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A Phoenix Named Flying Pigeon

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SHANGHAI, China – It’s tough being a bicycle maker in China these days. China was home to just a half-dozen bike builders in the 1980s but has 300 today. All that didn’t stop Sha Yunshu from taking over Flying Pigeon Bicycle Co., one of China’s most storied — and troubled — brands. In the early […]

SHANGHAI, China – It’s tough being a bicycle maker in China these days. China was home to just a half-dozen bike builders in the 1980s but has 300 today. All that didn’t stop Sha Yunshu from taking over Flying Pigeon Bicycle Co., one of China’s most storied — and troubled — brands. In the early 1980s, Flying Pigeon was the country’s biggest bike builder, and its 20-kilo black one-speed models were the pride of hero workers nationwide. There was a multiyear waiting list to get one, and even then you needed good guanxi, or connections — not to mention about four months’ wages for most workers. In 1986, at the zenith of its prosperity, Flying Pigeon sold 3 million bikes, all of them black.
When China started developing a market economy, Flying Pigeon failed to adapt. As other companies moved toward ever-more variations of racing, road, and mountain bikes, Flying Pigeons’ sales dropped to just 200,000 bikes in 1998.
Under Sha’s leadership, Flying Pigeon is taking wing again. The company last year sold some 1.2 million bikes, and this year expects to sell 1.5 million. Revenues are projected to grow to almost $50 million, up more than 30% from last year. Next year construction will start on a new, $1.2 million factory to make bikes under contract for foreign brands. Sha already has one such deal, with Japan’s Maruishi Cycle Industries, and is hoping to sign more soon.

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