From selling cookies in Brazil to building trikes in Florida—sales of $10 million are forecast.
By Stan Roberts
It’s been a wild ride for Paulo Camasmie. In twelve years he’s gone from selling cookies and candy in Brazil to manufacturing low-to-the ground bicycles and tricycles in Winter Garden, Florida. “I hoped to be successful but I never dreamed we’d have 140 dealers worldwide selling our cycles,” said Camasmie.
Nor did Camasmie ever imagine that the business he founded with $40,000 from a 1,000-square-foot warehouse would be pumping out sales of $3 million a year producing seven models of patented aluminum uni-frame recumbent bicycles and tricycles marketed under the brand name Catrike.
Camasmie’s background was in mechanical engineering, but he made his living importing and exporting cookies and confections from San Paulo. One day in 1998 he saw a beautiful black beach cruiser with white sidewall tires. “I suddenly got an urge to utilize my engineering training and start a business making cycles,” he said.
Camasmie’s wife supported his ambitious career change. Camasmie took a course in Bicycle Mechanics in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the family settled in Orlando, Florida, a haven for cycle enthusiasts. Camasmie rented warehouse space and got required manufacturing and occupational licenses and insurance.
For two years, he worked full-time designing a prototype. “I was fascinated with recumbent cycles but I wanted to build one that was different than anything else on the market,” he said. For example, to make the seat more comfortable, he designed a chair of a mesh fabric and integrated it onto the frame; this made the cycle more suitable for longer rides. He widened the frame and raised it several inches.
Satisfied with his design, he found a bike maker in a small garage, where he got his prototype built for $10,000. He was pleased with the prototype but he wanted to see what pros thought of it so he took it to a rally of serious recumbent riders. “They gave it rave reviews,” he said, “I knew I was on to something.”
He made sales calls to several dealers and got orders for five cycles. He got them built for $1,000 each and wholesaled them for $2,000. Then his bike maker stopped taking orders, and Camasmie decided to produce them himself. “I knew parts and equipment I needed, and headed to Sears,” he said. He spent $1,000 for a drill press, tube bender, tube notcher, fabrication tools, $1,500 for welding equipment, and $100 for a Turbo Cad software at Office Depot.
“For two years, I was a one-man factory,” he said. “I designed, assembled parts and frames, kept books, paid bills and handled sales. The only thing I didn’t do was weld.” Camasmie asked the head man at a local welding school for the best welder in town. “He recommended his sister,” recalled Camasmie. “She still does my welding.”
Camasmie contacted dealers he knew, made 67 sales his first year and 150 the next year, but his breakthrough came in 2003. He pioneered the “Catrike Space Frame,” a lighter, sleeker, faster uni-frame model made from aluminum, instead of steel. “We eliminated nuts and bolts and welding joints,” explained Mark Egeland, the company’s general manager/partner. “We bent tubes, added curves and powder-coated bikes all in-house; the finish is beautiful.”
“Everybody thought I was crazy,” said Camasmie. But when he unveiled it at Interbike, the National Cycle Show, dealers loved it. “We got 60 orders. Until then we were just another bike maker—suddenly we were special.” The company patented the new model (see sidebar) that retails for $2,000 to $3,000. It caught on worldwide and sales soared to $1 million.
Demand was so great, in fact, that dealers were waiting up to six months for cycles. To fix this, Camasmie adopted the Toyota Production System, the benchmark in lean manufacturing. “It cuts out waste motion,” explained Egeland. “We don’t overproduce or overstock products. We won’t build a cycle until an order’s in hand.”
Catrike is the only recumbent trike made in the U.S. The company’s 12 employees do everything in its 7,000-square-foot warehouse that houses $2 million in equipment. “We even build our own wheels,” said Egeland. “The other cycle makers outsource production to China and Taiwan.”
Catrike has grown at a rate of 35 percent a year and currently is adding dealers in Europe. “If this keeps up, we’ll reach $10 million in four to five years,” said Camasmie. •
Paula Camasmie (above) has a background in engineering but he was importing and exporting cookies and candies while living in Sao Paulo. While walking
on the beach he saw a bike that inspired him to get back to his tech roots and design his own vehicle.
PATENT YOUR PRODUCT
Paulo Camasmie pioneered an aluminum, uni-frame recumbent cycle and didn’t want anyone to steal his design. So he hired an attorney and applied for a patent through the U.S. Patent and Trademark office in Alexandria, Virginia. “They have strict requirements,” said Camasmie. “They want to know everything about your product—what it’s intended to do; why it’s unique? How it differs from similar products? How it works? “You must provide drawings,” said Camasmie. “And hold on to original sketches, notes, dates—evidence of your work process—in case someone challenges the originality of your work.”
Before starting the application process, Camasmie ran a search through the patent office’s website www.PTO.gov to make sure no one had beaten him to his idea. He said the process took two years and cost about $5,000 but was worth it. “I never have to worry about picking up a magazine and seeing my cycle with somebody else’s name on it.” Sales forecast for the near future are $10 million. Visit: www.catrike.com to learn more. Big Car Human Powered Vehicles, LLC is based in Winter Garden, Florida.