Curbside and Linus Part Ways
Posted on 26 November 2013
Editors note. Sometimes the maturity of a market can often be measured by whether it has successfully negotiated the middle position between two poles. Sometimes you first have to figure out what those poles are! The Dutch bikes we imported as early as 2007 were great, but also tended to do their best work for existing cyclists who knew exactly what they wanted (and who rode in generally flat places). This represented our existing clientele. However, after the 2008 crash, it became apparent that a whole new generation was going live and stay downtown, and that bicycles were a huge aspect in their "symbolic economy." They didn't have the money for a Dutch bike, and let's face it, Dutch bikes felt a bit stuffy. But they did have money for Linus, a newly minted company that Curbside's sister company Fourth Floor distributed several years to remarkable success. However, success is easy to measure if you just look at the numbers. For us, as a retailer, success meant something face-to-face, and we weren't happy that many of our student customers - many who leave their bikes outside year round - were buying something that rusted so quickly. We also realized that Linus was a formula that many could copy, often cheaper, and that this aspect of the market would soon be saturated. We could easily find a substitute but in the meantime we needed something better, something better than both Dutch bikes and a Linus. And, this was the original genesis of the Simcoe project - which Curbside played a key part in.
- February 2016
On July 29, 2013 we received an email from Linus Bikes advising Fourth Floor that they will be moving distribution to OGC, a large Canadian bicycle brand supplier.
Our response is twofold. On one hand we were happy to hold hands with Linus while we used their products to open the market for city bikes in Canada. Fourth Floor blazed the trail for city bikes in North America by importing European city bikes two years before Linus even existed. If we proved that there was market, Linus proved the market needed something that was price-point, lightweight and ultimately, fashionable.
On the other hand we're a little bit concerned. The retailers we sell to are often entrepreneurial upstarts out to prove that city bikes are a viable market. It speaks volumes that only half of the stores we sell to have been able to get an OGC account or find OGC a relevant supplier. OGC may be late to the puck in the emerging city bike market, but they certainly have capacity. However, culture is different than capacity. At Fourth Floor we've always believed that culture builds capacity, but never in reverse. We learned that from importing Dutch bikes - long story. Supply chain is a long game of telephone and it takes vision to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation, especially the customer or the commodity itself. Which is precisely what we fear will happen.
In truth, Linus was always a stepping stone for Fourth Floor. Linus proved to the entire bicycle industry that bikes could be sold like fashion (or alas: fast-fashion, as they often were). But Linus was also a victim of its own success. In our experience, the consumer viewed Linus as a very special brand until it became over-saturated for lack of other options. Sales dropped rapidly in markets like Toronto where the brand had clearly run its course. What's always been clear is that Linus is a company in need of more competition, in both brand and quality. And, as long as no one else was doing it (OGC tried it with their own Opus brand), we quietly got to work.
We're hungry for the best. We've never forgot the high quality Dutch bikes that we cut our teeth on six long years ago, even if they were heavy museum-pieces. We've always felt that Canada and the Northeast needed a bicycle industry that didn't have to rely on heavy European nostalgia or the disposability of California dream. Something that took the melting-pot of America's great rust-belt and made a truly global product. We're a retailer-owned wholesaler who imported city bikes from around the world but couldn't find an investment-grade bicycle for the customer we met on our own sales-floor. And, that's why we helped launch Simcoe Bicycles, probably the most eagerly anticipated bikes of 2014. Because if city bike culture is going to work, it's going to need city bikes that work. And we thank all of you for holding our hands while we built this market together.
In fun, friendship, and adventure,
The Fourth Floor team.