices so there’s some individuality.

Jerry: When we started we didn’t have a very big store base. Customers could order their bike on our website and we’d deliver it free to their local bike shop which meant that we tended to hear about very good bike shops in different areas. We’d offer a fee to the shop to put the bike together, after which they’d often order one or two bikes for their first order and then build up from there. It’s been a fantastic arrangement.

Dealers dedicated to an individual big brand might need to carry 80% of their products from that brand but they’re allowed freedom in certain other places. For example, four or five Giant dealers have taken our products. I went to them just on the off chance and they just didn’t have many kids’ bikes so they looked at our product. First they ordered two or three Frog Bikes, then eight or more, and before you know it we’re out of stock because they’re selling them!

Shelley: Sometimes, it’s customer-led. Some stores are reluctant to take something new, because it can be a fairly conservative industry. But when customers keep asking them for Frog Bikes they start to stock them. So we’ve had a “push” strategy and we’ve also had a “pull” strategy.

What do you think the resale market will be for Frog Bikes?

Shelley: We’re keen to find out in a year or so’s time! Several of our reviewers have picked up on it – they’ve said that the quality is so good that they anticipate Frog Bikes will hold their value.

MM0_2443_WEB-LGEWe’re also planning to help the stores a little bit with that by devising a second-hand Frog scheme so customers can go back to the stockist for a part exchange. Then we’ll have a market place so people can see which second-hand Frogs are available in their area. Stores can recondition them if needed, we can give them any spares needed, and then we’ll get the bikes back out into the market. Partly that’s an environmental thing as well.

Why do you think the major manufacturers have often failed to offer quality children’s bikes?

Jerry: They saw the adult market as where the volume was. Also, people can spend a lot of money on adult bikes, and there’s a lot more margin on those.

Shelley: That’s why they produce so many SKUs {Ed: product variations} – so many sizes, colours, and so on.

Jerry: For example, Trek has 190 bikes in their range of which about ten are kids’ bikes. So that’s 5% of their range. It’s not important to them, it’s too peripheral.

We only do kids’ bikes and that’s probably the key difference. It avoids all the “noise” in the adult market.

Shelley: It would require quite an investment for big manufacturers to get into it and they don’t have the appetite for it. They may well do in the future, and it’s certainly something to look out for – clearly there’s nothing to stop them piling in. But it’s still slightly baffling that they haven’t seen the potential before.

Jerry: There’s a lot of opportunity for competition in this space, lots of bikes to be made, and lots of kids to be riding the bikes. The heavy stuff doesn’t need to be purchased.

Shelley: We were certainly addressing the leisure market to start with, but we’re launching road bikes too in the next few months because that’s a huge, growing end of the market. That’s the next development for us, including addressing the competitive sport market and club cycling.

What is it that excites you and interests you most at the moment?

Shelley: It’s the international interest that we’ve had. We’ve been approached by so many distributors and retailers all over the world who want Frog Bikes. So, for us it’s about balancing growth at home with opportunities overseas because we need to control our resources. There’s a whole new set of challenges as soon as it becomes international, so that’s exciting.

Jerry: I’m very excited about the further development of the product. I think there’s a lot more to do. The next bike is even better and I still want to get the bikes lighter. Finding ways to make it better all round but also lighter – that’s the challenge that has really excited me. As well as making sure we never run out of stock again! We’ve been very lucky because the shops love our product, and we’ve been open and honest with them. Low stock and back-orders have made us think about our supply chain and this comes back to our experience of running and developing businesses. We’re still in our infancy, only seven months on from launch.

Shelley: We’ve been shortlisted for a couple of awards too which is really fun, particularly the Bikebiz one that we’ve been nominated for by the industry itself.

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2 responses to:

Frog Bikes interview – Jerry & Shelley Lawson

  1. November 6, 2013

    Jerry and Shelley – great product and you are so right about the parental desire to get a bike that is too big just so we can grow in to it! I remember, if my foot was on the ground, the other was up by my ears! Good luck. Can you design one for my market next please, would be great to see more retired folk working on maintaining their health.
    Alex Lepkowski

  2. Hugo Carlen
    March 13, 2015

    Just bought a Frog 43 for the four year old daughter, and it took her 20 minutes to learn to bike. Thanks to the frog! It would be great however with some carbon components to further reduce the weight.

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