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Finding the Sweet Spot through customization : French bicycle manufacturer Cyfac International

4 July 2010

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Source : B2Bike.com

I was recently in La Fuye, near Hommes, in the centre of France to make a factory tour of Cyfac’s facility for the specialized website B2Bike.com. Aymeric Le Brun, one of the company’s managers, kindly answered my questions and showed me around. Cyfac is one of the last brands to manufacture bicycle frames in France, and the brand’s positionning is the very high-end segment of the market. The company’s philosophy is to produce fully customized products to its customers all over the world. With about 35% of the turnover coming from outside of France, offering good quality customization (mainly over the web) is Cyfac’s biggest challenge.

There are various French brands in the bicycle landscape (Look, Lapierre, Time, Gitane, Felino…), but a huge majority of them outsources its frame production to Asia or other low-wage countries like Tunisia. It is difficult to justifiy the high costs of European labor in such a labor-intensive task like carbon frame production, except if you are able to position yourself as a very  high-end brand that manufactures superior products : the industry has few examples, I think of Time (France), Colnago (Italy) and Cyfac. Cyfac doesn’t have a particularly rich brand history, neither does the brand sponsor a pro cycling team, but it managed to position itself as one of the most high-end bicycle manufacturers. The key to success is customization : ergonomic, mechanical and aesthetic customization.

Specialized offers a bike fitting service (BG FIT), Trek customizes the color (Project One), but only Cyfac combines both competencies, M. Le Brun told me last Friday in the company’s showroom, Cyfac Postural System, tailored frame manufacturing and customized paintjob“. With a turnover of about 580,000€ last year, Cyfac International certainly can’t compete with the big brands in cycling, but the managers (Aymeric Le Brun & Eric Sakalowski) don’t strive to become big : “I think that we’ll always be craftmen“, says M. Le Brun, reflecting the company’s philosophy.

Cyfac Postural System (CPS)

The Cyfac Postural System (CPS) determines optimal position on the bike, optimal frame geometry and cleat placement (shoes). Source : couleurvelo.com

In France, Cyfac currently works with about 35 dealers. They are trained to propose the bike-fitting service CPS, which counts for around 10% of Cyfac’s revenue. But, as the previous picture shows, the system is not easily “exportable”, and Cyfac’s success is increasingly based on export. “We are currently designing a new measuring tool […] we need a lighter system and new technology“, told me Aymeric Le Brun. “That’s what we’re finalizing right now, and that’s for the first step of customization : ergonomic customization“, he says. This is one of the ways for Cyfac to propose the same quality of customization abroad than in France ; “because meeting a retailer or even us is nearly mandatory for the way we work“.

We pushed customization too far” (A. Le Brun, talking about cyfac-custom.com)

Another tool that is currently being adapted is the interactive website Cyfac-Custom.com. This website allows customers to create a virtual frame tailored to their mechanical expectations and their aesthetic preferences, before contacting Cyfac for production. While paintjob-customization is very common, giving the customer the possibility to chose the frame tubes individually is – to my knowledge – unique in the industry. Empowering the cycling-enthusiast to that extent, however, proved to be too ambitious. “It’s not [our cutomers’] job, they don’t have the competencies for that. It’s useful for 2 or 3 frames a year, unlike graphic customization which is useful for 500. It’s a good tool, but I think we wanted to go too far“. So the customer seeks customization, but there seems to be a limit to that. A frame manufacturer, especially one with the core competencies of Cyfac, has to have a firm value proposition and can’t expect the client to decide for everything. “There are objective factors, like the benefits they look for (rigidity, comfort etc.), for which they prefer leaving it to us – and they trust us. For more subjective factors, like color, we sometimes talk for 3 to 4 hours before they chose!“, says M. Le Brun.

Since Aymeric and his partner Eric bought the business 18 months ago, they went a long way (Cyfac was part of the French Alvarez Group, which filed for bankruptcy in 2008). Since then, the staff almost doubled, and this year’s sales are expected to see a large double-digit increase. Cyfac now faces the “growth-dilemma” and must strategically decide whether they want to stay a nimble cranftmanship brand or adopt more industrial processes. “We’ll never be producing 5,000 frames (a year), it’s not the objective, M. Le Brun told me, today we produce about 700 frames, the ambition is to exceed the 1,000 frames, but not much more“. How ever, Cyfac International is on its way to becoming an established niche-player. The value proposition is directed towards “360°-customization” in a niche market, and customers are willing to pay for that. While the internet offers easy access to new markets, the company has to innovate to be able to maintain the quality of customization that made its reputation. To be followed…

frame

2,990€ in the standard version, 4,290€ for the tailored version. The Absolu tops Cyfac's road-bike-range (source : Cyfac.com)

For a detailled report of the visit and for pictures, make sure to check B2Bike.com soon !

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