Are artisan brands recession-proof?

Please note that this post was originally published on July 19, 2011. As a result, any external links or videos used may no longer be functional.

At a time when most manufacturers are struggling for orders, imagine having to break this news to your customers:

“As of June, 2011 the wait for a custom Vanilla (bicycle) is over five years.”

Not only that, but the price per bike will be somewhere between $5,000-12,000.

The company with this problem (one any manufacturer would love) is Portland-based Vanilla Bicycles. It makes bikes by hand, and they are anything but plain vanilla.

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, “The appeal of Vanilla bikes lies in both fashion and function: They are known for their smooth ride and speed and for a unique look that blends retro features and unusual paint colors with hand-carved lugs and silver bonding.”


“Silver has a very low melting temperature,” Vanilla’s website says. “When a steel frame is built with silver, the matrix of the steel is left virtually unchanged and its strength unaffected. At $11 per oz., silver adds to the cost, but is well worth it.”

The same might be said for the attention given every detail. Each Vanilla bicycle is custom-built per the customer’s preference and specifications.

“From the beginning with Vanilla I’ve thought, what’s the point of having this business if I can’t put rad ideas into action?” says founder Sacha White. “It goes way beyond just building bicycle frames, it goes into exploring concepts, innovating and collaborating on many different levels. I want to work with designers, craftsmen, photographers, writers and graphic artists to create The Best and break convention.”

Many consumers are drawn to brands that stand for something other than profit-making. Called affinity brands, they inspire a community of diehard evangelists, drawn by a common cause or set of values — in Vanilla’s case, quality craftsmanship and unique design. It’s an enthralling concept — the little guy fighting the good fight. (For more on affinity branding, see the post on Patagonia and its founder, Yvon Chouinard.)

Does the wait for a Vanilla bicycle increase its perceived value? And doesn’t that mean artisan brands can prosper in any economy?

This entry was posted in authenticity, simplicity, strategy.

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