A few times a week, we get sales emails from various Chinese vendors of carbon bike things, which go straight to the trash file never to be considered. These all contravene our number one iron-clad rule of sourcing: we don't want to buy from the companies that want to sell to us. Yesterday, however, we got one from Dengfu. It also went straight to the trash, but Mike commented that this obviously meant that we've now made the big time. In just a few moments, I became convinced that Dengfu will become the next major bike brand.
For those unaware, Dengfu is a Chinese outfit that sells on eBay, Alibaba, and direct. With stunningly imperfect information, I'd say that they're the most visible brand coming out of that cohort, with FarSports perhaps being close. My technique for writing these is best described as stream of consciousness (more a Richard Brautigan than a James Joyce fan), so at the outset I will say a few things 1) this topic will likely have to be broken down into several posts 2) I will try to stay value neutral in all of my wording, despite a generally very negative view of Chinese carbon supply as a whole and 3) yes, there is still a chasmic difference between a Taiwanese company and a Chinese company even though people think I'm being pedantic when I militantly correct and clarify. The lines can get obscure - for example Reynolds manufactures the vast majority of their rims in China, few in the US, and none in Taiwan. Same with Cervelo at the point of my last awareness, and same with many others. Most understandably want to obfuscate their Chinese production, as the sublety of the distinction there is lost on most. The difference between a Chinese company and a US company producing in China is pronounced, and in our experience the Taiwanese companies (especially those producing in Taiwan) are run much more like US businesses.
You also have to be aware that almost none of the Chinese brands that show up are actually producers, despite their claims. They are trading companies, but claiming to be the producer is incredibly common practice. If you really want to dive into this, read "Poorly Made in China" by Paul Midler. It's getting a bit dated, but I was in mainland China last spring on a non-November consulting deal and everything that Midler talks about is still in plain view.
Okay, so, why did I come to the conclusion that Dengfu is going to be the next big brand? First, let's look at the obstacles that they face. I'll finish out this post with the first parts of that side of the equation, and then move to why I think they will ultimately win a spot in the "really big brand" pantheon (which, for those keeping score, Mike and I have reverse interest in joining - our aim is to be as small as we can possibly be yet still swim in the big pond - read "Raising the Bar" by Gary Erickson if you want our perspective there).
Obstacle #1: The Race To The Bottom - The way that Dengfu gained awareness for themselves was through low prices. They played the "knock it off and sell it cheaper" game as hard as anyone, and they still do. Their current bike lineup flatters the bejeesus out of Scott's product team, with previous production having taken clear cues (I'm struggling with euphamisms here, clearly) from other notable brands. Knock it off and sell it cheaper is at best a transitional strategy, at best. They once had the lowest labor cost, now they don't. At some point, people will demand actual design innovation from them. The proposition of being a valued brand is almost opposite to one where your customers think "eh, if it turns out to be a pile of crap at least I won't be out a ton of money."
Obstacle #2: Inelegant Sales Process - Just now, I pointed by browser over to their site to see what their prices were, in order to make another point. You have to inquire to learn the price. That will turn a pile of people away right there. Pricing integrity and process transparency are cornerstones of November's philosophy. Everyone loves to a deal (we'd likely sell more if we created an inflated price and then gave everyone a deal - research shows that works), but not having any indication of what the price is goes really far to the other side of the line. People will do it, but most people won't.
Obstacle #3: Bad Info - "High-temperature fibre and resin for the brake surface , and with high braking temperature about 160~280 degree generated from high speed braking." Okay... where to start with this. This is actual copy from one of their wheel pages. Is this f or c? I'll give you a hint, it ain't c. 280c is 536f. I visited an awesome carbon shop last week that had made parts for this boat, and the guys who'd made some carbon parts for the engine mount (when you commercialize the internet, you make enough money to afford boats with carbon engine mounts) were working with 400f layups. Not that hard to do, as long as money is no object. But as we showed this summer, the difference between 160f and 280f heat resistance is the difference between toasting your rims on pretty much any significant hill, or having a pretty good safety margin (for the record our rims test at roughly 350f, which we state as many places as possible). So what is it? Prospective customers POUND on us for HIGH resolution information - 1w makes a difference. You can't get away with useless information in the mainstream.
Okay I've well exceeded my word limit so we'll have to pick this up in another installment.