BMW dealership GM moonlights as entrepreneur, finds consumer product a success
As general manager of Ride West, a BMW dealership in Seattle, David Swezey is already quite busy, but that didn’t stop him from checking off an important item from his and his wife’s bucket list: becoming entrepreneurs.
Swezey has founded Cycle Wipes LLC, a company that produces disposable wipes that clean dirt, bugs and debris off helmet visors, windshields, bikes, taillights, headlights and more. But he’s done all the work in his own time, making sure to wake up early so as not to interrupt his full-time job.
Swezey has wanted to be an entrepreneur for quite a while, but nothing seemed ideal to take to market until Cycle Wipes were conceived. After dreaming for years of owning their own business, the Swezeys made a list of criteria for taking the plunge. Among the requirements: an inexpensive consumer product that could be self-financed and enjoyed by themselves as users. When Cycle Wipes met all of the criteria, they knew they had a good product, but the journey getting from concept to wholesale-ready was a long one.
It was seven years ago that Swezey decided to develop Cycle Wipes. A dual sport and track rider, Swezey was sick of getting bugs, dirt and debris on his helmet visor and not being able to remove them easily.
“I just didn’t have a simple solution that wasn’t leaky or didn’t require a lot of space, so I thought ‘There’s got to be something better,’” he recalled.
Swezey had been using baby wipes to clear the visor muck, but the chemical solution in the wipes combined with the cloth didn’t clean his visor well enough.
“I think I own every product out there for cleaning shields. I really do,” he said. “I’m a voracious researcher, and there are a number of good products out there. I think right now people are interested in a simple solution.”
So Swezey set out to develop Cycle Wipes. To do so, he channeled knowledge he had gained 38 years ago, when working at his uncle’s municipal airport. Swezey’s uncle allowed his nieces and nephews to earn flying time by working at the airport, and after a few years of mowing lawns and blowing leaves, Swezey moved up to cleaning airplanes. His uncle taught him a trick for getting pesky bugs and dirt of airplane windshields, using cheesecloth and a certain cleaner. Swezey thought he could bring the same concept to motorcycling, except in a small, portable container.
He found a U.S. manufacturer that could make the product, but there was a hitch — a 12 pack would have cost consumers $12-$13.
“I got frustrated, and I just shelved it,” Swezey said, adding that he knew consumers wouldn’t be willing to pay that price for the product.
But a few years passed, and Swezey couldn’t stop thinking about his concept. So about in 2009, he sat down with his wife, his son and his son’s fiancé and told them that he had to try again.
Swezey began waking up at 3:30 a.m. so he could work on his new venture, while still keeping up with his regular general manager job. He went back to the original manufacturer, but was given the same pricing quote. On top of that, the manufacturer wanted him to order 100,000 in his first batch, a number inconceivable for a new part-time entrepreneur working out of his home.
Finally, Swezey received some encouragement from Kevin Muggleton, founder of Redverz, a motorcycle gear company.
“He said, ‘You need to surround yourself with can-do people and people who want to do your business,’” Swezey recalled.
He sent feelers out to foreign manufacturers and finally found one in China that could manufacture his product and allowed him to make orders as small as 500.
“I eventually did decide to go with China, and as much as I want to have it done here in the United States, they’ve been willing to work with the chemist and they’ve done what I needed, and they’ve been wonderful to work with,” he said of his new manufacturer.
On top of that, they met his price point.
“We did a lot of testing and a lot of surveying with various people and groups, and we found that price point was right at that $6.95 or less,” he said. “We were able to meet that price point, which was a huge deal.”
Cycle Wipes LLC received its first order of 500 packages in January 2012. The company worked with a graphic designer to create an attention-getting package, marketing materials for the website and a POP display.
Once the first order arrived, Swezey knew it was time to tell his bosses Ann and Keith Thye, owners of Ride West and South Sound BMW Motorcycles in Fife, Wash., about his side venture. Though Swezey was nervous, their reaction was overtly positive.
“They immediately went into, ‘This is fantastic! Now we have to carry them in both stores,’” he explained. “They were completely supportive; they were completely excited, and it’s no wonder that they’re successful because they understand entrepreneurs, and they support their employees. That made me want to do more for them at Ride West.”
Swezey has been careful not to let his jobs overlap too much. In fact, South Sound carried Cycle Wipes before Ride West because Swezey left any ordering up to the dealership’s parts manager.
“I just honestly didn’t feel that it was my position to say, ‘Hey, you need to put these out,’” he said.
Cycle Wipes are now carried by more than a dozen U.S. dealers, two online retailers, an Australian dealer, two motorcycle training schools and at a weekly motorcycle night in Massachusetts.
“We’re wholesale only,” Swezey explained. “We don’t sell directly from our website. One of the things I believe in is driving customers to the dealership.”
Riders have begun hearing about Cycle Wipes through word of mouth, and reorders from some of retailers have already started coming in. Business has been so brisk, in fact, that Cycle Wipes has hired a full-time staffer, in addition to Swezey, who works on follow-up, sales and marketing out of her home. Swezey also recently launched a Cycle Wipes Facebook page, and more marketing activities are planned for 2013.
“We wanted to take our time and really start slowly, but right now is where we’re comfortable, and we’re working on some marketing initiatives as we speak,” he said.
One of Swezey’s goals with Cycle Wipes is to give back. For 2013, 5 percent all of proceeds from the sales of Cycle Wipes is going to charitable organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Swezey also plans to make himself available to other entrepreneurs looking for advice or ideas for their businesses.
Swezey says seeing his products at dealerships and in use by customers is very rewarding. Though he’s starting his business slowly, as he’s been advised to do, his plans are to expand Cycle Wipes in the future.
“Obviously there are other products that I’d like to do that are along the complementary-type product, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.
In the meantime, Swezey plans to stay just as busy as he has been over the last few years, continuing to work as the GM of Ride West, while heading up Cycle Wipes in his off-hours.