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Brompton boss frustrated to be fighting "war of attrition" against rip-off rivals

"The moment you finally put it on the market, all of that innovation, all of that risk, someone comes along and says 'oh, thanks for telling me how to do it, I'm just going to rip you off'."...

Bromtpon Bikes' CEO Will Butler-Adams has detailed the "war of attrition" the iconic folding bicycle manufacturer finds itself battling, pointing to a host of cheaper brands copying designs across China and Europe.

Speaking to the Telegraph, the brand's managing director said the ongoing issue is just one part of the challenging post-pandemic cycling industry picture, and made the comments just weeks after he bemoaned "bloody Brexit", rising energy bills, the pandemic, cost-of-living crisis and supply chain issues made worse by the Russian invasion of Ukraine for Brompton's pre-tax profit falling 24 per cent despite revenues rising 40 per cent year-on-year.

Calling the copycat problem "very serious", Butler-Adams explained how it takes "four to five years to develop a product or evolve something" only for other manufacturers to move in once it goes to market.

"Whenever you innovate you take risks, you get things wrong, and then the moment you finally put it on the market, all of that innovation, all of that risk, someone comes along and says 'oh, thanks for telling me how to do it, I'm just going to rip you off'," he said of the problem.

Brompton C Line Explore

"I wouldn't say it's a campaign, more of a war of attrition with copies. You know that you're making progress if people are copying you – it's a complement as much as it's a pain.

"We've been in court cases, been to the high court in Europe, design registration, copyright, all this stuff. You spend money on it and it's serious. But actually you're never going to stop it."

> REVIEW: Brompton C Line Explore

One such case came in 2020 when Brompton sued Get2Get in Belgium over the South Korean manufacturer's Chedech model folding into the same three positions as the British folder.

2022 Brompton C Line Explore - folded 2.jpg

"The reality is that what we're making is pretty complex," Butler-Adams continued. "Our titanium bike is hyper, hyper cutting edge. Somebody might be able to copy it but they wouldn't understand what they're doing, so they sort of try and guess.

"Well, if they guess, this isn't a handbag or a watch. If it breaks and you're whizzing down a hill at 35mph, that's not funny. You're going to hurt yourself. Do people want to save £150 on the rip-off one and find themselves with their front teeth smashed out?

"China is our largest export market now and funnily enough the risk from copies in China isn't from them making them in China and shipping to the UK and Europe, because they can make them in China and sell them in China."

Expanding on the difficult times being experienced by the bike industry that he mentioned in an interview last month, Butler-Adams again noted Brompton's 40 per cent rise in sales over the year to 31 March 2022, despite the company's pre-tax profit falling 24 per cent to £7.3 million.

> Is this CHPT3 collaboration the coolest Brompton yet?

And he warned the slowdown in demand from the heights of the pandemic means retailers have been left with excess stock.

"People aren't wanting to go mountain biking or road biking [on holiday] because they're all back to going abroad," he suggested. "Many independent bike dealers have a real cash flow problem and unfortunately I think we will lose quite a few."

Speaking in February, Butler-Adams also outlined a combination of factors contributing to the challenging time, including Brompton's supply chain being affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and tensions between China and Taiwan, with both Ukraine and Taiwan producing titanium used in the folding bikes' frames.

2023 Brompton C Line Explore - riding 4.jpg

The Telegraph reports Brompton is working on plans to move parts of its supply chain away from China and Taiwan for fear of a potential invasion.

"We are very unlike most other bike brands, where... we make most of the parts ourselves. But we still need some of those unique, very bike specific elements," Butler-Adams said in January.

Last week, Frog Bikes, the children's bike manufacturer, released its annual accounts for the same financial year as Brompton's stated earlier, reporting losses of more than half a million pounds as co-founders and directors Jerry and Shelley Lawson pointed to the "continuing friction" from Brexit holding their business back. 

Dan joined in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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