Melbourne business owner John Zanol’s career progression is noteworthy: a few years at uni, a few more as an international professional golfer, then the rest of his time as the owner of Australia’s largest electric bike retailer.
While the jump from golf to electric bikes might seem like a big one, Zanol’s career as a small business owner started like many others’ careers have: spotting a small market which was booming in Europe but yet to take off in Australia.
“I was working overseas around 2010, and I started to notice a few electric bikes around the place,” the founder told SmartCompany.
“I knew a lot of big international trends started in Europe, so I decided to dig a bit deeper.”
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Through his digging, Zanol found some of the world’s largest engineering and manufacturing companies such as Bosch investing in electric bikes.
“I figured if those guys were doing something, they were bound to take off at some point,” he says.
Packing away his 9-irons, Zanol returned to Melbourne with the vision of setting up a business focused on importing electric bikes and supplying them to local bike shops. But his grand plan hit a hitch after he discovered local shops weren’t interested in selling ebikes — it was too early.
Undeterred, the founder went and opened his own retail storefront, despite never having worked in the industry before. Choosing a site in Carlton, Zanol started Dolomiti Electric Bikes, saying he opened the store “out of necessity”.
Today, now based in Ivanhoe, the business pulls in over $2 million in revenue a year, with a focus on the higher-end side of electric bikes, with an average sale price of about $5,000.
The founder says he thinks he was quite lucky to start the business when he did, as public knowledge on electric bikes has increased ever since.
“I would probably say we’re a market leader. We’re completely different to your regular bike store, we’re closer to an automotive or technology dealer,” he says.
“We put more of a focus on the tech and the benefits behind it rather than just the bikes themselves.”
A grant for electric bikes
In 2012, the federal government relaxed its laws towards electric bikes which permitted higher power output for the motors attached to the bikes, which Zanol says helped kick-start the industry in Australia.
However, friendly legislation has since dried up, and earlier this year the government slapped a 5% tariff on electric bike imports in what Zanol believes was a misguided attempt to encourage local manufacture.
“The government did that to protect local manufacturers of electric bikes, but in reality, there’s not that many of those,” he says.
With this tariff increasing the costs of ebikes across Australia, Zanol is calling on the government to introduce a grant for Australians who want to buy an electric bike, believing doing so will only lead to benefits.
“It keeps you healthy, and it’s one less car on the road and one less person in a train. A lot of councils would contribute to make that happen,” he says.
“The thing about ebikes is that everyone can ride them anywhere, even in hilly suburbs. The potential is huge, and this is the right way to make people commit to finding another way to commute.”
Zanol has had some conversations with local councils, who are open to the idea after seeing success with electric bikes being used for the public sector, such as the City of Melbourne who uses a fleet of Dolomiti bikes for its park rangers.
Looking to the future, Zanol says he’s keen to expand his Ivanhoe location to be a state of the art showroom for his bikes but isn’t so keen on having multiple stores across the country.
“I think we’re happy to just keep growing the way we are,” he says.