Cilo – The opportunities and pitfalls of re-launching a brand

A number of readers have noticed that the Swiss bicycle brand of Cilo has been re-launched, and its prompted me, whilst being inspired by watching the Alabama Shakes message their brand https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sNNTpORtDQ to take a look at some brands that have gone through a similar re-vitalisation. Firstly, you don’t need to be a marketeer, or musketeer for that matter, to understand the strength of a brand and what it says about the people who wear, use or eat it. Brands stereotype us. Brands bring us together, and brands make us money if we own the intellectual property for one or more. Cilo was an established brand that people grew up with until it eventually hit the wall and the factory gates closed for good. Then it was re-introduced, except it was an exercise in buying in South East Asian manufactured bikes, branding them with a new logo, and selling them at a competitive price. The Cilo I use the most is one of these bikes. It is a 2002 Cilo and apart from the name, it did not have anything to differentiate it from any other South East Asian made cycles of the time. There were loads of brands using the same cycle frame, although this isn’t uncommon in cycling manufacturing history. My Cilo is also called ‘The Racer’, which is a bit of a contradiction because it has a triple chainset, just like a touring cycle and clearly is not a racer. Anyway, it is a good cycle. Not a great cycle, but a good cycle. This was a mistake, because Cilo used to turn out great cycles. My Columbus framed track bike is a beauty and a great cycle.

My Cilo track bike with 2nd generation logo and the one most people recognise today.

Needless to say, the first attempt to re-launch the Cilo brand failed on several counts from not being differentiated for any reason, not hand built by a Swiss person and not targeting the premium market. Marketing success was not achieved and the racing pedigree was lost as well. This was the end of the first re-launch.

My 2002 Cilo and with the 3rd generation logo

When you look at the evolution of the Cilo logo, it is quite interesting. Changing a logo can have drastic effects. Volkswagen have stuck with their logo since day 1 for example, and the famous round VW badge even ended up as rapper musician jewellery ‘last century’. I have the three main variants of the Cilo logo on some bikes that I have. They also used a slightly different logo for the mopeds that they made or assembled. Having a logo for a moped and a different one for the cycles seemed to work ok when the company was doing well.

1970s Cilo logo

It is interesting to look around and see what brands have been rescued and re-launched in order to see what has worked, and what hasn’t, and why. For example, and back to VW again, the Beetle brand was successfully launched in 1998 and is still doing well after 21 years. BMW have made a great success out of the Mini. This is even more admirable in that they’ve made the Mini brand a premium brand, whereas its original brand was all about being a cheap car for the people, just like the Beetle. Royal Enfield have done it with their ‘Bullet’ named motorcycle and that is also a cool and premium bike to own, including all of the branded clothing you can buy as well, which is a great way to let your customers do your marketing for you. The Spanish motorcycle brand Bultaco has had a number of iterations, the current one being an electric, off-road motorcycle called the Brinco. I’m not sure that’s a good marketing name for a motorcycle either. Raleigh bicycles has been re-launched several times and still has not got the brand following that its owners would have hoped for.

The Cilo brand that was used for mopeds

Let’s get back to our Cilo brand. It has been launched again, and the owners are using the second generation logo, which importantly, is what most people will both recognise and remember. It is an iconic brand in Switzerland and most streets will have a Cilo cycle locked up somewhere as it is being used as someones daily commuter. The logo appears to be about the only special thing about the new bikes. All are bought in from either China or South East Asia. I’m guessing this because it doesn’t claim ‘Made in Switzerland’ on the website. The prices are not premium because the cycles are not premium either. Marketing is limited to the picture on the website https://veloloft.ch of the cycles for sale. It looks like there is a range of kids cycles and a ladies commuter or two.

This bike carries the familiar logo and even has the World Champion stripes on the seat tube. These stripes are only allowed to be used by bicycle manufacturers that have won world titles. Not sure if a world title will be won on this bike…..

There is no evidence of anything differentiated or that captures the racing, hand built, quality, made in Switzerland heritage. On face value it is a shame, unless there is something else in the pipeline that hasn’t been communicated to potential customers yet. On the other hand, why re-launch a great brand with the range that is currently available?

I’m not sure who is the lucky owner of the brand, because there is an opportunity with every brand. Imagine Cilo cycles featuring in the Tour de France and being used by one of the professional teams? They wouldn’t be traditional steel of course. They would be carbon fibre and there could be a steel range of fixed wheel bikes, touring and hard tail mountain bikes. Volumes can be kept low, quality kept high and marketing to those that have the means to buy the range. A steel road race bike with geometry specifically for women would also be a differentiator.

I’ll sign off with a feeling of hope for the brand. It has everything going for it. Racing heritage. Quality. Made in the land of Swiss watches. Premium. Memories of potential consumers etc etc. Let’s hope that it can be re-launched with an amazing brand proposition and Switzerland gets on the global cycling map again in its next re-launch.

My trusty 2002 ‘Racer’ fully loaded with bread and vegetables.

All photos by the author.