It all started in early 1993 in Murányi utca in Budapest's District VII. I was in my early twenties and wanted to upgrade my old Trabant as soon as possible. I rented a 400 square foot shop to store and assemble bikes, but most of the cycles I imported as ready bikes from Italy were kept in the loft of our house, which was upgraded to become my budding company's official warehouse.
By 1994, I was already trading in parts and renting a workshop 20 times bigger than my original space. As turnover increased, I upgraded the business into a limited liability company in 1996. It was in the same year that the first imported components arrived from Taiwan. Initially, these were frames, but these first deliveries were quickly followed by other parts from the Far East. Our biggest customers at this time were large stores and, although our present strategy has evolved in a different direction since, this period was very important in giving us the financial foundation for rapid expansion.
We first entered the international stage in 1998 at an exhibition in Cologne. Since then, we have attended two or three national and international trade shows each year. We hav also continued to develop our assembly technology and logistical network. In the same year, the Hungarian cycle company Olimpia Kft. acquired the Gepida brand name, which had gradually built up an excellent reputation since its launch in 1990. Also in 1998, the company was among the first in Eastern Europe to receive ISO 9002 certification. This heralded a change of direction from large-scale production as we began to produce fewer bikes of higher quality. It was also in this year that we moved into the District XVI headquarters we have occupied ever since.
We have built our own sales network over time, working through our own representatives in some countries while collaborating with local wholesalers in others to allow most of our bikes to be shipped from the factory directly to stores.
2004 and 2005 were years of quality improvements and brand building, allowing us to deliver better and better bikes to our customers, 80% of whom were now outside Hungary. Gepida bikes were now all over the streets of Europe, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Luxembourg, Russia, Serbia, Finland, Slovakia and Romania.
Hungary's accession to the EU in 2004 brought stiffer international competition, forcing us to focus on sales and establish a more robust long-term strategy. For this reason, we began work on a pedelec development in 2006.
We launched our first serious electric bike in 2008, adding several new countries to our customer base, such as France, Switzerland and the UK. As a result, the Gepida brand has became increasingly well known and respected throughout Europe.
Despite the difficult global economic climate, the company continued to grow in 2009 thanks to good planning and, of course, a degree of good fortune. In the long-term, we plan to export outside Europe and exhibited in Taipei for the first time last year. I hope to be able to report on a host of new export markets for Gepida products outside Europe later in 2010.