28 January 2016

Updated: 26 October 2017

Tasmanian niche motorcycle manufacturer Braaap was ‘officially’ founded on New Year’s Day in 2005 by then 18-year-old enthusiast and motocross competitor Brad Smith. Almost a year to the day, and before he even had a shopfront to sell his bikes, Brad made his first move to protect his Intellectual Property (IP).

By January 2006, he lodged his first trade mark with IP Australia. It was a simple logo in a hot pink font, with mixed upper and lower case letters spelling the word ‘braaap’ on a black background.

Simple but effective, today it emblazons the approximate 2000 braaap bikes being sold in Australia yearly. It also features on a range of related braaap merchandise including hats, t-shirts, hoodies and stickers.

That was not the end of Brad’s IP portfolio. Seven months later, he sought ownership of the word ‘braapster’ outright. A word that represents the sound of a revving dirt bike, it’s a brand now synonymous with Brad’s growing stable of superlites. Apparently, it was also his childhood nickname.

The ‘braapster’ trade mark was granted to Brad in August 2006.

Trade marks for the cash strapped

Interestingly, at that time, Brad did not move to take out design IP over the first bikes he had commissioned.

‘We decided that as the world is changing and evolving so quickly and the sport is constantly changing, there was no use protecting a bike design that will change. The logos and colours of our brand will never change and if we are the best it won’t matter if someone copies our design, because people will know we are the best,’ Brad explained.

It’s an IP strategy adopted by a lot of cash-strapped start-ups who don’t just want a quick return from a one-off design.

They understand that if they get their logos in place and build up a solid reputation of reliability; protecting trade marks is a non-negotiable business investment.

‘In this information world where everyone has access to so much information at their fingertips, securing protection right from the start was obvious,’ Brad said.

 ‘The internet makes it really easy for copy cats to take advantage of your hard work. I think it is important to have safe guards in place and your trade mark is an important form of insurance. You may think you can’t afford to but in reality you can’t afford not to,’ he said.

As well as the braaap trade mark, Brad registered a variety of associated business names and domain names.

‘Protecting your brand is so important. Once the braaap business takes off, I plan to divide my company into smaller, specific businesses. I always wanted to build an empire, not just a business, so I locked the names in now so we are ready for this growth,’ Brad said.

Product development

It was probably a wise IP strategy in retrospect. This was because at age 16, Brad imported his first shipment of bikes from China; the quality of which was disappointing to say the least. Had he gone to the trouble of attempting to register the design of his bike, it was likely none of them would have been fit for sale in any event.

He has told interviewers that even though he communicated with, and ordered specific motorbike parts from the factory, he received nothing like the specifications and discussions he had ordered from the China-based manufacturing plant.

He knew then, the only way to get it right was to go to China himself.

He told Fairfax media: ‘I arrived in China with no interpreter and no plan, other than to go and visit as many manufacturing plants as I could fit in for two weeks. I remember getting off the bus in the town centre with my luggage thinking, what the hell do I do now? Where do I start? My phone doesn't work here and no one understands me. I don't even know how to book accommodation for the night.’

He soon secured a Chinese interpreter and on the second-last day of his trip, and after visiting in the order of some 50 potential manufacturers, he found a factory he believed he could work with. His mission was to build an affordable product that young people would fall in love with.  At the same time he wanted to help families come together doing something they enjoyed.

One of his first bikes, the Braaapster Maestro, Brad says he put six years of development into it. He wanted to design a bike that would look good, compete with American bikes but be affordable to his mates.

The Braaapster Mercury was launched in mid-2014 and by the end of 2015 represented 60 per cent of Braaap's sales. Fifteen per cent of Mercury sales were to women and 70 per cent were to new motorcyclists, attributed to the fact that the Mercury is a learner approved motorcycle.

Braaap bikes today

Today, Braaap bikes are designed in Tasmania and manufactured in partnership with specialist partners from all over the world, including Canadian suspension by ELKA, Japanese engines by Daytona, French frame and European exhaust by CRD. The bikes are put together in China.

Braaap is so confident about its product it offers a lifetime warranty on its bikes (not on wear and tear but faults).

Brad lives and breathes superlites. When he opened his first braaap store in Launceston in 2008, he designed it so people could go there to get everything superlites under the one roof. ‘We wanted a destination store where you could buy bikes and street clothes or just hang out and talk about your latest ride,’ he said.

Brad now has two other retail outlets in Hobart, and Frankston and his bikes are available in 105 outlets across Australia and in seven countries.

‘We regard ourselves as the affordable adrenaline sport retailers. Our franchise model uses retail stores to help people get into business for themselves and build their dream lifestyle. IP has been an important part of our franchising model because we want to be protected and give investors and franchisee's confidence in our brand. At the end of the day your brand is everything,’ he said.

Brad is also two-time Australian Young Entrepreneur of the Year and runner-up International Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He won the Australian Specialised Retail Business of the Year award, four times.

Below: Braaap bikes; Brad Smith (standing) and one of his team members.