Philadelphia, Pa. – Finding a place in the fast-evolving consumer-driven marketplace isn’t all high-tech software development. There is no better example right here in Philadelphia than R.E. Load.
Rolland Burns and Ellie Lum founded R.E. Load, located at 608 N. second St., in 1998; the name came from the first initials of each of their names. Ellie and Rolland were both bike messengers at the time striving for a better product.
“Ellie and I didn’t like our bags and she knew how to sew. We started making new bags and people just started asking us about them,” said Rolland. The growth occurred organically over time.
In the early stages there was no storefront, it was just run out of a warehouse and began as mostly all custom orders. A tipping point was in 2000 when the Cycle Messenger World Championship came to town. “It brought all kinds of people from around the world into our shop,” said Rolland. Today R.E. Load is able to distribute their handmade-in-America product globally to distributors in Japan, Germany and Switzerland. Rolland estimates they move roughly 1000 bags a year, mostly through the online marketplace, but are still able to meet the needs of all the riders in Philadelphia as well. This is all accomplished with just three employees, who typically don’t come from a background with strong sewing skills. “Our employees are mostly artist or creative people, who fit in and can learn quickly.”
According to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia as of 2008 at least 36,000 residents commuted to work via bicycle at least once a month. Also, The League of American Bicyclist reported in 2012 that Philadelphia had a 300.6 percent increase in commuters via bicycle since 1990. There is clearly a market for this product not just globally, but also right here at home.
The success of the product seems to be based on quality, word of mouth being the primary means of how others found out about the product. A commitment to quality as well as customer care is paramount to R.E. Load.
“Quality, Philly-made, great people,” were words used by Heather DeRonck, who along with husband Bryan Van Arsdale, owns Bike Revolutions on 756 S. Fourth St. “It’s a great product that they stand behind”, she said, “Whether you grab one off the shelf or customize your own they will last forever.” This husband and wife team has owned the shop since 2006. She continued, “Another great feature of the product itself is Rolland . . .you want to see independent like-minded people succeed.”
Of course the product is not just for bicyclist, really anyone who wants a high-quality customizable bag, to use for anything from fly-fishing to hiking. R.E. Load arose without a grand scheme or business plan. It began with two like-minded people willing to work hard and create a good product. Their success came from making the best product out of the best materials, while maintaining a commitment to remain environmentally conscious.