Business Essentials: It's time to let trikes off the leash

Bulldog has three wheels on its wagons, writes Kate Hilpern, but it's waiting for customers to start rolling along
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The Independent Online

You've still got the freedom of the open road and the rush of wind in your hair, but you've also got three wheels instead of two and the stability of a car. That's the life of a motortrike rider.

You've still got the freedom of the open road and the rush of wind in your hair, but you've also got three wheels instead of two and the stability of a car. That's the life of a motortrike rider.

The trouble is, many people who might want all these attributes in one vehicle aren't switched on to trikes because they don't realise what they look like or how they're built. "In fact, most think of a trike as a Reliant Robin or a converted motorbike," says Nigel West, the managing director of Bulldog Specialist Vehicles. "But the ones we sell are professionally built and we'd like to know how to get people interested in them."

In fact, the company has two separate markets for its Boom Trikes, and this is just one of them. "Our natural market consists of existing bikers, especially those who have had accidents and so need to have three wheels rather than two. We are currently selling a trike to one guy who is paraplegic - it has been adapted to be completely hand-controlled. Other bikers we sell to are those who want to take their families out. We've got a model with two seats at the back, making it much more sociable than a bike.

"The final group who are interested in trikes are those who are older than most bikers but who still want to ride. They may be concerned about their ability to hold the bike upright or what would happen if they fell off - which is obviously not a problem with a trike."

These people, says Mr West, are relatively easy to target. "They know what they are after and read the relevant bike magazines where we advertise."

The other market, however, is a far greater challenge. "It's the area we really want to get into - those who love having new and exciting 'toys' for the weekend."

Boom Trikes are real luxury toys, each retailing at £14,000 to £25,000. But it's not the cost that poses a problem, says Mr West. "Once people have seen our trikes, we get a lot of interest. This is the case even among people who have never ridden a motorbike before or had any interest in bikes whatsoever. The issue is how do we get them to come and have a look in the first place?"

It's early days, he admits. The concept of Bulldog Specialist Vehicles dates back only to June 2003, and the company opened to the public in July this year. "But we're keen to get ahead with marketing because we were delayed in starting and are now playing catch-up."

The company decided to set up a retail outlet at Dunsfold, the old aerodrome in Surrey used for the BBC's Top Gear, but the retail units needed so much renovation that Bulldog's launch date was postponed.

So far, advertising has appeared in magazines like FHM, and press releases have been fairly successful in getting small news articles published.

"Because Mark Evans, who has been involved with television for many years, is my business partner, we are using his celebrity status as much as possible," adds Mr West. "We've also started attending various events, such as classic car and agricultural shows. I did a local one recently, and although I didn't have high expectations, it resulted in some good leads."

On Bulldog's side is that there is little competition. "So the biggest challenge remains convincing people that motortrikes are fun leisure vehicles, not Reliant Robins."

www.bulldog-trikes.com

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Kevin Dundas, chief executive, Saatchi & Saatchi UK

"The first question is: what is it we are selling? Second, who are we trying to sell to?

"Of course, you can have multiple audiences, but who is at the core? Who is going to spend the money? People who are innovators, people who want to stand out, be different. If it really is the rich guy who wants a 'toy' for the weekend, then fine, but it feels like a missed opportunity to me.

"Yes, I love the concept, but love alone is not enough. I need to respect it. Only then can you expect to achieve loyalty beyond reason. This has to be the ultimate goal. This is what we call a 'lovemark' - when I gravitate towards a brand and become evangelical about it.

"So stop calling it a 'toy'. Go to the Top Gear hangar (those boys are never short of an opinion) and build that credibility. The answer might be on your doorstep."

John Greenhough, head of business development, the Chartered Institute of Marketing

"Bulldog is looking to target two very different markets. It may be it can succeed in both, though it would need to offer a different product and clear positioning for each. It is likely, however, that Bulldog needs to focus on just one.

"I'd put my money on the sports utility market - those who are looking for excitement and aren't afraid to pay for it. Bulldog should explore export opportunities, perhaps via overseas agents.

"Bulldog needs to profile these customers, and decide what kind of brand positioning is going to turn them on.

"The company should target them through publications featuring high-cost, adrenaline-fuelled sports, as well as looking at the expensive gadget market.

"A public relations event at its retail outlet, using the tie-in afforded by its proximity to Top Gear's aerodrome, will create a buzz around the brand, get people to the event and get them buying motortrikes."

Stephen Pegge, head of communications, Lloyds TSB Business

"This is a classic example of a stylish niche business capable of building a big cult following if Bulldog can generate sufficient awareness.

"The management are astute, as demonstrated by their recognition of the benefits of cleverly targeted news releases. There is scope to build on these solid foundations: drafting in a specialist PR consultant will help forge relationships with key journalists and improve the quality of the media coverage.

"More development is needed, however, on the distribution side. Having only one showroom is a serious limitation, and Bulldog should consider approaching non-competitor dealerships with a view to renting space.

"Another alternative would be to clinch distribution deals with players in their target customer market, such as yacht builders. Establishing a franchise system could also be a long-term aim."

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