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Photos courtesy Mission Bicycle

Mission Bicycle

by Chris Meehan on November 8, 2019, 08:12 am MST

www.missionbicycle.com 

San Francisco

Founded: 2009

Privately owned

Employees: 3

Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle

Products: Bicycles

General Manager Josh Philippi is shifting the manufacturer's model with a fatter catalog and broader distribution.

Mission Bicycle is both a custom-bike builder and a retail bike shop, explains Philippi. "Probably 80 percent of our revenues is bicycles," he says.

The company launched when steel-frame, track-style, fixed-gear bikes became popular a decade ago. As track-style bikes became available for $200, it became harder to sell a $1,000 custom track-style bike.

The company peaked at about 10 employees, but now it's down to three. "I took over the shop about two years ago [in 2017], and for the 10 years that we had been around, we kind of stuck to one model," Philippi says. "I personally feel that we kind of saturated that market with what we were working with."

It follows that Mission Bicycle is now introducing more versatile, customizable frames with an eye on reinvigorating its business. "Trends change and the industry changes and technology changes, and I personally didn't think we did a good job of keeping up with that," Philippi says. "That's one big reason I think our sales were kind of dropping over the years we didn't have the best or new stuff anymore."

The company had also become too reliant on retail sales for Philippi's liking. "We kind of went a little too retail heavy," he says. The focus was on trying to sell T-shirts, clothing, and accessories, but that led to other issues. "Basically the retail market on the street here has died down significantly over the past few years."

Philippi is looking to retune the company's spokes and refocus it on bike manufacturing. "That's what we do: We build custom bikes, and we're going to try to make sure we're putting our best foot forward in that in that realm," he explains.

To that end, the company is launching a new, more customizable frame geometry called the Stinson. Whereas its original frame is somewhat customizable, it is primarily for bikes with one toothed gear in the back, offering a multi-speed bike only through an internally geared hub. 

The new Stinson frame can accommodate a single speed and a gear hub, but its dimensions will also allow it to handle cassettes with up to 11 gears and belt drives. It also features internal cable routing and disc brakes.

While the company's original model starts at $1,000, the Stinson will start at around $1,200, Philippi says. He anticipates that even with the most extensive customizations offered the bike will still come in at under $3,000. 

Both frames are Mission Bicycle designs, Philippi explains. They're made by a manufacturer in Taiwan that he calls "the king of steel frames" and shipped to San Francisco as a raw steel frame. The company then customizes the rest of the bike to the customer's needs. 

With the new features and more customization options at nearly the same price point, the Stinson should help the company's sales go up. Philippi says that the company should build 350 to 400 bikes in 2019. 

"We would really like to bump that up by about 35 percent probably. We used to do about 500 to 600 bikes a year. I'd kind of like to get back to at least that if not more," Philippi explains. He notes that returning to those levels of production would also mean bringing on more staff. 

Looking ahead, Philippi is looking at diversifying Mission Bicycles' offerings. "A little further down the rabbit hole on both ends of the spectrum is maybe we'd do true track race bike, and then maybe do a gravel bike or touring bike," he says.

Philippi would consider other frame materials. "Using different materials has been been around for years, so why not take advantage of that? I would love to introduce either an aluminum frame or possibly a carbon frame to our lineup just to have those options," he says. 

But he notes: "We are pretty tiny and we really have to make sure to justify putting in the effort to design and get those frames built for us."

He also is looking into other options for selling and marketing frames and bikes. Currently, about 70 percent of its business comes from the store and 30 percent comes from online sales, but the company may soon offer its frames for sale through other retailers. 

Challenges: Philippi points to the difficulties of a small manufacturer "gaining traction in a pretty big industry."

Opportunities: "A refocus on what we do best, which is building custom bikes for each individual person and basically trying to build a company to where we can do that for more people," says Philippi, "and compete on price."

Needs: "Finding capital is the big one," Philippi says. "We kind of have a ton of great ideas, and a good vision of what we want to do. We just don't have the money to make it happen right now. So capital would be great in terms of trying to make those things happen."

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