Meindert Wolfraad launched Lekker Bikes in 2009 while living in Australia as a backpacker, and over the years, he grew the brand into a successful global cycling business. In 2018, he stepped down as CEO to take on a more strategic role. We spoke to him about making that transitioning, what his average day looks like, and how he switches off. Inside Retail: Tell me about your career journey. How did you get into the retail industry, and what are some of the different roles you’ve h
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e held along the way? Meindert Wolfraad: I started Lekker Bikes back in 2009, in Sydney. When I arrived in Australia as a backpacker, I soon realised there was something missing – my Dutch bike. This was a totally new concept for the Australian consumer and soon after arriving, I made it my mission to bring ‘The Amsterdam Way’ of moving across the world. Initially, I imported 20 bikes from the Netherlands, to see if there was an appetite for classic Dutch-style bikes in Sydney. I was selling them on George Street, in Sydney’s CBD, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they sold pretty quickly. After a month or so, I only had one bike left. When I called my supplier at the time to place another order, they said that if I wanted more bikes, I’d have to purchase a full container – 280 bikes. At that point, I had a big decision to make. Ultimately, I was a backpacker, in Australia to travel, kitesurf and enjoy the country’s beauty. On the other hand, I was passionate about shifting the way Aussies moved around their cities. So, I decided to pack my bags along with the last bike I had to sell, jumped in a car, and drove across Australia to talk to different resellers across the country. That’s when it all began, and how I got into the retail industry. Once I was able to employ more staff, I took on a more operational role and started managing the team. And in 2018, Niels, our current CEO, took over. Today, I’m in a very different, more strategic role which involves managing and motivating our CEO and being involved in select projects such as new product design and branding. I’m also a board member for Lekker Bikes & Boats. IR: What are some of your career highlights so far? MW: There are quite a few! One of my first highlights was deciding to sell bikes in Australia. The first prototypes that I received from China and Taiwan weren’t any good, which was a big challenge. But I persevered, trying to rectify the mistakes that had been made in the factories. Instead of giving up, I saw an opportunity. I reached out to various shopping malls and premium brands such as Scotch & Soda and Country Road, and sold the bikes so they could be used in window displays. It was a challenging time, but in the end, it turned into something positive. Not everything is smooth sailing, so it’s important to stay open-minded and try to turn challenges into opportunities. Another career highlight was opening the first store in Melbourne and hiring Lekker’s first employees. Although it was also a nerve-wracking time, juggling growth with being able to pay the store lease and salaries – everything that comes with setting up a new business. Another exciting moment was when I realised the demand for Lekker Bikes spanned far beyond Australia and The Netherlands. I was approached by people in New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, South Africa and America, all wanting a Lekker Bike. It was great to see that the brand and product were so in demand. IR: Do you have any business heroes? MW: I certainly do. One of my business heroes is actually an old university friend and one of Lekker’s first investors. He came on board a few years ago and really helped me grow Lekker Bikes over a period of around five years. He empowered me by guiding and supporting me through key business decisions, without telling me what to do. I have a huge amount of respect for him, and he’s definitely one of my biggest inspirations. IR: What does a typical day look like for you? MW: I’m currently over in America, setting up Lekker Boats – so my day looks a little different from when I was in Amsterdam. First thing in the morning, I always check my emails before my wife and kids wake up. We’ll then all have breakfast together before I walk our two kids to school. From there, I generally work from home or from the office, with my days often being filled with a lot of meetings. Every Monday, I start the week by checking in with the Lekker Bikes and Boats teams. We discuss what’s going well, and if there are any potential opportunities or challenges. This helps set me up for the week ahead. I also often meet up with various inspirational people who run successful businesses, via a network group called EO (The Entrepreneurs’ Organization). It’s great to learn about how you can inspire yourself and others, as well as how you can help people develop and utilise their strengths to both their own and the businesses advantage. A big challenge for me at the moment is adjusting to a more ‘hands-off’, strategic role: taking a step back from various processes and the day-to-day running of the business, and instead focusing on the bigger picture. After all these years of building the business from the ground up, it’s something I find difficult at times – but it’s incredibly rewarding to see how far the business has come. IR: Do you have any hobbies that help you switch off and stay balanced?MW: Endurance sports. I’ve done a few trail runs in the past, where you run anywhere between two to eight hours in one go. This really helps me clear my mind. If you end up working 24/7 it’s easy to get stuck in your own head, leaving little room or energy for creative thinking. Exercise gives me the mental space and endorphin-hit to get that creativity flowing.