When Stockholm University student Johan Wahlback heard there were 300 disused Swedish army cycles going cheap he snapped them up, sensing they'd provide affordable pedal power to his cash-strapped fellow students.
He sold the lot in two days. Within a year he'd found and sold 10,000 more, and after exhausting the army's supplies of the 60-year-old bikes, decided to go into production himself.
That was in 1995, and today, with an ex-army captain as his factory manager, more than 70,000 Kronans have been shifted. By selling on functionality and price, 30-year-old Wahlback has tapped into a market for inexpensive mobility. 'People don't need 27 air-shift Shimano gears on bikes just to get around town,' he says. 'We don't sell through shops, and customers put the main pieces together themselves, which means the bikes stay cheap.'
Having sold them on the Continent for about pounds 150 each, he now distributes direct to UK companies, building on the success of supplying IKEA, ABB and H&M in Sweden with bikes as perks for employees. 'Companies are looking for new ways to attract and retain staff,' he says, 'and for ways to associate their brands with health and environmental benefits.' Choosing his advertising carefully, he hopes to move more than 30,000 this year alone. He even plans to build cycle parking lots in towns, offering bikes for hire.