“Every setback has a huge silver lining” – Andrew Ritchie of Brompton on slow invention, design and manufacture in the UK

Andrew Ritchie in the Circle Of Bromptons

Rough notes from tonight’s talk by Andrew Ritchie, founder and inventor of the Brompton bicycle. Much paraphrasing and missing out of crucial bits I’m sure.

Andrew Ritchie/brompton

1st prototype for 1000 GBP in late seventies
Looking for a licensee
No big companies are actively looking to increase the risk they are exposed to or increase their portfolio of projects
Only option was to manufacture themselves
“Why don’t you find 30 ppl and charge them 250 for a bike you haven’t yet built and guarantee them their money back once the company is running”
18 months later… Still trying to manufacture…
“A degree in engineering is all very well but it’s not substitute for metal bashing”
1981 Small firms loan guarantee scheme (recently resuscitated?)
Pilot production, basic tooling, space in Kew nr the tube station
“Patrick the brazer said he’d worked in an open sided shed in Aberdeen, he didn’t mind the cold”
Hinge supplier stopped supplying, spent three months milling hinges himself from solid blocks of metal
“We needed a 150 grand to get going, got 80. That wasn’t going to stop us.”
1987, after the gales, moved into the railway arch…
“we got cracking and started making bikes. Everything went wrong.”
“change is a bloody nuisance” as conservative about his manufacturing as the channel/dealers were when he started. Patience
Sales abroad came to 2/3. Stayed the same every since.
7.5% discount to those dealers who paid in 10 days, never had any trouble collecting cash. Doesn’t know why it’s not common practice. Most firms give 2.5% and so people don’t bother to pay early.
Sturmey-archer disaster… Went bust. Stopped supply of the hub gears
German firm said we’ll do something special for you
“I didn’t like the five speed, so I made them more expensive…” People started buying more…
Titanium bits. The titanium workers in Russia are spinoff of ussr space program…
“I hate marketing. Lovely people but as far as I’m concerned make something good and people will buy it. You don’t need some touchy feely story.”
Cultural issues in growing a manufacturing company are the biggest challenge. Growth of 25% a year is the target, very challenging.
Wouldn’t have worked if this had been attempted quickly, all the failure and hardship has made the product and company what it is.
“bromptons are far too expensive at the moment, I’m very sorry.”
“there’s masses we can do to improve what we do, we’re always trying to improve”
“Took my time and solved problems because I didn’t have a business plan”
“I’m very glad the hinge supplier went bust, because that made me improve the design. If I’d continued there would have been thousands of bikes full of errors”
“all these setbacks had huge silver linings”

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