Phoenix Bicycles: How e-commerce is breathing new life into this 123-year-old heritage brand

Phoenix Bicycles: How e-commerce is breathing new life into this 123-year-old heritage brand

Staff Writer
Staff Writer
Pinduoduo Content Team
October 23, 2020

The history of Phoenix bicycle can be traced back to 1897 when the first bicycle dealership in China, Tongchang, was founded in Shanghai. Tongchang opened China’s first bicycle manufacturing plant in October 1930.

In 1958, Shanghai No. 3 Bicycle Factory was established after merging 267 small factories and workshops, including Tongchang. At that time they sold "Production Brand" and "Xinhua Brand" bicycles.

In June 1958, Shanghai No. 3 Bicycle Factory published the advertisement seeking brand names and trademarks in Jiefang Daily and Wen Wei Po, two leading newspapers in Shanghai. Within 10 days, they received more than 1,000 submissions. One of the applicants submitted a design of a phoenix, a mythical bird and symbol of good luck in Chinese culture. The design was accepted by the review panel and the "Phoenix" trademark was registered on January 1, 1959. The "Phoenix" bicycles rolled off production lines in February of 1959.

The brand was gradually recognized for its solid quality and won top prizes in national competitions in the 1960s, becoming a household name. In the 1970s and 1980s, many people saw the Phoenix bicycles as an ideal means of transportation and even a status symbol. This was before personal ownership of automobiles was widespread.

One anecdote well illustrates the popularity of Phoenix bicycles in the 1980s. According to records from Shanghai Archives Bureau, one day the manager of the Shanghai No.3 Bicycle Factory received an urgent letter from an old farmer in Henan province. The letter said he was preparing for the wedding for his 30-year-old son, and the wife-to-be’s family asked for a Phoenix bicycle as dowry, without which they would not go through the marriage. But the Phoenix bicycles were in such short supply that he wasn’t able to buy one, which made the old farmer anxious. So he had to write to the factory manager for help. Later, with the help of the manufacturer, he finally got the long-awaited "Phoenix" bicycle. Letters like this were not an isolated case. At that time, the Shanghai No.3 Bicycle Factory received more than 500 letters a month requesting the purchase of the Phoenix bicycles.

During the four decades from the 1950s to the 1990s, more than 80 million Phoenix bicycles were produced. They were selected as official gifts given by the Chinese government to foreign dignitaries, making them famous at home and abroad. In 1993, Shanghai No.3 Bicycle Factory was reorganized into Phoenix Co. and went public. In 2007 the Ministry of Commerce awarded Phoenix Bicycle the title of "China Time-honored Brand."

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1dS43bhEPTrHwod0VmueBrr2py6QzSX4JHVlBfjan9Mo&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650

One anecdote well illustrates the popularity of Phoenix bicycles in the 1980s. According to records from Shanghai Archives Bureau, one day the manager of the Shanghai No.3 Bicycle Factory received an urgent letter from an old farmer in Henan province. The letter said he was preparing for the wedding for his 30-year-old son, and the wife-to-be’s family asked for a Phoenix bicycle as dowry, without which they would not go through the marriage. But the Phoenix bicycles were in such short supply that he wasn’t able to buy one, which made the old farmer anxious.

So he had to write to the factory manager for help. Later, with the help of the manufacturer, he finally got the long-awaited "Phoenix" bicycle. Letters like this were not an isolated case. At that time, the Shanghai No.3 Bicycle Factory received more than 500 letters a month requesting the purchase of the Phoenix bicycles.

Phoenix Bicycles emblem (Source: Shanghai Archives Bureau)

During the four decades from the 1950s to the 1990s, more than 80 million Phoenix bicycles were produced. They were selected as official gifts given by the Chinese government to foreign dignitaries, making them famous at home and abroad. In 1993, Shanghai No.3 Bicycle Factory was reorganized into Phoenix Co. and went public. In 2007 the Ministry of Commerce awarded Phoenix Bicycle the title of "China Time-honored Brand."

As Chinese households become richer and more people could afford cars, Phoenix has found new ways to grow.

In 2017, the company surprised the market by announcing it will invest 30% of its annual profits to set up a new brand center and research and development center -- a large commitment for an industry characterised by low profit margins.

Advertisement of Phoenix Bicycles. (Source: Shanghai Archives Bureau)

Phoenix deemed such investment necessary for the brand to rejuvenate and attract new, young customers. To meet changing consumer demand for bicycles, Phoenix has introduced bicycles for different uses, including sports models and even high-end models for racing. It has also innovated its iconic model known as "twenty-eight", keeping its classic design but using titanium alloy to reduce the weight by 2 kg. It even installed a lithium-ion power-assist device to the model, hoping to catch the demand for electric bicycles in regions such as Europe.

The bike-sharing craze swept China from around 2016 provided another tailwind. Phoenix said in a statement on May 5, 2017 that it was set to produce at least five million bikes for Ofo in the next 12 months. Even though Ofo later plunged into crisis and never fulfilled its purchase agreement, demand from other companies boosted Phoenix’s output in recent years.

More recently, more people, especially in Europe, are choosing bicycles over public transportation due to the coronavirus pandemic. This could potentially be another boon to bicycle makers. The company is also betting heavily on e-commerce as online shopping gains pace with the pandemic. In the first half this year, about 60 percent of Phoenix sales came from online channels.

POSTED IN:
POSTED IN:
No items found.