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In hindsight, you could argue that Rijkeboer and de Grijs should have been a bit more hawkish. Who knows? Maybe they could have kept competitors from adopting their innovations? But they wouldn’t agree. Patents for bikes are hard to obtain and the lawsuit against the manufacturer of the Chinese counterfeit bike cost them a lot of time and energy. They decided that they wouldn't worry too much about what others did.
'We didn’t want to get lost in paperwork', Rijkeboer says. That’s also the reason why they asked NLO to protect their brand names. NLO monitors the use of the Azor trademarks and we give the company a shout when we find something suspicious. Like for example when a Portuguese company tried to obtain trademark rights for the trademark AZOR. It gives the Azor founders peace of mind to know their rights are protected and enforced. 'We’d rather use our time to keep on building better bikes’, de Grijs says. And that’s exactly what they do.
From the very beginning, quality has been the main focus of the brand. Dealers would ask the company to build a bike that didn’t break and didn’t rust. One that could outlast several generations.
Rijkeboer is proud of the quality he offers and he is willing to go to great lengths to prove it. Once, when construction work was going at a site near the factory, he asked an excavator to run over one of his bikes.
His request started off as a laugh, but actually, he really wanted to see how it performed under extreme pressure. After a few hours of work, the bike was back on the road. And when a supplier presents him a new part for his bikes - such as head and tail lights -, Rijkeboer throws it against a wall. If it breaks, he doesn’t want it. If it lasts, he might be interested.
One of the best ways to ensure that kind of quality, Rijkeboer claims, is keeping the production nearby. Co-owner de Grijs even calls the company a little chauvinistic. Whenever they can, they will order Dutch components or have a Dutch company produce parts. That was a blessing when covid hit, and many competitors ran out of parts from overseas. It didn’t bother Azor too much.
That approach is getting harder, Rijkeboer admits. A quarter century ago, the Netherlands were the heart of the bike industry. Everything was locally available. It’s a different world today. Even Azor can’t get around a brand like Shimano, a Japanese company that produces bike components in China, Singapore, Japan and Czech Republic.
Times have changed at the Azor headquarters, too. Back in 1997, Rijkeboer and just one other colleague constructed the bikes and took orders by telephone at the same time. Late in the evening, after washing the dirt of their hands, they would order parts and do their accounting.
Today the offices in Hoogeveen are modern and impressive. There is a large showroom and a few enormous halls where about 50 people work meticulously on all types of bikes. 10.000 bikes a year are now custom made, custom painted and then shipped to customers in the Netherlands and fifteen other countries, including France, the UK and the US.
That’s quite impressive, considering that Azor doesn’t advertise. ‘We are busy enough’, Rijkeboer says. ‘We really don’t need to break through in China and sell 100.000 bikes a year.’
De Grijs agrees:
'We want to earn a decent salary and have a pleasant atmosphere at work. We are blessed that we have been able to get that for all these years.’
Rather than selling more bikes, Rijkeboer and de Grijs like to tell stories about their bikes being passed on from one generation to another. ‘That’s what sustainability is about’, Rijkeboer says. ‘Think about the alternative: a cheap bike that breaks down after a few years. These bikes will be demolished and reconstructed using polluting chemicals. Just to make it all bit cheaper. Or a durable bike that lasts generations.’
Rijkeboer and De Grijs do realize they will not become the next big bike manufacturing multinational. But they don’t need to. Sometimes things are just fine as they are. And their customers wouldn’t want them to change a bit.