Curana is a third-generation business founded in the 1940s in Ardooie, Belgium by the grandfather Dirk and Geert Vens, who took over the company in the 90s. The company started as a bicycle shop that produced its own frames, diversifying in 1946 into manufacturing bicycle accessories. When the business passed to the next generation in the 1960s, they approached the market conservatively. Curana was an OEM manufacturing bicycle accessories such as luggage carriers and mudguards for several Belgian bicycle manufacturers. Over time, accessory suppliers struggled with increasing price pressure from bicycle manufacturers and by the 1990s Curana was one of the few players that survived in the Belgian market.
Dirk and his brother Geert began managing Curana in the early 1990s as third-generation owners[i]. They inherited the company as major changes were dawning within the business landscape. A few years later, mountain bikes appeared on the market and revitalized the bicycle business. The market shifted toward global competition, and European bicycle manufacturers started sourcing internationally for less expensive accessories. Most bicycle parts producers could not withstand the lethal competitive pressure.
Next came major changes in the raw materials used to produce bike accessories. Mudguards, for instance, were no longer made only from steel, but also aluminum and polypropylene. Curana, still surviving, faced increasing competition from companies across Europe that flooded the market with plastic mudguards.
With market conditions deteriorating rapidly, managing director Dirk Vens decided to reorient Curana’s strategy dramatically in 1999. For nearly 50 years, Curana had been a production-driven bicycle parts manufacturer, making fenders and racks according to customer specifications. Dirk decided to conceive, develop, and produce products that were completely new to the industry. For example, because plastic had some advantages over steel and aluminum for mudguards, Curana’s management wanted to design and produce plastic mudguards. They were not satisfied, however, to just copy or improve bicycle accessories already on the market; instead they wanted to develop concepts that were new for the industry. In doing so, they could set their own prices and avoid price competition. Dirk Vens realized, however, that the company was not prepared for this new challenge. It had never before designed or innovated a single product.
Dirk Vens contacted Pilipili, a design company based nearby, to seek advice on developing ideas for new types of plastic mudguards—but the project ended without tangible results. Some time later, Dirk met with a designer at Batavus, a Dutch bicycle manufacturer that was already one of Curana’s main clients. The designer was skeptical about the quality and look of the newly designed plastic mudguard. He felt the product was not revolutionary and did not have the sleek, high-tech look needed to shake up the bicycle parts industry. He suggested using a design that integrated metal and plastic to provide both strength and a totally unique appearance. To elaborate on this idea, Curana collaborated again with Pilipili. The resulting mudguard looked good, but created stubborn technological problems in combining aluminum or steel with polypropylene. In the end the partners chose a sandwich material that was composed of two thin layers of aluminum separated by a layer of polypropylene. The result, labeled the B”lite, was a mudguard with a clean, high-tech look that combined a shining aluminum strip with colored plastic. Installing the mudguard was made easy by using intelligent clicking systems. Furthermore, the aluminum with the layer of polypropylene could be used to conduct electricity, eliminating the need to use wires for the bicycle’s lights.
The B”lite concept was presented to the Accell Group, an international group of companies active in designing, developing, producing, marketing, and selling bicycles. Accell’s managers were enthusiastic about the B”lite, and the Accell group agreed to buy a large volume of the B”lite under two conditions: They wanted full exclusivity for two years, and Curana had to prove it could manufacture the new mudguard before May 2001. The deal represented huge revenue growth for Curana if the company could succeed in meeting the deadline. Curana proceeded to contact numerous injection molding companies, but they were critical of the idea as combining the sandwich material and the plastic was a totally new process to be invented. After a failed collaborative effort with one polymer extruding company, Dirk Vens engaged Anziplast, another local injection molding company.’s managing director embraced the challenge fully and the company worked day and night to solve the technical problem. The two companies managed to produce the mudguard and Curana began selling it to the Accell group.
The B”lite was Curana’s first major success: Turnover quadrupled in the following six years. The success of B”lite motivated management to introduce other mudguards with a high-tech look. In the following years, the company introduced equally successful products such as the C-lite and the D-vide. Moreover, it was a logical step to extend the product portfolio of design-based products into chain fenders, overcoat guards, and luggage racks, among other accessories. Manufacturers purchasing accessories started to realize that Curana was an important partner for their own success. Soon, Curana became a strategic development partner for all leading European bicycle manufacturers.
The development of the B”lite was critical in turning Curana around. The company redefined itself as a product-driven manufacturer focusing on how to design and manufacture entirely new products that could differentiate Curana from its competitors. The innovation strategy was 100 percent proactive: Curana positioned itself as a developer of new concepts using new materials created such that they added value for bike manufacturers, dealers, and consumers. Since its inception, the company evolved from simply a product supplier to a developer of highly innovative solutions.
According to Curana’s management, the company underwent three additional strategic changes after 1999. Before 1999, Curana was an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), selling bicycle accessories to several European manufacturers. Since the 1999 decision to focus on design and innovation and develop a mudguard that combines plastic and metal, Curana switched to an Original Design Manufacturer, or ODM, strategy to design and manufacture products for specific bicycle manufacturers. By collaborating closely with a group of innovation partners, Curana now added value for its customers through innovative designs and creating products that were totally new to the industry. The company also became a price setter, with the ultimate benefit of determining its own margins.
Curana further fine-tuned its business strategy in 2006 by establishing an internal design office. By this time, design had become the heart of the company. Curana gradually moved toward what the management labeled Original Strategic Management (OSM). To develop new ideas over and over again, the company continuously explored trends, global changes, fashion, new materials, technology, and design developments by collaborating with innovation partners. Curana now proactively offered design solutions. By continuing to offer products to the market, the company became indispensable to European bicycle makers.
In 2008, Curana took another significant strategic step: Management decided to pursue an Original Brand Management (OBM) strategy. In the next few years, the company won several design and innovation awards, including the prestigious Design Management Europe Award in 2008 and the Henry Van de Velde Award in 2010. The growing popularity of Curana as a provider of innovative concepts generated interest in the company as a strategic partner for bike manufacturers, most of which are constantly looking for innovative concepts. Other bike parts manufacturers were also interested in Curana’s design skills and asked for cooperation. In addition to clients and competitors, end-users have also taken note of Curana’s accessories. Curana started to brand it products with the “by Curana” logo using a pull-through strategy, as end-users were increasingly asking for authentic Curana bike parts.
Curana has realized these changes in its business model during the past decade by establishing a network of innovation partners; today it is an innovation network orchestrator combining the skills and creativity of more than 20 partners. The network not only determines its own business success, but also enhances the prospects of the European bicycle industry. Dirk Vens took a leading position in developing and managing this network of innovation partners. As partners know and trust each other, the network innovation project has led to highly novel approaches and results have been achieved many times faster than those of Curana’s competitors. The strength of innovation was related to how the partners were connected to each other in generating new designs and products. Vens and his partners developed an effective way to manage collaborative innovation efforts in that network. The partners developed open book techniques, rules for assigning IP rights, conflict management strategies, and other ways to facilitate working together.
In 2009, Vens also wanted to have products available in the aftermarket. One idea was to make beautiful bicycle bags and a novel system for fixing these bags onto the bike. A small Germany company had a patented magnetic closure system. Curana wanted to use the closure system to lock bags onto its luggage carriers. The magnet producer and Curana negotiated a deal agreeing that Curana could exclusively license the technology for the bicycle industry worldwide. The collaboration was difficult, however, and there was a lack of trust because The magnet manufacturer took some ideas that were earlier on presented by Curana and patented them. Curana developed the bags and closure system under the MagIQ brand. MagIQ was introduced at Eurobike, Europe’s major trade fair for the bicycle industry, and there was a great deal of interest from visitors.
Dirk Vens realized that MagIQ could only be a major market success if the system could become a new standard for fixing accessories and other devices onto bikes. It had to be adopted by as many bag and bike rack manufacturers as possible. He therefore contacted a major European producer of luggage carriers, who in its turn brought a market leader in bike bags and a leader in fixation systems to the table. The three asked for exclusive use of the system, but Curana was unwilling to grant them an exclusive license. In the meantime, In the meantime, one of the owners of the German magnet manufacturer left the company and the relationship with Curana gradually deteriorated. In the end, the contract—which had never been signed—was terminated.
In 2014 Curana developed a new fixation system without magnets and applied for a patent for it. Again branded under the MagIQ label, it was launched at the 2015 Eurobike fair. It was a compact and solid fixing system for luggage and accessories; the difference with existing systems was the ease of use. Another important advantage was the clamping of the accessories in all directions with just a one-click action.
The new MagIQ was developed by Curana but available for all manufacturers. Curana created its own high-end luggage line, buZZ, equipped with MagIQ; however, the company also allowed manufacturers of luggage and relevant products to use this system, resulting in the most exciting open bike fixing system in the world. The system could be applied on all kinds of bags and baskets, but was also available as a DIY-kit to create a bike bag from every existing bag a bike owner already has. On the bike, an adapter could be applied for existing bikes. Curana would sell the adapters via retail shops or online.
Late in 2015, Curana was trying to develop MagIQ as a solution for OEMs, integrating the system in luggage racks, front forks, etc. Several bicycle manufacturers showed serious interest in the system. As the success of the system depended on the acceptance of OEM’s and the rack suppliers they work with to integrate it, by early 2016 it was still an open question whether MagIQ could become a new standard and a major market success.
Figure 1: Stepwise business model innovation at Curana
Figure 2: A sample of Curana's products
Figure 3: The B"Lite, an injection molded mudguard with sandwich composite insert
Figure 4: The MagIQ, the new bike fixology of Curana
Video: Dirk Vens explains Curana's open innovation strategy
Learn More: http://www.curana.com
[i] Dirk and Geert Vens owned the company in the 1990s but Dirk is since 2011 the only owner of the company.