The muted yellow warehouse Pack paid $2.6 million for in March has no sign outside (and no bike rack, though one is coming). Online buyers sometimes find their way to the Stirling Road warehouse to pick up their bikes, but the company has no retail operation inside. Pack employs no publicist, no marketing team or, he says, even a sales staff.
“We’re kind of under-the-radar,’’ said Pack, a graduate of Fort Lauderdale’s Pine Crest School and married father of two. “We’re pretty much invisible locally.”
Last summer David Coddington, a top executive from Broward’s economic development agency, traveled with a local delegation of college leaders to Google, which owns a Motorola plant in Plantation. The bikes caught his eye, but he wasn’t aware of the local connection.
“Those Google bikes were everywhere,’’ said Coddington, vice president of business development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. “Nobody out there told us the Google Bikes came from here.”
Google remains Republic’s top single buyer of bikes. Republic also sells to other major corporations, including CBS, Nestle and Urban Outfitters, which sells a version of Republic bikes online.
Pack won’t discuss financials, or even say how many people work for him. On a recent visit, about a dozen people were assembling bikes in work rooms with polished wood floors and surrounded by hundreds of bikes awaiting shipment. (Name.com, a domain registration firm in Denver, credited the “hipster gnomes at the Republic Bike factory” in a blog post about its new office two wheelers.)
Two companies operate in the space, and both have Pack as the sole shareholder, he said. Republic (republicbike.com) produces traditional bikes, while Citizen Bike (citizenbike.com) creates foldable models that can be quickly broken down to about the size of a small briefcase.
After stabs at film-making and creating websites for area non-profits, Pack, who holds a visual-arts degree from Columbia University, decided to take a stab at selling bikes.
He thought folding bikes had potential, since the product had natural appeal but hadn’t been marketed well to style-seeking sophisticates.
“I’ve always been attracted to bicycles as an art object,’’ Pack said. “The folding bikes were out there. But they weren’t necessarily cool. And they were expensive. That set up a design opportunity to create something that was stylish and inexpensive.”
Citizen’s folding bikes ended up in Time magazine, being cooed over on The View and mentioned in The Wall Street Journal under the headline: “The Folding Bike Goes Cool.”
Sales were going strong enough that Pack was in the process of moving the operation out of Pompano to a larger spot in Dania when the Google call came in 2008. At the time, Google wanted folding bikes for its employees as a way for them to get from home to the Google Bus, a Wi-Fi enabled coach that the company sends around San Francisco to fetch workers.
With about 20,000 people on its payroll then, Google was a big enough account that Pack bought a ticket to San Francisco. When he met with executives from the transportation team, he noted the cluster of generic blue Huffy beach cruisers then parked outside buildings for Google employees to use on campus.