Folding Scooter Story



In the last year while riding I've met a few kids riding a nice scooter
that is sold over the Internet and at Sharper Image in the USA. They
are all aluminum and very light; they fold well and compactly.

Yesterday, I read this story in the Wall Street Journal. Quite
interesting. I visited to my local Sharper Image store and found they
are selling new for $100. I bought one with yellow wheels. I think
I'll keep it in my Eunos (Miata) unless my kids take it away from me!

Bob


..........................................................

May 19, 2000




Tiny Scooters Take Off
in Cities,
Thanks to Low Cost,
Easy Parking

By ALFRED KUEPPERS
Special to THE WALL
STREET JOURNAL



May 19, 2000




Tiny Scooters Take Off
in Cities,
Thanks to Low Cost,
Easy Parking

By ALFRED KUEPPERS
Special to THE WALL
STREET JOURNAL

It looks like a shiny
metal skateboard on a stick, and if you haven't seen
one zooming down your
street yet, you soon will. It's a new version of
an old form of
transportation -- the scooter -- and it's taking off
around the world.

Sold under such brand
names as Ciro, Kickboard, Micro and Razor, the
new-style scooter is
already popular in Japan and in Europe, where one
of its prototypes was
conceived seven years ago by German engineer
Sieghart Straka.
Hospital nurses in Wuppertal, Germany, scoot them
down long hallways;
car parkers at the Goldener Hirsch hotel in
Salzburg, Austria,
ride them on their way back from the garage. In
Berlin, they are
gaining ground among the city's hippest commuters. In
England, they've gone
electric: City Bug UK Ltd. sells a battery-powered
model.

With his short beard,
long drooping mustache and Birkenstocks, the
46-year-old Mr. Straka
doesn't look like a consumer-marketing whiz.

The mother of his
invention was want of a parking space -- such a prize
in Berlin after the
wall fell that Mr. Straka, his wife and two children
became a one-car
family. But Mr. Straka, who tends to sleep late, found
that walking to the
train station made him late for work. In late 1993,
he took two sets of
skateboard wheels, mounted them on an aluminum
plate, and attached a
collapsible waist-high metal pole. After a few
months of fine-tuning,
he was scootering off to his job at a Berlin
auto-engineering company.

"Everyone laughed at
me then," Mr. Straka recalls. "They laughed
themselves silly and
thought, 'What is that thing?' "

All except for one
man, who asked Mr.
Straka if he could
ride the contraption
and, impressed,
promised to finance a
few prototypes -- if
Mr. Straka could
figure out a way to
keep the back wheels
straight and allow the
front wheels to
turn.

Mr. Straka, who won't
name the investor,
did just that, and the
pair took the new
model around to
several retailers, who
quickly showed them
the door. The
backer jumped ship and
left Mr. Straka
alone with his prototypes.

Coincidentally, Mr.
Straka's employer
underwent
restructuring. Mr. Straka kept
his job, but many of
his colleagues
didn't. While working
on various
engineering projects,
they helped
finance the scooter.
They also paid for
Mr. Straka to attend a
1995 inventors'
convention in
Nuremberg, where his
product -- dubbed the
Ciro -- spun away
with a silver medal,
and a bicycle
convention in Cologne,
where the response was overwhelming.

One flaw remained: The
Ciro had no brakes. As a quick fix, Mr. Straka
attached bicycle-style
caliper brakes, and his unemployed colleagues,
backed by a government
grant, set out to build 25 scooters. Before they
did, the funds ran
out. Mr. Straka was alone again, with 25 unfinished
scooters on his hands.

He finished them after
work and during weekends and sold them
privately for a little
more than $600 apiece. In a brief burst of renewed
cooperation with his
former colleagues, 50 more scooters were made.
But his colleagues
abandoned him for good when sales were slow.

"At that time, I
didn't know whether to keep going or not, but you know
how it is, when you're
caught up in a spiral like that," Mr. Straka says.

His first big break
came in 1997 when the German luxury-goods
mail-order company
Pro-Idee Versand GmbH ordered 250 Ciros for their
catalog. He contracted
out manufacturing to MVG GBR a small
metalworking company
in Schwarzenberg in the Ore Mountains. But at
more than $450 a pop,
they were too expensive for the mainstream; so
Mr. Straka replaced
the aluminum footrest with wood and cut the price
almost in half.

At this time, a man
from Zurich, Wim Ouboter, who had been working on
his own scooters,
approached Mr. Straka. The two agreed to collaborate.
After a year and a
half, however, they parted ways. Mr. Ouboter favored
a more sporty model;
Mr. Straka wanted a sturdy transport scooter.
Prior to their split,
the Swiss partner bought a license to manufacture
the axle for an
undisclosed sum.


A couple of years later, in February 1999, Mr.

Straka strolled by the booth of K2 Inc., the U.S.

sporting-goods giant, at a Munich sporting goods

fair and saw a scooter called a Kickboard. "At

first, I thought I was dreaming," he says. "The

Kickboard looked damn similar to my Ciro and

that really bothered me."


Unbeknownst to Mr. Straka, his former partner,

Mr. Ouboter, had become K2's supplier and was

also marketing a two-wheel product, the Micro,

on his own. Mr. Straka says today that if he had

known a big company like K2 was interested, he

would have sold the license for more money -- a

lot more.

Mr. Ouboter says that
business is business. "When I bought the license, I
told him that I was in
contact with a lot of different people," says Mr.
Ouboter, president of
Micro Mobility Systems Ltd. "And, after all, I
could have bought the
exclusive rights. But I felt we could co-exist
because our scooters
are targeted at different markets. Now, I see it as
a win-win situation."

Indeed, K2's
advertising muscle held unintended benefits for Mr. Straka.
"At first I was bitter
about the whole thing, but then I realized that K2
unleashed this boom,
and that has helped me to sell my Ciros. So, I'm
not so narrow-minded
about it anymore," he says, although the scooter
trade has yet to make
him rich.

Mr. Straka's Ciro is a
sleek product, weighing a little more than 10
pounds, with a handle
that pulls out and collapses against the base. And
the bicycle brakes
have been replaced with a flexible rear fender which
the rider steps on to
stop the Ciro.

The Ciros and
Kickboards form a triangle, with two wheels in the front
and one in the back,
while the two-wheel Micro is a straight line. All
models come with
waist-high handles -- the Kickboard's ends in a ball
grip, the Micro's is a
short horizontal bar, while Ciro riders can choose
between the two types.

The three-wheel
Kickboards and Ciros ride better on Europe's
cobblestone streets,
but Mr. Ouboter has sold more than one million
two-wheel Micros,
mainly in Japan, Germany and North America, where
Sharper Image Corp.
sells them under the name Razor. Sharper image
says the Razor,
advertised at $99.95 on the company's Web site, is a top
seller.

Kickboards and Ciros
start at about $180, while Micros cost about $135
-- too expensive for
some would-be buyers. "I know how to in-line
skate, but the scooter
is a lot safer," says 13-year-old Ralf Welsch
from central Berlin.
"I would buy one, but it's too expensive for me.
Maybe my parents will
give me one for my birthday."

But price isn't an
issue for everyone. "The upper classes, the people who
work in this area,
where its hard to find a parking space, buy the Ciro,"
says Uwe Albrecht, a
salesman at a Karstadt Warenhaus AG store in
Berlin. "Right now
we're sold out of the special aluminum edition," he
says.

At the store last
Friday, seventh-graders mingled with the middle-aged
while waiting to
test-drive the various models. "I first saw them last
week," said 40-year
old Nuremberg construction worker Peter Demke. "I
think I'll buy one,
but I'm not sure which model yet. And, there's still
one thing -- I'll have
to add a bell."

The U.S. market
welcomed K2's Kickboard at the end of the first
quarter, and the
company expects sales to hit $20 million world-wide
this year. A Shenzhen,
China, factory will produce 120,000 Kickboards
for K2 this year.

Meantime, Straka
Sports remains a home-grown operation, at least for
the time being. MVG,
the original supplier in the Ore Mountains, now
produces 4,000 Ciros a
month for Mr. Straka, who still hasn't quit his
day job designing
throttle bodies.

But the 20-hour days
and growing responsibilities are starting to wear
on him. Robert Bartz,
who has helped sell the Ciro in France and
Switzerland, has been
urging Mr. Straka to take the business side of the
scooter more seriously
for several years. Together with a third partner,
Boris Kurschinski,
they are drawing up a business plan for a new
venture, Ciro Machines GmbH.

At the future
company's headquarters in Mr. Straka's cluttered study,
rumors of expansion
are circulating: Mr. Straka may hire an assistant.

GIF image

GIF image



Privacy