Canfield is the little brand that sometimes seems bigger than it is. Driven by a desire to solve problems and create bikes that ride well, Lance and Chris Canfield have been in business for 15 years already, and today the brand offers something for nearly every riding style out there. Not afraid to innovate, the brothers were also among the early adopters of the direct-to-consumer business model, and given the increasing popularity of this way of selling in the bike industry, we thought it would be a good time to sit down and have a chat about it.
1. Tell us quickly about where Canfield comes from, and what drives you guys to make bikes?
In the late ‘90s when Lance was racing and freeriding, none of the downhill bikes on the market quite lived up to what he wanted. He knew something much better was possible. During a long drive home to Utah from a NORBA race in Big Bear, CA, with a busted radio, he had plenty of time to think and decided to resurrect a sketch he had for a parallel-link downhill bike. Drawing on his background as a mechanical engineer and experience in custom hot rod design, he and brother Chris set about prototyping the Big Fat Fatty Fat by working with a local welder in 1999. It was a monster, with 12 inches of travel front and rear, and the signature parallel-link design utilizing rearward travel inspired by the trailing arm suspension of trophy trucks.
Lance went on to compete in the first Red Bull Rampage on that bike, and that very design has been refined to what is our flagship gravity bike today, the Jedi. Today, we still make bikes that WE want to ride – bikes that are fun and capable. Even our hardtail 29ers are going to make you smile when it comes time to cash in some vert.
2. You guys have always clearly embraced the different capabilities and characteristics that different wheel sizes can provide and you are not afraid to push the boundaries and try new concepts, as exemplified by the Riot with its short stays and slack HA. In many ways you’re one of the forerunners of the current trend towards shorter-travel but all-capable trail bikes. What’s next?
We’re going to continue to push the boundaries in terms of what we think makes a fun bike, and we’re going to continue to refine and develop our suspension technology, which is the other thing that really sets us apart. No one in the industry has more experience with the parallel link design than we do, and our new patented Canfield Balance Formula™ (currently available on the Riot and Balance) sets a new standard for active, efficient suspension. You can expect to see that on more bikes.
3. You have always maintained a direct relationship with customers as you operated partially direct already – but now you’ve made the switch to full direct-to-consumer selling and fulfillment. Tell us a bit more about how this model works.
Certain components like our pedals are available in local bike shops, but we’ve always been direct with our frames. There are several reasons we sell direct and offer frames and packages rather than completes.
First, as a performance-based brand, most of customers are very particular about their builds. Offering frames and packages allows us to keep costs down, and at the same time allows for a greater degree of personalization out of the box, ensuring our riders have their bikes dialed exactly the way they want. Selling direct also allows us to keep end-consumer costs down. We believe in offering the best performing bikes possible at an affordable price.
That said, we know not every rider is a mechanic and many people prefer to work with their local bike shop. While we don’t have stocking dealers, we will fulfill orders through local shops, “Key” retailers that follow our dealer standards. Shops receive a margin and pricing remains the same for the customer.
Personal customer service has also always been a cornerstone of our business, and the direct model also allows us to maintain that connection with the customer. We are on a first-name basis with many of our customers and are able to respond quickly and efficiently, whether it’s a setup question or warranty issue. We’re confident in saying you’ll be hard-pressed to find this level of service anywhere else in the industry, especially from of the “big” brands.
4. Does the consumer see lower prices on your bikes as a result of your business model?
Making a performance product affordable has been part of our goal all along, but as we grow and refine production and logistics, we have been able to reduce prices on our Jedi and EPO over the last year, and were able to launch the Riot and Balance at very competitive prices.
5. What has been the reaction of your existing distributors and dealers?
Our “Key” retailers are happy to be able to offer a sought-after boutique brand with the reputation that Canfield Brothers has. With consumers who know what they want, it gives those shops an edge to offer something unique that the big box retailers can’t.
6. Direct-to-consumer already dominates component and accessory sales – do you think there will come a point when this holds true for frames and complete bikes as well?
The Internet has been a retail game changer across the board and the bike industry is no different. Consumers want the best combination of performance and value available, and in the end, they dictate the market and what works. Some of the big brands are already adapting in various ways to remain competitive and chances are this will continue.
7. Taking on full direct sales is not without challenges. How do you ramp up internally to tackle sales, support, and warranty issues that you need to deal with directly, potentially more and more so?
As we have been consumer direct since 1999, we have always had the infrastructure to fully support our customer base, and as mentioned above (number 3), personal customer service has always been a cornerstone of our brand.
8. Do you plan to deliver globally out of the U.S., or will you be looking at fulfillment or service partners in other geographies?
While we have historically worked with international distributors, our 2016 plans call for going global direct. This allows us to connect with our international customer base and extend our grassroots program to international riders.
9. Without bikes on showroom floors, the onus is on you as a company to reach out to your target audience. Do you feel you can achieve this goal with today’s media and communication landscape and tools?
We’ve always been a boutique brand, supported largely by word of mouth and a very loyal customer base, and that’s grown exponentially with the proliferation of the Internet.
There are many who won’t ride anything else once they’ve owned a Canfield Brothers bike. Riding is believing, and to that end, more people will be able to swing a leg over our bikes in 2016 at events and demos starting with Outerbike in Moab in a few days.
We are also ramping up product development, and with a lot of great things on the horizon, we’re going to have a lot more to talk about, so we’ll be expanding our marketing and communication efforts as well. We have great products and brand heritage with enormous potential, so we’ll be working hard to tell the Canfield Brothers story. This is only the beginning.