Life cycle

Workers with disabilities bolster children's bike maker Puky

Eurobike
Cool rider. Source: dpa / Felix Kästle

On those rare days when the sun shines in Germany, workers at Puky (pronounced “pookie”) ditch the workbench and head outside. They’d rather chill in the sun than assemble bikes. And that’s absolutely OK: In Germany, people with disabilities are not required to work. In fact, they are legally restricted from working weekends or doing overtime.

Some days the team assembles 400 bikes; other days it’s only 150, said Puky boss Mathias Heller. The mid-sized company, located in a small town near Düsseldorf, is used to occasional dips in production, and if it slows, it’s no problem; the company has a warehouse packed with the bikes. “We’re not do-gooders,” Mr. Heller explained. It was a strategic decision to hire workers with disabilities; it means the company can afford to assemble the bikes in Germany. And it gives Puky extra flexibility, able to switch from making red scooters to blue trikes as the market requires.

Puky, founded in 1949, has been hiring people with disabilities for nearly 40 years, an unusual decision for a business. But it’s been a popular one: Right now, 75 of Puky’s 120 workers came via Proviel, an organization that matches 700 people with special needs with firms across Germany. They like it, Proviel managing director Christoph Nieder said. It’s more fun to put the brightly-colored bikes together than assembling hinges, one of the other jobs available to the workers. “Our people are very proud when they spot a kid on a Puky in the playground,” said Mr. Nieder.

“Children should be moving!”

Mathias Heller, Puky CEO

Buyers also like the fact that the high-quality bikes are made in Germany, even if it means Puky bikes cost 50 percent more than similar cycles imported from Asia. But their resale value is high. After four years, the bikes still sell for at least half their original price — even though they mostly are passed down from riders to their younger brothers or sisters.

Puky makes 700,000 rideable toys each year, from scooters to trikes to balance bikes without pedals; that adds up to sales of €45 million ($56 million). The business is profitable, though the boss declined to give details.

While some of its rivals — such as Kettler and Hudora — sell kids’ bikes in supermarkets, Puky relies heavily on traditional retailers. But come summer, shoppers will be able to buy the bikes online. Puky is also designing an e-bike for children. “Children should be moving!” Mr. Heller said.

Katrin Terpitz covers companies and markets at Handelsblatt, focusing on Germany’s Mittelstand and family-owned businesses. To contact the author: terpitz@handelsblatt.com
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