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Think about it

What can you do to be more creative and to inspire your employees to come up with new product and service ideas? What outside source could you tap?

Saris Cycling Group (once known as Graber Products)

Chris Fortune, CEO

Visit our web site: http://saris.com

Business Classification:
Manufacturing, Sports (Biking), wholesale

Year Founded:

HATTIE: Hi, and welcome to SMALL BUSINESS SCHOOL.

Grab a pencil. You'll want to take notes if you're interested in growing a business or even starting one. I'm Hattie Bryant. From Madison, Wisconsin, a place with plenty of cyclists on the roads, comes this program about growing a business that had become stale. If you want to take your bike with you, you need a rack. That's what Graber Products builds.

Most of our 30 minutes every week is spent in our Master Class. We believe the highest level of learning takes place in a mentoring relationship, not a formal classroom, and a master class is a way for us to be mentored. A master class is led by a person with experience, not simply book knowledge. Join Chris and Sara Fortune in the small business Master Class.

(Voiceover) What a perfect day. What a beautiful place. Cyclists from all over the world come to Wisconsin to experience hundreds of miles of paved roads, not only in the city but in the country, too, free from traffic. In addition to the smooth country roads, Wisconsin offers well-connected bike trails that offer some of the most scenic, and historical, views in the state.

If you have a bike, you have to have a rack. Graber Products makes some of the world's best racks right here in Madison, Wisconsin.

Employee #1: We're going to take your new receiver hitch mount, slide it into the receiver, like so. Now, we’re ready to take the bike and set it up on the rack, all the way to the back. Set the bike in the cradles of the Bat Wing …

HATTIE: All right. Employee #1: ...slide it forward so you've got the saddles of your wing supporting your seat tube and the other saddle supporting the top tube. Take the strap across the top, nice and tight.

HATTIE: This is a very easy little notch. It's like a hook and eye system, sort of. Very nice. Very simple.

Employee #1: Now you've got support across the top so the bike doesn't bounce. You also have support across the bottom, so it doesn’t sway.

CHRIS FORTUNE (Owner, Graber Products, Madison, Wisconsin): Consumers want a product that's user-friendly, and so do our dealers. This drives us to supply products that are very user-friendly. You know, the bicycle industry is a booming industry. It's a great family sport, it's a low-cost recreation. People love taking their bikes on vacation and go out and ride as a family. And we want to provide them the transportation system to get them where they want to go, safely and securely.

Whenever we develop product, there are three musts, and it's very simple and very basic. The racks must stay on the car, the bikes must stay on the rack (we don't want to scratch or mar the car), and it's critical to get the people where they are going, safely and securely. We do a pretty good job of that … our warranty rate is less than one-quarter of a percent.

Innovate Before Competitors Do

Cyclists all over the world buy from Saris Cycling Group because they have become an industry leader.  Logon  to view all the videos of this episode.   More...

Episode Overview - Saris Cycling Group aka Graber

Madison, Wisconsin: Sara and Chris Fortune bought Graber Products in 1989 when it had 24 employees and $3.3 million in sales. When we taped this story there were up to 60 employees and with revenues over $10 million. They continue to grow, changed the name of the company to Saris Cycling Group, and are very committed to keeping their manufacturing in the USA.

Actually, manufacturing is on its way back to the USA!

That is not prophetic verse but the reality of our advancing technologies where highly educated workers can do it better, often faster, and sometimes cheaper than anywhere in the world.

This episode is a case in point: And, this story comes from the heartlands of America. These are the kind of people who love this country and all those basic freedoms to do the right thing in the face of adversity. They have done it right and now they ship their products around the world.

When Chris and Sara bought Graber Products, they bought a solid business with a good reputation, but the sales were flat. The employees were dedicated, but the company needed fresh energy to start growing again. To dump the stodgy image of the company that he bought, Chris found an Italian fashion designer who came up with improved form and function for his bike racks. Chris believed that the market was ready, willing and waiting for new ideas and he was right. Customers have flocked to the new products and employees love to come to work.

They are their industry leaders. They have kept manufacturing in America. And, their industry recognizes them for their generosity of spirit, moral courage, and ethical leadership. These people are quiet heroes,  new pioneers making the world a better place.

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