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Parlee Cycles' new CEO confidently and enthusiastically takes the reins: 'We're back'

Published October 5, 2023
John Harrison forges path emphasizing innovation and expanding dealer network.

BEVERLY, Mass. (BRAIN) — Parlee Cycles' John Harrison has a message for retailers and the industry.

"We're back. This isn't a part-time hobby for me," said Harrison, who earlier this week was announced as the new president and CEO. "I'm here first in the morning and out last at night. I will be here until we win."

Winning to Harrison, an independent investor and avid cyclist who owned a Parlee bike long before running the company, is all about the brand reaching its potential, i.e., being at the forefront of innovation that it became known for before entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February. It's also about expanding the Parlee dealer network in under-represented markets.

"I think seeing our brand represented around the world with the dealers who respect the brand and represent it with confidence and faith is a key aspect of winning," Harrison said. "And I think continuing to see people ride our bikes around the world and be really proud of the bike that they're on and the business that made it for them. I think that's winning."

Continuing to be dealer based

Harrison said Parlee will continue to be IBD-based — "absolutely and emphatically 100% committed" — and continue to manufacture custom and stock high-end carbon drop-bar road and gravel models.

"We have confidence that the high end of the market will remain strong," he said. "Certainly, the macro conditions for the bike market are rough, we all know that, but we're definitely seeing very good signs at the high end of the market.

"I see the value of the dealer network being critical to our success. I think there is a lot we can be doing as an organization to invest in those relationships. And invest in technology, techniques, processes, and operational experience to be able to help create margin opportunities for our dealers. We think it's important that they make a good living. We need those businesses to be sound and strong to be able to represent our brand, and it's our responsibility to find ways to make that happen."

He said Parlee will invest more into marketing the brand "and connecting people around the brand. I think there's a few tens of thousands of people out there who ride Parlees today. I think we can do a better job of providing a hub for them and creating some community, a place where folks can connect. I see the brand more evenly represented and more fairly represented in shops across different geographies."

Growing up in South Africa, Harrison, 50, spent most of career in sales and go-to-market strategy. Previously, he was chief commercial officer for Concord Technologies, a healthcare document automation company.

"It reminds me in many ways of Parlee, actually," Harrison said. "The leaders of that business knew the tech better than just about anybody and built an incredible platform but hadn't really invested heavily in figuring out how to sell well, how to continue to evolve product ahead of the market, how to market that platform well, and how to build the operational capabilities for scale. We saw some amazing growth. Over the seven to eight years, we grew that business nearly 15 times the size it was."

Bob Parlee to concentrate on his strength: design

Bob and Isabel Parlee founded Parlee Cycles in 2002. Initially focused on custom carbon frames, the brand later began importing some stock carbon frames. It added completed bikes in 2017. Harrison said Bob Parlee's "happy place" is engineering and design.

"For the last few years, Bob and Isabel have had to do everything in their business. They've been small business owners and everything that comes along with that. He's at his happiest when he's got a sketch pad in front of him, he's got some time and space to draw and come up with ideas. And when he's out in the fabrication area, working with molds, working with his hands, creating, so we want to give him more space to do that. Bob is going to really double down and focus on building amazing bikes, bringing his dreams to life."

Updating that product lineup is an immediate goal and something the brand was in the process before the Chapter 11 filing. "He's got some incredible designs that he and his team have been working on for a long time, and he hasn't had the resources to realize those things. I think this is frankly a little overdue. I'll say in broad terms we are fully committed to making sure our dealers have a complete portfolio of products from us on their floor."

Parlee will add at least five employees in the next six months with the majority in paint and fabrication, Harrison said, adding that the brand will need additional help in design and R&D.

Harrison's journey to Parlee began innocently enough during a ride with a friend who suggested he'd be the perfect investor to step in and rescue the brand.

"I feel honestly like one of the luckiest people alive," he said. "I'm filled with energy in a way I haven't been in decades. I feel this injection of adrenalin. The energy in the office is amazing. Everybody is fired up, full of ideas and passion, which is amazing for me and a great place to come to work every day. We just need to turn a couple of dials to make a massive difference to the business. I'm seeing this play out as I'm getting started and spending more time with dealers and distributors from around the world for our products."

 Parlee Cycles President and CEO John Harrison.
Topics associated with this article: Mergers, Acquisitions & Investments

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