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Duo get on their bikes for clothing success

Business partners Angie McMenamin and Viv Horkan used their personal experience to set up a new venture selling practical clothing for everyday cyclists.

‘‘The whole idea for Urban frog came about from our own cycling experiences,’’ said McMenamin. ‘‘We were having a glass of wine one evening, discussing our commute in and out of town on our bikes. Our only gripe was that the clothing available to cyclists did not suit our lifestyles. We wanted something you could wear both on and off the bike.’’

The pair carried out further research to make sure that there was sufficient demand to sustain a new company selling a range of comfortable, colourful tops to cyclists.

 

Doing the research

‘‘We spoke to lots of people and stood outside bike shops with surveys,’’ said McMenamin. ‘‘We even went into shops to pass casual comments to customers. The reply was always the same: there was no choice. Even sales assistants would agree with us. Everyone wanted clothing that would look just as good with a pair of jeans as with leggings or tracksuit bottoms.’’

In August 2009, McMenamin embarked on a ‘start your own business’ course run by Enterprise Ireland.

‘‘On the course, I was advised to contact the trade departments within embassies of ‘outdoorsy’ countries,’’ she said. ‘‘The New Zealand embassy mentioned merino wool to us. It is breathable, odour resistant, temperature regulating, moisture wicking and machine washable at 40 degrees. That was when we got an idea of the direction Urbanfrog was to take.’’

The pair formally established Urbanfrog in January 2010 to sell a range of cycling tops including long sleeve, short sleeve and sleeveless designs to men and woman.

The company does 70 per cent of its business online and the remainder through retail partners in Dublin, Galway and Waterford. Prices range from e39.99 for a short sleeve T-shirt to €79.99 for a light jacket.

Steep learning curve

Getting the company up and running was a steep learning curve for McMenamin, who had to get to grips with all elements of the business, from dealing with manufacturers and sourcing raw materials to finding retailers and stocking products.

‘‘Finding a manufacturer was a challenge,’’ she said. ‘‘Quality was important and quantities were a major concern as we had to offer a good range. Another major issue was the supply of the wool as, only when we put the order in, is the sheep shearer notified. We are also constantly looking for new stockists throughout Ireland.’’

McMenamin and Horkan started the business using their own personal savings and a redundancy pay out received by McMenamin when she lost her job with ACC Bank in 2009.

‘‘We looked upon this project as a low risk investment,’’ she said. ‘‘The overheads were low and there being two of us made the plunge less daunting.

‘‘We could always sell the stock as a job lot to recoup the majority of our investment and have learned from the experience. We have since taken out a small business loan and also managed to secure funding from Fingal County Enterprise Board.’’

Eager to build relationships

McMenamin said the recession meant that suppliers were eager to build relationships with start-up companies.

‘‘Neither of us has any experience in this field at all, but I think the recession helped us,’’ she said. ‘‘Anyone we contacted embassies, wool suppliers and manufacturers were fantastic and guided us through the process. Perhaps during the boom we would have got the same guidance, but perhaps not.’’

McMenamin and Horkan now plan to expand the Urbanfrog range to include leggings, gloves and hats.

‘‘Our revenue target for year one was €70,000 and we are well on our way already,’’ said McMenamin.

‘‘We have lots of potential to grow into new markets. Two years from now, we aim to be firmly established in Ireland and Britain, looking towards Europe, hiring staff and still growing.’’

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