Behind the scenes: DOCKR's expansion into Germany and Belgium
24 MAR 2022
CONTENT SUPPORTED BY DOCKR
In the first in a four-part series of articles, we take a look behind the scenes at DOCKR. On a month-by-month subscription, businesses can lease cargo bikes from DOCKR. Based in the Netherlands and founded in 2018, DOCKR is in the process of scaling-up and is ready to expand into two new territories: Belgium and Germany.
In this article, we discover the story of that expansion through the eyes of DOCKR Expansion Managers Nina van Spengen and Shahram Rezasade, and discuss facts on the ground, market potential and cultural differences.
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More and more these days, cities are striving towards liveability – a shorthand term for making cities more enjoyable places to live. As part of these efforts the fossil-fuelled vehicle is slowly but surely shut out of our cities. Where the fossil-fuel vehicle has dominated, there now exists a mobility gap in which new, innovative ways of doing business are thriving. One example of this is that more and more businesses and organisations are dipping their toes into the world of cycle logistics.
On the face of it, it makes sense: if it’s too difficult to serve a city centre using a fossil-fuelled van or car, you look for an alternative. But alternatives have not always been readily available. Infrastructure may also be absent, be that cycle lanes, secure and convenient bike parking or charging points.
Even where all of these elements are present, getting rid of traditional, fossil-fuelled vehicle fleets is a huge step for any organisation. It requires dramatic, root-and-branch changes to business operations – not to mention buy-in from employees. And even when adapting behaviour saves money in the long run, the initial investment can be a painful one. Change, as they say, is difficult.
DOCKR’s B2B customer-focused business model that aims to serve the needs of businesses making this transition by lowering some of these barriers. A model that is now on offer to German and Belgian entrepreneurs…
Following on from the company’s start-up success in the Netherlands, it seems only logical that DOCKR should also set up shop in Belgium. After all, the country was most-named as a top market in the 2021 European Cargo Bike Industry Survey by the 38 cargo bike manufacturers that participated. Germany came a close second – but more on that later.
There are plenty of reasons the move makes sense: geographical proximity, language, and not insignificantly, the cycling infrastructure – which although not identical – is often similar. Nina van Spengen took up the role of Expansion Manager for Belgium in August 2021. Originally from the Netherlands, Nina has a background in management in the US, where she lived for 7 years before relocating to Leuven.
Nina’s ambitious plans involve DOCKR’s Belgian unit scaling up during 2022: “We definitely see a lot of potential. Next year for instance we do want to at least triple in size.” Initially, Brussels and Flanders are the focus areas. The hillier, less bike-friendly, French-speaking Wallonia region may then follow. In 2022 DOCKR’s Belgian team will also grow accordingly.
But that’s not the only factor driving the growth of cycle logistics in Belgium. It’s hoped that a partnership with Brussels-based hybrid consultancy-courier company URBIKE, as well as several other cargo bike dealers, will also help Belgian businesses “They advise businesses on how to take that first step. And if they aren’t ready to buy, the reseller refers them to DOCKR”.
According to Nina, working in Belgium also brings with it specific challenges. “The cycling infrastructure here is less consistent than in the Netherlands. You don’t find bike lanes in every city. And what you find for instance in Brussels is that some roads are in bad condition. There are a lot of old cobblestones. That means the bikes take a lot more damage – which of course has implications for maintenance.”
All problems which Nina is confident DOCKR can overcome. Especially when Belgium holds so much potential for the cargo bike: “In 3 years from now in Belgium, many cars and vans will be banned from city centres” she explains. “This forces people to look for alternatives – they’ll have to. That is one of the reasons why DOCKR entered the market now, to provide businesses with that alternative.”
Over in Germany, Expansion Manager Shahram Rezasade, who also started in the role in August 2021, is solving many of the same issues. Munich-based Shahram has a background in helping sustainable scale-ups expand into Germany, so this is familiar ground for him: “I was looking for companies who actually contribute to the sustainability goals of Germany,” he says “when I came across DOCKR. They were already thinking about coming to Germany, so it was good timing and a good match. We quickly agreed on a business plan and a timeline. Once I got started, I quickly realised that there was a lot of interest among some big players in Germany – mainly in grocery delivery.”
As of now, DOCKR is operating in ten cities in Germany, and Shahram is focusing on building up a team of 12 people in 2022, as well as growing the size of the cargo bike fleet. “I’ll be hiring for roles in sales, operations, customer success, finance, strategy and marketing – everything we need to be able to service that fleet” he elaborates “and at the same time I’ll be expanding the service network too.”
Similar to the Dutch and Belgian part of the business, servicing is carried out by GetBikeService. “That’s a very nice story actually – they’re expanding to Germany as well. They have an operation here in Munich and are building up their team. So, we are growing together: two Dutch companies going to Germany, with each one enriching the other; we are very, very happy with them.”
There will also be a separate marketing team catering to German tastes. “Germany is a car country so we are a little bit behind the Netherlands when it comes to bicycles and cargo bikes.” Despite this, Shahram has a plan to convince them. “For lots of Germans, whatever you want to do, you get in your car and you do it. That means our marketing has to educate people about the benefits of cargo bikes. Not only the sustainability benefits but also the practical ones; that you can do x, y and z on your cargo bike. Things which you would normally do with a car or a van”.
As with many businesses operating in the cycling industry, the supply chain is a big issue for DOCKR. In this case, caused by growing pains which are inevitable for any start-ups and scale-ups undergoing rapid expansions. Shahram is addressing this too, by setting up a warehouse to hold a buffer of stock for the German market. “This will shorten delivery times for our customers, which will make them happy.”
Above: A DOCKR-liveried Cargo Cycling Chariot carries out battery-swapping duties for micromobility provider DOTT. Photos: DOTT
Shahram also reflects on how the German market differs from that in the Netherlands, and how offering agility to retailers can give them an edge on their competitors: “In terms of the customer landscape, you have lots of small retail shops in the Netherlands, who are very local but also deliver online. We don’t have so much of that in Germany, and where they are there, they are less online-savvy. We can help them to change that.” And because Germany is physically much larger than the Netherlands, consumers are used to 2-3 day delivery times from national carriers. “That gives us the opportunity to say to retailers ‘hey, we can help you beat that and offer same-day delivery to your customers’. And that’s something we can really build on.”