Baum custom build titanium and steel bikes out of it's Geelong factory in Victoria. The team, lead by owner, founder and master frame-builder Darren Baum have established a reputation for building award winning frames since its establishment in 1996. Ben Norden writes about his recent visit to Baum headquarters.
What struck me first about the Baum factory was how unassuming it is. Tucked away in a row of small factories at Geelong's North Shore - known for it's working class history, this is a no fuss joint. Walking into the factory and casting my eye on the first bike I saw was another story - Baum bikes ooze class with their classic lines, quality materials and componentry to match.
It was a Friday afternoon and things were clearly busy for the team of seven. As is often the case in a small business like this, staff are great at multi-tasking. I was greeted by Jodie who provided an insight into the business and the purchase experience for their clients. Jodie informed me that my main contact for the afternoon, Ryan, was in the roof installing data.
Ryan's normal tasks are everything front of house. That provides him intimate knowledge of the 150-200 bikes produced each year and an insight into the clients that end up riding them. A Myotherapist by trade, he has a true appreciation for the body and it's relationship to a well-built stead. Add to that the years spent by his father's side in a welding shed. Ryan is just like the rest of the team at Baum - their professions seem to have chosen them.
As we began the tour of the factory and its operations, I had to use every ounce of energy to not dance around the factory with sheer excitement. I felt like Augustus Gloop walking through the doors at Willy Wonka's lolly factory!
The tour started at floor to ceiling shelving that measured almost 30 metres long. Each section of shelving contained three large boxes; each with a person's name on the front, their frame measurements and a box of componentry or other special requests for their personalised stead.
Ryan grabbed a random box - 'Oh, this is Steve's from Sydney'. 'He's already got two roadies, but he wanted a touring bike this time'. Steve is representative of most Baum clients in that he is middle aged, know's what he wants and is willing to pay the approximate starting price of $4000 for a frame.
Nearly 80 per cent of bikes sold are road bikes. The remaining 20 per cent are a mix of mountain bikes and a growing number of cyclocross. The figures are similar for the split between male and female buyers in that 90 per cent are male and 10 per cent female. It was positive to note a growing demand from the female market, particularly over the past 12-18 months.
With a number of big name brands attempting to personalise bikes through colour schemes and amendments to frames, I was curious to get Ryan's opinion on the movement in the market. 'There is no comparison really.' 'We work with our customers to make sure the bike is right for their needs. Custom-made bikes offers a level of detail that an off the shelf bike can't.'
Walking across the factory floor, this personalisation towards each bike is evident when you see titanium or steel tubes in basic form. Each tube is ready to be shaped, welded and painted to your dimensions and personal needs.
It's interesting to note that building a bike is an ongoing process. It's not just a matter of fit the client and produce the bike some months later. Right from when a client is fitted to the finished product, Ryan and the team are in discussions with each other and the purchaser.
Perhaps its this attention to detail and dedication to the finished product that leaves little need for marketing. 'We find that most of our clients started their quest to get a Baum bike about 3-5 years before contacting us.' It's common for someone to tell us they saw a picture on our website or that they rode with someone that had a Baum. The bikes sell themselves'.
Indeed they do sell themselves. Sales are so good for the brand that lists Cadel Evans and Olympic medalist Leon Van Bon as clients, that the factory floor is doubling. This won't necessarily double production, but will allow the team to occupy a space it deserves and needs.
As we exited the newer area of the factory, we discussed the pressure of meeting demand and growing the business accordingly. In considering growth, one could look to the consistent wait list for the Baum bike and then focus efforts towards increasing production.
However, finding skilled labour is a factor that makes this assumption hard to realise. This was actually a talking point for discussions with local politicians that visited the factory earlier this year. 'We basically pleaded for increased funds towards training skilled technicians. It's a real issue for us.'
I picked up on Ryan's reference to being technicians and suggested they were technicians that produced fine art. 'We hear those kinds of comments a bit. But we see ourselves as technicians, we are not artists.'
As I departed Geelong and drove back up the Princes Highway, those words rumbled around my mind. They may see themselves as technicians, but I would happily hang a Baum in my living room as a piece of art for display. Before taking it down each Saturday morning to unleash it on the roads they were designed for, of course.
Thank you to Darren, Ryan and the team for offering your time and knowledge.