From the streets to the summit – A visit to the creative workshop behind FOCUS Bikes
Bombarded with some heavy hip-hop beats, I enter a building in Stuttgart’s Böblingerstraße that looks so much like a café that I am forced to do a double-take as I duck inside. I’m in the right place, I ascertain, as I look around the development office for FOCUS Bikes, essentially where all of the ideas for the Cloppenburg-based company are born.
“For riders, by riders” surely has to rank as one of the most touted marketing slogans in the bike industry, closely followed by ‘Made in Germany’ (substituted by ‘The UK,’ or ‘Canada’ to varying frequencies). Virtually every brand takes pride in their origins, their dedicated team, and, of course, the resulting products. But the fact is that most bike companies are crammed with hugely enthusiastic mountain bikers at work – it’s nothing new. Thus, catchphrases are flung around so frequently that their meanings are largely lost, and their impact diminished. So, what’s different about FOCUS?
After the new year chimed for 1993, Mike Kluge, the freshly crowned World Cyclocross Champion, began building his own bikes with a passion that later evolved into FOCUS Bikes. The brand grew rapidly before being taken under the wing of Derby Cycles, with the subsequent relocation to Cloppenburg included. As FOCUS continued to build a name for themselves in the world of road and cyclocross bikes over the years, they kept a healthy distance from mountain bikes until two years ago, when they turned up the heat on the industry. Much more than just these thumping hip-hop beats in the creative office in Stuttgart, FOCUS have set pulse rates racing as they launched a whole new bike collection – as well as backing Germany’s most successful enduro team, which has clinched numerous titles and World Cup podiums.
Bikeproduction in Northern Germany
As the drive from Stuttgart to Cloppenburg takes six hours, FOCUS’s senior brand manager Andi and I have ample opportunity to get to know each other, swap stories, and learn more about the company.
Once we arrive, I’m led around the various assembly stations, where the sheer volume of work that is still carried out in-house surprises me. From finishing the newly-welded frames to painting, positioning the decals, and assembling all of the bikes, everything occurs in one place. This deliberate independence also allows for more thorough quality control. FOCUS strictly adhere to their high standards of consistency, carrying out random controls on various individual assembly stations – and even go so far as to have a full test lab on the grounds. Each bike is testament to the work put in: high quality, and individually checked. “One person, one bike,” is the phrase of the day here.
In the impressive red brick building of the former Kalkhoff factory, 500,000 bikes are produced annually, a figure that works out around 3,500 bikes per day. But alongside FOCUS Bikes, two-wheelers are also produced for Kalkhoff, Raleigh and Rixe.
Development in the South of Germany
Despite their huge production numbers today, FOCUS have never lost sight of the importance of identifying with each individual product. A few days after my visit to Cloppenburg, I pay a visit to the development office in Stuttgart, where German hip-hop blares out the speakers, dirty riding shoes take over one corner, and there’s a faint trail where ten filthy bikes have been carried down to the cellar (to the dismay of the cleaner). This office, home to sixteen staff members responsible for marketing and development, is spread over two floors. The presence of helmets on the desks and waterproof jackets on the backs of chairs hints at the fact that the team is made up of undisputed cycling fans, which happen to include two German cyclocross and enduro champions. Shortly before lunch the talk doesn’t revolve around what to eat, but rather which type of bike to use: XC or enduro?
Every bike in the FOCUS collection is designed and developed right here, ensuring that each design holds so much appeal to the team themselves that they long to ride each and every sketch. The best examples of this are the grey-orange Factory models, which even boast a spec that has been tuned to meet the desires of the employees themselves.
A feat that even Facebook and Google can’t manage
Scouting (and keeping) the right creative minds for a business is a challenge that not even Facebook or Google can manage. Such creatives are the true capital within any business, and somes way to their hearts include a giant monthly boost to their bank balances or the lure of becoming status symbols – but these methods lack a certain longevity.
In fact, the key to designing a great bike and being able to communicate its worth can only be achieved by a team who recognize the needs and wants of the market, a team who wholeheartedly believes in serving the bike industry well. These bike designers, product developers, and marketing gurus are creative thinkers. They’re idealists, espresso-sipping hipsters, and craft beer lovers – so per se, they’re a great bunch. But how can you hook and pull together enthusiastic mountain bikers and creatives to stay for the long term? Certainly not just with a hefty salary. If there’s anything that they long for, then it is freedom. And that includes the right working environment and the right quality of life. These much-coveted employees take the following things into consideration (along with a look at their future colleagues) when thinking of a career change: where’s the post-work loop to ride? Where are the cool bars, and is there any culture to check out? Aware of all of this, FOCUS didn’t miss a beat in relocating their marketing team and development department from Cloppenburg to Stuttgart.
Now that the world is so inextricably linked via digital means and we’re able to contact each other with the click of a button, the idea of spreading the team across the country isn’t a risk – if anything, it’s a huge opportunity. The creative team at FOCUS have the luxury of enjoying an open and relaxed working environment, they’ve got trails on their doorstep so each prototype can be instantaneously put through the wringer, and in their free time there’s no shortage of culture to discover.
Freedom is taken seriously here, and this is what has given FOCUS Bikes its strength, which comes through in the very evident motivation, keenness to work, and team spirit – a sort of organized chaos, if you will. And their success speaks for itself: with the necessary resources, FOCUS have succeeded in pulling through a serious evolution in a short time. After launching the popular FOCUS SAM enduro bikes, they’ve now created a whole collection of aluminium and carbon bikes with varying levels of suspension – and this is just the beginning. Keeping the momentum going, the Cloppenburg-based HQ are now in cohorts for another location shift, as the sixteen-strong development office in Stuttgart is growing rapidly, almost bursting at the seams with new introduction of new engineers and marketing experts. Various locations around Stuttgart are being brought to the table, and it’s now just a case of hoping that the new office will hold the same lure for its employees – after all, it’s where long-term success has its home.[/emaillocker]
For more information about FOCUS Bikes, check out their website at focus-bikes.com
Words and pictures: Christoph Bayer
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