Melbourne startup Knog rides global demand for Australian design

A Melbourne-based startup offering new and interesting takes on cycling essentials first found success on Kickstarter, and will soon be exporting its products worldwide.

Cutting edge design married with exacting manufacturing standards has helped cycling accessories and apparel manufacturer Knog build a thriving A$15 million business exporting its Victorian designed wares to four continents.

Founded in 2002 by Melbourne industrial designers Hugo Davidson and Malcolm McKechnie, Knog produces high-end lights, locks, luggage, tools and cycling apparel in a rainbow of colours and unusual materials.

The firm enjoyed stunning success in early 2016 with a crowdfunding initiative to generate awareness and sales for the Oi Bell; its unique redesign of the humble bicycle bell.

Billed as ‘looking sexy and sounding like an angel playing a glockenspiel’, the Oi Bell is a single, elegant arc of metal which appears to hover around the handlebars.

Launched via the crowdfunding site Kickstarter with a goal of raising A$20,000 towards development costs, the campaign saw more than 20,000 backers in 96 countries pledge between A$26 and A$71 apiece to receive their own Oi bells.

Retailers were equally enamoured with Knog’s quirky take on one of cycling’s essentials – initial trade orders for the Oi Bell pushed the first production run to 130,000 units, and the product will be on shelves in 5,500 stores globally by late 2016.

Davidson’s and McKechnie’s passion for creating premium accessories that have aesthetic as well as practical appeal has netted Knog 37 international design awards and helped the brand garner a loyal clientele of cycling enthusiasts across five continents since inception.

Their foray into the cycling scene coincided fortuitously with the start of a global trend which has seen recreational riding morph into a high-expenditure leisure activity.

Knog releases between six and 20 new products a year and employs a team of 30 local design and marketing professionals at its headquarters in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond.

Finding overseas markets for its range was a focus from the outset.

Early years saw Knog exhibiting at international trade shows, such as the Taipei Trade Fair for Cycling and Eurobike, in a bid to build relationships with distributors in key markets across Europe, North and South America and North Asia.

Armed with a ‘handful of prototypes and a lot of energy’, according to Davidson, he and McKechnie succeeded in signing more than a dozen deals with distributors on first attempt, many of whom still stock Knog’s wares today.

The firm’s ongoing marketing efforts have continued to enjoy favourable reception – in 2016, Knog had distribution deals in place covering 65 countries and its accessories were stocked in 20,000 cycling, photographic and sporting goods stores around the globe. Export sales comprised around 96 per cent of its revenue.

The affluent leisure markets of the UK, the US, Japan, Germany and Switzerland account for the lion’s share of Knog’s international business, but a push to acquire more distributors across South America is resulting in growing sales from Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Ecuador.

Becoming familiar with customer behaviours and buying trends in different countries and regions has enabled the firm to tailor its export range for maximum appeal, according to Davidson.

“We develop specific products for specific markets, and if something is suitable for all of them, then that’s very good luck for us,” he says.