Ever wondered how you could support ethical, sustainable businesses? Welcome to a new series highlighting products, services and organizations that are ‘doing well by doing good’.
Brooklyn Bicycle Company, defines their purpose as “to connect people with the places they call home, fostering meaningful relationships and contributing to local economies—thereby strengthening communities the world over.”
We spoke to Ryan Zagata from Brooklyn Bicycle Company, who resides in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with his wife and two children, and can be spotted riding his army-green Calyer around the neighborhood, often with kids in tow.
Please give us an overview of your organization?
From a purely business perspective, we are a recreational bike brand, focused on breaking down barriers to cycling. As an organization, we are so much more—a company that fosters growth amongst our team members and partner shops, a company focused on community and how we can use bikes to build it, bringing neighborhoods and the people they’re composed of closer together both physically and experientially.
How did you get started with this idea?
My wife and I moved, kicking and screaming, from Manhattan to Brooklyn in early 2008. Within a week of the move, it became apparent that Brooklyn as a borough far surpassed any other place we had lived. The culture, the people, the food, the parks, the serenity, the community—every experience left us craving more. For us, bicycles were the vehicle to branch out and see more of this community that had embraced us so warmly back in 2008.
What is the purpose of this organization?
Bicycles have a way of facilitating discovery and exploration in our communities and in our lives, and our vision is to take that a step further—from discovery to engagement—by elevating people’s daily interactions from merely trivial to truly transformative. This kind of engagement, combined with the wider consciousness it facilitates, bridges social gaps and creates new bonds where none existed before. Each person with whom our bikes put us in contact is one less stranger in the world. If each of those people engages with another stranger, and so on, this great big world keeps getting smaller, and ever more interconnected—and we can’t imagine anything better than that.
What are you proudest of?
That’s a tough one, but there are a couple things we take special pride in. For one, we remain true to ourselves and to our community. There’s an authenticity to our brand that comes from our living and working and commuting and exploring here every day, and we definitely strive to maintain that as we grow. And speaking of growth, we also love to see our employees grow, both personally and professionally, and we work hard to make sure our company culture fosters that. Finally, we’re really gratified and honored by the customers who reach out to us to share all that their bike has helped them do or learn or become. Their stories remind us why we do what we do and why we need to do more of it.
How do you think you are different to your competitors?
Great question. Because we’re a small brand, it’s not feasible to do more than our competitors—more advertising, more outreach, etc.—so we really focus on doing something different. We’re different in how we design our products—getting development ideas and feedback directly from our dealers; different in how we treat our customers and partners—being as personal in our service and as easy to do business with as possible; and different in how we exist within our respective communities—getting to know, and then engaging, and actively promoting partners, advocacy groups, fellow community members, etc. While on the surface we are a bike brand, there’s so much more to who we are and what we do.
What do your customers/community say about your organization that makes you happy?
We are often told we are different, and it’s incredibly rewarding to hear the why and the how of that. The experiences our customers have with our brand—not only during the buying process, but also as they continue to reap the benefits of their products—are heartwarming, motivational, and on occasion awe-inspiring. Some have shared with us how a simple bike has dramatically improved their health, while others profess how our bikes have instilled in them a newfound love and appreciation for their community. That makes us happy.
What is your favorite story about your organization?
There are heaps of stories, and it’s difficult to settle on a favorite, but honestly, my favorite stories are the ones from our customers that I mentioned earlier, stories of how a simple bicycle can have a profound impact on a rider’s relationship with their community.
What difference does being based in Brooklyn make?
Brooklyn as a borough embodies so many values, but I would say the most amazing among them is collaboration. Having lived in New York City since 1997, I always felt Manhattan had this “win at all costs” feeling, but upon moving to Brooklyn, it became apparent that winning in business and in life didn’t have to be a zero sum game, where one company’s win is another’s loss. The businesses and individuals in Brooklyn have been instrumental in helping us further our pursuits, so I find the sense of collaboration here to be awe-inspiring.
Where can people go to support your organization?
As a brand, it’s much less about how people can support us, and so much more about how we can support other people. I would say there are two things we’d love to see more people doing: First, riding a bike! Bicycling makes neighborhoods “smaller,” supports the economic vitality of those neighborhoods, gives people a sense of belonging, and keeps both people and the environment healthy. What could be better? And second, Buying from local bike shops! The community these shops foster is something few other retail stores can replicate and there have been heaps of studies about how cycling pays financial dividends to neighborhoods.
What are your plans for the future?
We have too many to relate here, but the common thread is to contribute to a true mainstream bicycle culture and build communities around that culture by getting more people riding! This involves working with cities to ensure cyclists have adequate room for safe passage, educating individuals by debunking the myths of biking, and designing products that make people want to ride.
Learn more about the Brooklyn Bicycle Company by visiting their homepage, or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook: @brooklynbikeco
Afdhel Aziz is the co-author of the forthcoming book on social entrepreneurship ‘Good is the New Cool’ available for pre-order on Amazon now. If you have a suggestion for a business or organization you think should be highlighted, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org