Get out and explore..
We were pleased to talk to Karen Wood, co-founder of Kidvelo Bikes UK. As always, we enjoy hearing the career paths of other successful business owners and businesspeople, the stories and journeys that lead people to owning a business are always different and always inspiring.
Karen was no different. She shares we she started out and how she came to start Kidvelo Bikes and then gives a further insight into life as a business owner now. As a fairly new business, who started just before the global pandemic, it is hugely powerful, and beneficial for other aspiring business owners, to hear how Karen and the business have navigated the treacherous few years that have followed the initial lockdowns, and other roadblocks they came across, and how despite all the downs and hard work how Karen still loves being her own boss more than anything else!
Kidvelo Bikes UK make awesome bikes for kids aged from 18-months-old to 8-years. They manufacture balance bikes; which is essentially a bike that doesn’t have pedals, cranks or a drivetrain that allow children to learn to balance before transitioning to a bike with pedals, without ever needing stabilisers.
Hi Karen, thanks for taking the time to talk to The Business Owner. We like to start at the beginning - what was your first role in the business world?
An estate agent. I was supposed to go to university, but my only desire was to explore the world, so I got a job for a year, to save some cash before leaving to go travelling. I then did everything from cooking on dive boats, teaching scuba diving, running a back packing hostel, tour leading and driving coaches/ over-land trucks. I spent 10 years working in over 100 countries before deciding at 30 to return to the UK.
You must have seen, and been a part of some wonderful things during that time. How would you describe your career path so far?
Completely unplanned! I spent a few years on my return to the UK, working in medical sales management, which I fell into by chance. Truthfully, despite being still out on the road, I hated the restraints of being employed and constant pointless meetings. When I was on maternity leave with my second child, I spotted a wooden bike without pedals being ridden by a three year old. I resigned and started selling bikes from my kitchen table back in 2009. There was no indication at any point I would end up manufacturing!
Sometimes the best plans fall into our laps! What is your favourite part about life at Kidvelo Bikes UK?
I love it all! Years of smiles from seeing my little toddlers grow into really keen cyclists and the enjoyment kids have on our bikes, keeps us going.
What was the inspiration behind your Kidvelo?
As parents, we were early adopters of balance bikes back in 2009. Back in the day when there were only wooden heavy versions around, but the concept was interesting so I quit the corporate life and started selling balance bikes from my kitchen table. Our family business then took on the distribution for an American kids’ bike company and grew that to market leader in the UK. In 2019 we decided to set out and improve the bikes we sold, so started making them ourselves. A survey in 2018 showed a third of primary aged children have never ridden a bike, we are setting out to change this. By making top-quality bikes that the kids love to ride and made available at very competitive pricing.
What changes or challenges do you foresee for your company in the next three years?
As a brand new business that started a week before the global lockdowns, we have experienced a lot of unforeseen challenges. Global lockdowns made sourcing a new factory more difficult and development took a lot longer than planned, as prototypes had to be flown to us, rather than us being on site. Consequently the escalating manufacturing and logistic delays and subsequent costs alongside the cost of living crisis will be a significant hurdle.
What is the most stressful task in your current role?
Financial forecasting. Who knows what will be thrown at us next! When we started we presumed that Brexit would be the biggest challenge to work through but then came the global lockdowns, and the current cost of living challenges. With our marketing budget been diminished due to increase in costs elsewhere in the business, building a new brand is stressful on a less than ideal budget.
Budget planning in the current financial climate is a problem we are sure many business are facing, so don't feel alone in that. Tell us more about the product - how can it benefit the individuals and what makes it stand out?
We aim at anyone that has a child that they want to learn to ride a bike. The advantage of the balance bikes for older children, is that you can easily bolt on an included pedal kit, that transforms the balance bike into lightweight pedal bike. A massive advantage to parents as this 2-In-1 type bike prevents them having to buy twice. They also help kids that have additional challenges such as Autism, Dyspraxia and issues with mobility.
Anyone that has tried to learn to ride a bike with stabilisers will understand that this method doesn’t really teach you to balance. As soon as the stabilisers are removed, the child falls over, as they haven’t learnt to keep the bike upright themselves. By starting with a balance bike and feet safely on the floor, as the child walks/runs quicker, they lift their feet for longer periods of time and learn the skill of balancing the bike. When moved to a bike that you can then add pedals to, a few turns to learn to pedal it and they ride off. Safely and with no fear or hesitation.
Our USP is the quality of our bikes and the small, and often overlooked, considerations we have taken into account to reach that quality. We feel that this places Kidvelo Bikes amongst the top-quality brands but at affordable pricing due to our small team and lower overheads.
Thanks Karen, it is great to hear more about Kidvelo Bikes. Now let's hear a little more about you- who are your leadership role models?
I am a huge fan of Theo Paphitis. Despite his own business success he does a lot to inspire new small business owners and gives his time to help them where he can. He always says “Just keep going” which is the key to getting a business off the ground.
What motivates you every day?
I love what I do and enjoy being my own boss. The thought of returning to corporate life doesn’t sit well with me.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self about your career journey?
Carry on as you were!
We love to hear that Karen! How would you describe your management style?
I am part of a team, and whilst I direct to make sure everything progresses, I don’t see myself as any different to anyone else in the team. I have my responsibilities but Kidvelo is made up of people that we have worked with for over 12 years. Everyone’s input is invaluable and we recognise their value and expertise, which I take on board and change process if required. So pretty laid back I would imagine, compared to managers I have worked for in the past! No micro time management here, as long as things get done well, in reasonable timeframes, I am happy.
If you could give a single piece of advice to a start-up entrepreneur what would that be?
Keep an eye on cash flow! Sure, profit is king over turnover but ensuring you can pay the bills will make or break the business. Be realistic with your expectations and keep running the numbers. Research your market well before committing any money to a new venture and be realistic with what you can achieve yourself before needing to fund help.
Thanks Karen, that is some really solid, practical advice for people to follow. We have one lat question - what are your goals for the future, either with Kidvelo or personally?
Well, we were planning on paying off the mortgage and semi-retiring (!) however we have just ploughed that back into Kidvelo. Eventually, it will be to load up a camper van and set off again, with husband and dog in tow this time.
Well, we wish you all the success with Kidvelo, and following that your adventures into the world! Thank you for chatting with you, it is great to hear about what you are doing, and what you are aiming for.
If you want to learn more about Kidvelo Bikes UK, you can find then on socials @KidveloBikesUK or visit their website: kidvelobikes.co.uk.