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For more than eight years, Brisbane based Craftworx has been steadily building its reputation not only as a top quality wheel builder but as an Australian wheel manufacturer.
But many dealers across Australia may not be aware that Craftworx also design their own wheels from the ground up, all of which and they are hand built, here in Australia to the highest standards and available to dealers at best in class margins.
The Latz Report recently spoke with Craftworx founder Mark Kirby, who previously spent 28 years in bicycle retail as the owner of some of Brisbane’s top bicycle stores before focusing upon creating beautiful, Australian designed and built, high performance wheels.
Right now, Craftworx is launching its second generation of wheels, GEN 2, eight years in the making.
“Our first generation product was already pretty good, to be honest,” Mark reflected. “We spend a lot of time developing, designing and testing. It’s not a process that we rush.
“Our goal is to perfect it and then release it, rather than the evolution system which says, ‘That will be good enough for now, let’s bring it to market and then we’ll tweak it and bring out a revised version next year.’
“I follow what I’d describe as the Eddy Merckx system. We were the distributor of Eddy Merckx Bicycles in Australia for a number of years.
“Eddy used to design his frames and he’d keep going and keep testing until he was 110% happy. If he wasn’t happy, it just didn’t happen.
“We worked with Eddy for quite a few years and I know that system works. If you stick to the principal and you’re hard and fast to it, you really do end up with something pretty special.
“Your customers know it too. They can tell the difference. That was the thing that really stuck with me. People got passionate about what they owned. There were two types of Eddy Merckx customers, people who owned an Eddy Merckx and people who wish they’d never sold it!
“From a business principal point of view I picked a lot up from that. It’s the Craftworx ethos today – everything has purpose, intent and passion. If it’s not spectacular, then why bother?”
Clearly this philosophy has been working well for Craftworx, who have created a loyal following in the market place, one wheelset at a time.
Mark continued, “From our first generation of wheels, we’ve had some spectacular results in terms of people coming back to us. Apart from Merckx, I’ve never sold a product with so much unasked for feedback, that was massively positive.
“People will just ring us up or email. For example, we got an email this morning from Judith in Brisbane, who’d been referred to us by a longstanding customer. We sold a pair of Craftworx Ultima SSL wheels to Judith two days ago. She went for a ride this morning and sent us an email telling us how awesome they are.
“If you can achieve that consistently, then you know you’re on the right track. At my point in my career, you look for something emotionally satisfying. It’s less about the money and more about the satisfaction. That’s what gives us the drive to do what we do.”
Craftworx’ GEN 2 was in part driven by customer demands, new developments in tyre widths, disc brakes and materials technology.
Disc is obviously a primary focus in road right now and a lot of brands are dropping rim brake wheels from their range. I think this is a mistake and we have continued to invest in and improve our rim brake models. Performance road wheels are an upgrade, there are a lot of really nice road bikes out there that are running rim brakes and the rapidly increasing cost of high end road bikes is encouraging riders to upgrade their wheels in preference to buying a new bike. It’s a practical choice and it gives their bike and their riding a new lease on life. Over 60% of our existing customers fit into this category.
All GEN 2 models, alloy and carbon, are tubeless compatible and offer a wider range of rim profiles (up to 85mm in carbon) and wider internal rim widths, but there is a lot more to GEN 2 than that. Improved aerodynamic profiles combined with new composite and resin technologies have allowed us to improve ride dynamics, increase strength and reduce weight, all of which are important factors.
“That said, our wheels were already quite light,” said Mark, “This is not our top priority in wheel design, but it is important. When you go wider in the rim to accommodate the trend towards wider road tyres, if you made no other changes, they would be heavier.
For example, our current Ultima Carbon road wheels are optimised for 25mm tyres. You can run 23mm or 28mm, but really 25mm is the sweet spot. Whereas for our GEN 2 range, 28mm is the sweet spot, which allows you to run from 25mm to 30mm tyres.
“Because you’re going wider and adding the tubeless element into the design, you’re adding a lot more material. So I knew that if we didn’t change the carbon composite technology, that we would end up with a really heavy wheelset.
“So we started looking at materials. Fortunately, the companies that we partner with are very high tech in the composite world. They do a lot of research and development into new technologies. So we moved to a newer fibre composite and we’ve ended up with a wheelset that is lighter than GEN 1, but just as strong, plus it still has all the ride qualities that our customers love.”
Mountain Bike Wheels
Unlike road where carbon predominates, alloy is still popular with our customers for MTB wheels.
“Our GEN 1 models didn’t focus on the tyre/rim width relationship at all because it wasn’t so relevant in the marketplace at that time. We designed our wheels based upon ride dynamics that we wanted the build into the wheels to suit the types of uses.
“But GEN 2 is a complete turnaround. It’s still about ride dynamics, but there is now a strong focus upon matching popular internal rim widths with tyre widths, so we ticked that box first.
We then asked, ‘What profiles will create the desired structural integrity and ride dynamics within the rim design?’ and then, ‘What materials do we need to use to get the correct strength to weight balance?’ As a result, we selected a lighter but stronger grade of alloy in our new Pipeline Series.
“I don’t really talk about the specific alloys or carbon composite materials that we use. No-one in the bike industry has the volumes to go and create their own, we all use existing materials. So I never talk about what we use, because then others might start using it and create wheels that ride like ours! But there are different grades of alloy, just like there are for carbon. Alloy and carbon technologies are continually advancing. As a manufacturer it’s our responsibility to offer our customers the very best performance and value by using the latest technology.”
Learning From the Mistakes of Others
Although it’s now a small proportion of their business, custom wheel building and repairs are still important. This gives Craftworx hands on experience with every wheel and component brand.
“Part of your learning experience comes from the mistakes you make, and also the mistakes that you see other wheel manufacturers make,” Mark explained. “It’s a lot easier to learn from other people’s mistakes than making them all yourself!
“I don’t believe in bagging brands, so there’s no names to be quoted, but in repairing and rebuilding wheels, you see a lot of designs and engineering. You see what happens after wheels have been used for a while and maybe break or wear out more quickly than they should have.
“We pull things apart, find the faults and then take that information and apply the learnings to our own product designs. That’s the benefit of doing repairs and custom building so we’ll never stop doing that.”
Great Margins for Dealers
Clearly quality and cutting edge design and technology are paramount, but Mark also keeps a very close eye on his costs.
Some of the elements he looks at are: ‘Where does the material come from?’ ‘Where will we be extruding it?’ in the case of an alloy. ‘How close is our manufacturing to this?’
Because if these are not close together you can end up with a very cool, high tech product that’s ridiculously expensive and few can afford to buy it.
Through managing all logistics carefully, Craftworx can then afford to give dealers superior margins.
Mark continued, “We’re price relevant, but we’re not selling at a cheap price, so there are really good margins for the dealers. Those who have given it a go have done very well selling Craftworx wheels.”
Mark understands some dealers are initially sceptical if an Australian wheel brand can work in their store and appeal to their customers.
“If someone told me that I could buy an Australian designed and made product that was equal to Enve and Zipp, I would say ‘Really?’ But I wouldn’t be convinced, at least initially,” he conceded.
“There’s not a lot of Australian companies making bicycle products. It’s not common enough that retailers have that acceptance, let alone something at our quality level.
But I know that Australian consumers want to buy Australian made products and this trend is strengthening.”
Clearly Mark understands the challenges and an advantage he has in winning dealers over is his many years of first-hand experience as a successful brick and mortar bicycle dealer.
“In my retail days I didn’t do wheels because there wasn’t enough margin,” he frankly stated. “They’re also a significant capital outlay and they’re buggers of things to display!
“So first we created really cool display stands that require minimal floor space. Then we give these to the dealers free of charge if they buy just five pairs of wheels which the stand can display.
“Next we made sure that there’s way more margin in our wheels than our competitors’. Then there’s a good reason for a shop to sell their customer a wheel upgrade and still make about the same money as they would selling them a whole new bike.
“For GEN 2 we spent a lot of time focusing upon their graphics and visual appeal. We wanted the wheels to look every bit as good as they ride.
Detailed Technical Support Just a Local Phone Call Away
A critical unique point of difference for Craftworx dealers and their customers is direct access to Mark and Nathan, the guys who design and build the wheels at Craftworx HQ.
“I believe this is a really important service that Craftworx provides,” Mark said. “That’s part of the reason we get such positive feedback.
“We don’t just waffle on. We have an interview process through which we work out exactly what the customer needs, then we make a recommendation.
“If the customers are happy with our advice, the dealer can then order the wheels. We send them to the shop and everyone’s happy.
“We believe in offering a positive, personalised purchasing experience matching the wheels to the rider and their bike.
“We’re not trying to do the dealer’s job for them. We want to play a more supportive role in the relationship.
“Our current dealers have experienced first hand the benefit that this added service provides them.
“The shop doesn’t really have to do any work other than recommend us. We’ll share detailed product knowledge with the customer and help the dealer make money. Our conversion rate is over 90% when a customer engages with us.
“This system works!” Mark concluded.
Due to growing demand, Craftworx is now hiring for an expert wheel builder. You can see more details here.
For more information please contact Craftworx at www.craftworxcycling.com.au or call at 0411 310 132.