Founded in 2006 in Fairfax, VT, Joan Denizot started two bicycle companies.
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Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
We make and sell the world's strongest and most comfortable bicycles. Our own brand, Zize Bikes, can hold a rider who weighs up to 550 pounds. I am also the founder of Super Sized Cycles.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I am a serial entrepreneur. I have done many small start-ups before, things like making bread, network marketing, real estate investing. I like being my own boss!
How did you come up with your business idea?
I am a large woman. A few years ago I decided that I really needed to start exercising again, but the problem is that I hate to exercise. I remembered that the one sport I'd always loved was bike riding, so I decided to get my bike out and start riding again.
"Getting my bike out" was a lot easier said than done, and the bike itself seemed very unsure of it's ability to hold me. To make a long story short, I did a lot of investigating and found out that the vast majority of bicycles are not built to hold more than 200 pounds, and even the "heavy duty" ones were rated for 225. This was about the same time that people were starting to make a lot of noise about the obesity epidemic, so I just put one and one together.
Cycling is a natural activity for the overweight and obese, because it's non-weight bearing. It's also a ton of fun, and it's fast, and sociable, and green, and saves you money, and helps the environment, etc etc etc! What's not to love?
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers …? Would you suggest others do the same?
I have a bookkeeper, who helps enormously because she understands what the accountant needs, while my version of math might not always make sense otherwise.
I found a wonderful mentor, the Founder of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company and of the Chicago Bicycle Company, John Sortino. John loves what I'm doing and has been working with me since near inception. He's awesome.
I also am so fortunate as to have found an absolutely amazing bike designer/mechanic/troubleshooter/inventor. Timothy Mathewson lives for bikes, and, like John loved my idea. He actually worked for me for free for the first two years—it was amazing. He now spends about half his time working for me—for money! What's great about Tim is that he does not accept the status quo. If a customer presents us with a problem, Tim can find a way to fix it. He's super talented, with an inherent understanding of bicycles.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
I still operate from my home. One of the things I love about doing business primarily on the internet is that it makes everything so flexible. All I need is my cell phone with an internet connection and I can really do business anywhere.
I love to travel, and with this structure I'm not tied to my office. Just recently I took two orders for bikes on the phone during a visit to the same store. How cool is that?
Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?
Since our product is green, I feel like we're a green business. Also, the fact that we operate on a small scale helps to keep us green. Plus, we're based out of Vermont, and you don't get much greener than Vermont!
What's unique about Super Sized Cycles is that I really believe in letting people live where they want to live, and do the work from where they're happy to do it. So I have an investor (who supplied my first Taiwanese bikes) that are warehoused in Wisconsin; a marketer (my daughter) who is in Liberia; Tim, my designer and assembler, in Vergennes Vermont (about 1 ½ hrs from me); etc, etc. Really, we're a very international company.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
The most important thing is customer service. I really care about my customers—and I want them to be happy. I guarantee our bikes 100%--if the customer isn't happy, I'm not happy.
I'm also learning to not be afraid to ask for help. Most people love the idea of helping others succeed, and most people love what I'm doing. When I ask for help people tend to be more than willing to provide it, which creates such a great circle of support and love.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
You need to be really committed. So many people think my idea is "brilliant," and have tons of ideas on how to market it, but don't understand the realities of the industry (biking) or internet retailing. Actually, I'm not sure I understand them, either, but my passion is VERY strong for this project.
That is an inspirational story, Joan! Thank you for taking the time to share it with the readers at Gaebler.com.