It’s taken 14 years, but one Canadian company’s export journey has come full “cycle.”
Daymak, a Toronto-based manufacturer of ‘smart’ electric bicycles, may have started in co-founder Aldo Baiocchi’s garage as an importer of electric scooters, but today the company’s products are rolling along roads in 20 countries.
Daymak’s cycles use solar energy to recharge batteries and support operational displays as well as controls managed through a smartphone app.
“We actually started with importing electric toy scooters, then electric bicycles,” Baiocchi explains. “Either no one was selling them or they were very difficult to find in the Toronto area, which meant very little competition. The problem was that that back in 2002, electric bikes were legal to import and legal to sell, but not technically allowed on the roads in Ontario.”
Those laws were changed in 2009.
As a result, the Daymak team focused on greatly improving the products it was importing as well as adopting a vision to take the electric bicycling experience to the next level.
The company succeeded with the creation of the patented ‘Daymak Drive System,’ (DDS) a self-charging system made up of wireless and wired controllers, a rechargeable battery, solar panels and a wireless handlebar throttle.
“The DDS was created to answer questions that kept coming up, such as ‘How far can I go on a full charge?’” Baiocchi says. “We realized we needed to provide self-charging and storing capacity. Also, the constant charging, even in ambient light, means that the batteries don’t get completely drained, which prevents shortening of their lifetime.” The DDS enables driving 10 km a day without needing to charge from an external power source.
By 2009, Daymak had given birth to the Shadow, the world’s first wireless electric bicycle.
The Shadow’s Bluetooth app handles personalized pedal-assist modes, and presents the rider with information related to GPS, odometer, speedometer, trip data, altitude, battery life and complete system usage history. Over the years, Daymak celebrated the arrival of its rugged ‘Beast’ ebike – and has also taken its software and systems and expanded well beyond ebikes, into lines of cutting-edge solar-powered scooters, mobility scooters and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
Baiocchi knew early on that exporting would be crucial to the company’s success.
EDC resources to help you export
“It’s obviously tough to sell bicycles in January in Canada,” he says. “But there are many places such as Europe and the southern U.S. states where year-round biking is the norm.”
Since its first export sale in 2011, offshore business now accounts for approximately 15 per cent of the company’s sales, with the U.S. and the EU representing the largest markets. But Baiocchi knows global markets represent much more opportunity for Daymak.
“Our goal is to increase our sales tenfold, especially in the USA and EU markets,” he says.
With partners in St. George, Utah and Rome, Italy, in addition to its two Toronto manufacturing facilities, the company is well positioned to achieve that goal.
Going global can be challenging and for Daymak and there have been many lessons learned.
“Our export journey has not been easy – from designing a product, sourcing components, engineering the systems, actually putting it together and then marketing, taking orders and shipping it,” Baiocchi recalls. “You have to know the different regulations in each market and if you make one mistake, you’re done. Many things can do wrong, and it’s uphill to make money. If anything does go wrong, that customer is not going to order again.”
Particularly challenging for Daymak is the volatility of the Canadian dollar. When it dropped in value a couple of years ago, the company had to honour quoted prices in other appreciating currencies.
One of the big lessons Baiocchi has learned is to follow through on every sales lead. Early in its export journey, Daymak almost missed out on a big sale from a New Zealand customer, because an e-mail went into a spam folder.
“It sounded more like a scam than a real order because the company had no website. New Zealand is also a very small country, which made us a bit suspicious, but it turned out to be legitimate and it was our first $150,000 order from New Zealand,” he says. “The lesson learned is to check spam once in a while and follow every lead. The order made a big difference at that time.”
In his view, Daymak’s overall export and business success has been a matter of hard work, dedication, perseverance and passion.
“Products made with passion will succeed,” he says. “If you can see yourself as a buyer of (your) product, there will be other buyers worldwide that will see the same value and become your customers. If you don’t believe in your products, you shouldn’t build them.”
Daymak has been recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation as one of the province’s ‘Greenest Companies.’ It has also received awards including the ‘Cleantech North Award,’ and the prestigious ‘Most Innovative Product’ award at the International CES tradeshow – an honour that significantly boosted Daymak’s global profile.
Further expanding Daymak’s export sales will require the company to overcome certain financial constraints. According to Baiocchi, some markets can take years of work to develop, including securing the proper financing, before you can successfully do business there. For now, Baiocchi and his team are focusing on further developing established markets in the U.S. and Europe. The long-term goal is a different story.
“We want to become the global leader in the light electric vehicles,” he says. “To become the leader, all your products must be unique and provide more value to the customer. And all your products have to be built with passion and dedication. We want break into every market with that confidence.”