First of all, how are you and your family in this phase 3 of the COVID-19 emergency?
Rene Wiertz: We are blessed that my entire family is safe and healthy. We remain careful in our daily life: stay away from crowds, we wear masks when required, and we meet friends in small groups outside for dinner, or we go for a walk together. We will have to remain prudent for a while; especially now autumn is arriving.
Tell us about yourself, your career and how this business idea was born?
Rene Wiertz: After graduating from University with a degree in business administration, I started my career as a currency trader in the financial headquarters of Philips Electronics. I continued my career at Philips for 12 years, taking on various positions in finance and business development. In 2004 I was promoted to the Corporate Mergers & Acquisitions department and became Vice President. So I had a good career, climbing the corporate ladder. After 10 years in this big company, I started to realize that what I really enjoyed was the start and building phase of any job. I started to feel very constraint in this big company with too much bureaucracy, lots of processes and little room for entrepreneurship. Even ‘innovation’ was a ‘process’! So I started to look around to see if I could find a small company, acquire it, and build it globally. In this search I came across 3T: this Italian bike parts manufacturer was founded in 1961, became world-famous in the ’80s and ’90s and had faded away since 2000. I saw a lot of potential to relaunch this brand and build it back to its old glory. I acquired the brand in 2007 and by 2010 3T was world know again for premium bike parts. In 2015 we started to develop complete bicycles, and in 2020 our core business is premium performance road and gravel bikes.
How does 3T innovate?
Rene Wiertz: Our strategy to be noticed and stand out in our crowded market place is to be different. We dare to do things that others don’t. This means we always look to for a different way. For example, 5 years ago, we introduced a fast gravel bike. We were thinking: if everyone offers a road bike, what about we design a road bike with wider tires so you can ride on the road AND off-road. In the beginning, our bike was received with a lot of scepticism, but we got noticed! Now we are the global market leader in this segment, and this segment itself is the fastest-growing segment globally. We created this new segment.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business, and how are you facing this crisis?
Rene Wiertz: Our company is located in what was the hot spot of the COVID pandemic: Bergamo: Our business was severely impacted. First, we had a few colleagues diagnosed with COVID, but luckily they had only mild symptoms. Some of my colleagues lost family members, something that had a really deep emotional impact on our team. We continued to work: we had almost everyone work from home, while only 2 or 3 people came to the office to organize daily shipments.
When we had to close down completely, we moved our warehouse to Denmark, so we could continue to ship bikes to those dealers in Europe which remained open, mainly in northern Europe and to consumers directly to their home. We stopped producing bikes and bike parts at our factory and used our equipment to produce valves for breathing equipment to help save lives. We collaborated with an Italian manufacturer of home trainers to sell a bundle of a trainer + bike to raise money for the hospital in Bergamo (we raised € 25.000). Our colleagues in Taiwan sourced masks, which we donated to the community in Presezzo to help to protect first-line workers.
And when we were allowed to re-open in May, we celebrated this with a special ‘Arleccnino’ edition of our bestselling bike: the Exploro.
You can read more about all of this here:
Have you had to make difficult decisions? And what are the lessons learned?
Rene Wiertz: In addition to dealing as best you can with the human drama caused by the pandemic, as a business owner, you also think about the survival of your business. Many families depend income-wise on my company, so that aspect kept me also awake at night amid the crisis. When we had to close down in March, we were given 3 days to move as much stock as we physically could pack and ship to another warehouse in Denmark. To remain flexible and act fast was key.
Most of our competitors started to cancel orders for bikes at the beginning of this year. This is obviously a natural reaction when such a disaster is unfolding. We, however, decided NOT to cancel any orders, hoping on fast recovery of our business after the worst of the crisis was over. This worked out very well for us, as since May there is a global bicycle boom going on, and we have stock while many of our competitors don’t. But it was, of course, a big risk we took in March.
How do you manage stress and anxiety in this phase 3 of the emergency, and how do you project yourself and 3T into the future?
Rene Wiertz: The best way for me to deal with stress and anxiety is to sport. Owning a bike company, my obvious choice is to go biking. I commute several days per week to my office (40km), and we do gravel rides together with colleagues in the office. Being physically fit is absolutely required for people in stressful situations.
Business-wise, we keep thinking long term; we don’t slow down. We started 3 years ago our own factory in Italy to become less dependent on Asian suppliers, and we are now accelerating the ramp-up of this factory to be less dependent on a global supply chain. We are also pushing forward with our direct to consumer business. When all shops had to close, we could reach our customers by shipping bikes to their home: this online channel will remain a key aspect of our business in the future.
Who are your competitors and how do you plan to outperform the competition?
Rene Wiertz: The bike industry is a very competitive market. Our key competitors are Pinarello, Cervelo, BMC and some other premium bike brands. We outperform the competition by a mix of being first to market with innovations that truly improve the rider experience in combination with a unique marketing approach. We do things differently and are not afraid to try a new approach. And so far this works for us.
Your final thoughts on this emergency?
Rene Wiertz: Let’s ALL remain careful; it is not over yet. If we all remain careful, we together can avoid a 2nd complete lockdown and many new deaths.