Located: Lindon, Utah
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Having worked hard to earn both a law degree and an MBA, Chris Washburn, the owner and founder of Fezzari, should have spent the rest of his career inside a corporate office building. Instead, today you might find him on one of Utah's many trails, testing out a new bike.
"Before Fezzari, I was working and travelling all the time," Washburn remembers. "I would leave Sunday, come back home on Friday. And I was doing it every week. After a few years, I couldn't do it anymore. I was tired of being away from home, away from my kids’ soccer games, away from life. I decided I was done with it, and I started Fezzari by manufacturing just a few bikes. It grew from there."
For years Washburn helped other start-ups with the business and legal side of growing a new business. Now it was his turn. "I learned a lot from the process," says Washburn. "When I saw the opportunity, that start-up background gave me the confidence to go out, take a look at bike manufacturing, and say, 'We can do this better. We can do this different.'"
From the beginning, Fezzari has offered high-end, customized bikes. "We wanted to enhance the riding experience," Washburn explains. But his vision was not immediately embraced by dealers. "So we said we would do it ourselves. We would sell directly to the consumer. When they saw our success, the dealers actually came back to us. But by then we had found our own niche."
By selling directly to the consumer, Fezzari maintains complete control of the entire customer experience. "We control the whole process," Washburn says, "for better or for worse. We design, engineer, manufacture, market, support – everything! From start to finish. It's a good and a bad thing. Good because we get to control every aspect; bad because there is a lot of work in controlling every aspect. From the beginning, we said our product had to be the best, because I told my team if we were going to fail, it was not going to be because of quality."
Fezzari has found its niche in customization, which can be a manufacturing headache. To optimize customization, Fezzari will manufacture batches of similar bikes and tackle the customization side of manufacturing in different stages.
"We'll manufacture batches of similar frames," adds Washburn, "and then customize through components. Or we'll manufacture a batch of mountain bikes or a batch of road bikes. It helps."
Finding and adding these customizable components is one of Washburn's favorite parts of doing business. If he finds a good supplier, he keeps going back to them. If things do not work out, he moves on. "Even though I am an attorney where I’m used to working with contracts, so much of this business is trust-based. I love that. We look at our suppliers as our partners."
Above all, Washburn refuses to be paralyzed by fear, even though his legal and business background have taught him to see risk around every corner. "I have found that there is a risk in every aspect of manufacturing. The key is to mitigate it. We are betting all the time on different things. So how do you grow? You focus on your core strengths. It's never 'just a bike.' We customize everything. We build a product that is second to none. Everyone makes mistakes in forecasting. But we try not to make mistakes at all, and the mistakes that we do make, we make sure it does not affect our customer's experience," Washburn says.
To reach those customers, Fezzari relies on word-of-mouth and its virtual showroom." We do have a factory showroom in Lindon," Washburn adds, "but, by far, the bulk of our sales are from the internet." Fezzari also participates in events and trade shows where interested customers are invited to experience Fezzari first-hand. "Our customers are our biggest marketers," Washburn says. "If you treat our customer right, it will lead to other sales."
Challenge: Growth. Washburn admits that when he grew Fezzari, he put everything on the line. "We started with no outside capital," Washburn says. "We put our money where our mouth was. We risked everything with the hope that it would work, and it would grow."
Opportunity: New relationships. Fezzari has partnered with rental businesses, locally with Sundance and in Park City. "It is a great experience to be able to show our brand to new riders, and we have created great synergies," Washburn says.
Need: Capital. "We are growing so fast that we cannot keep up," Washburn says. "We are doing everything we can to keep the wheels on, so to speak."