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Dutch courage pays off for bike shop

Dublin couple Astrid and Frank Fitzpatrick responded to redundancy by setting up their own venture selling bicycles imported from the Netherlands.

‘‘My husband Frank lost his bricklaying job in June 2009 and there was nothing out there for him, so we created the Dutch Bike Shop,’’ said Astrid Fitzpatrick. ‘‘Frank had been repairing bicycles all his life, and I knew I could contact suppliers in Holland. With me being Dutch, selling bicycles just seemed so logical.’’

Launching the venture

The Fitzpatricks launched their venture in March and added the website, www.dutchbikeshop.ie, two months later. According to mum-of-three Astrid, who has lived in Ireland since 2002, the idea for the business had been germinating for quite awhile.

‘‘In 2009, I looked for a bicycle here and the selection available was poor. I got a ‘mother’s bicycle’ in Holland relatively cheaply for €300, but had to get my mum and brother to bring it over on the plane, which cost €180. I started emailing and phoning companies in Holland, trawling the internet for information and ideas and talking to friends, relatives and potential customers,’’ she said.

TheDutchBikeShop now sells and maintains bicycles and accessories imported from the Netherlands, with a focus on practical models, such as bikes designed to carry young children.

Lasting the distance

‘‘Our bicycles are practical, low maintenance, reliable, sturdy, made to carry loads safely and will last the distance. All our bikes come with a free health check covering the first three months after purchase, and thereafter will be followed by our excellent after sales service,’’ said Fitzpatrick.

The Fitzpatricks made use of several support schemes to help get the venture off the ground. ‘‘Frank receives the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance. Dublin City Enterprise provided me with a mentoring session as part of the Start Your Own Business course,’’ said Fitzpatrick.

‘‘South Dublin Enterprise Board provided us with a six hour mentor who taught us a lot about things like search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media. I still attend the monthly Sprint-Start meetings provided by Dublin City Enterprise Board.’’

As a small start-up importing stock ‘on spec’, Fitzpatrick said the company faced challenges at first. ‘‘Some companies would only deal with us if we had a bricks-and-mortar shop. Others would not give us an account to buy products as we were too small and new, but we just kept looking until we found suitable replacements who would deal with us,’’ she said.

Marketing, old and new

The Dutch Bike Shop uses a combination of marketing techniques both new and traditional. ‘‘Our first customer found us on Facebook. She put her positive experiences on the internet, and that is where the second customer came from. I would recommend other business owners follow #SME community on Twitter, and the Smallbusinesscan.com forum is full of information. We also rented a stall at a mother and baby market, and we are in Marlay Park market each weekend,’’ said Fitzpatrick.

She said the winter season would create new opportunities for the venture. ‘‘I am just back from Holland, whereI met with a new bicycle manufacturer. We also gained the exclusive right to distribute a new bicycle glove with a rearview mirror. As winter approaches we will be stocking snow sleds and other winter outdoor accessories,’’ she said.

 

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