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Aardvark Cycles rolls to Web-site success

Aardvark Cycles gets as many as 20 orders a day, sends parts to over 35 countries, specializes in juvenile BMX bikes and full-suspension mountain bikes, and has the components and accessories you've been looking all over for.

What really makes this successful company unique, however, is that it does all of its business in cyberspace.In addition, the Web-based, e-mail order business is owned by a couple of guys who live in Utah County's quiet Pleasant Grove.

Bryan Fruit, 30, and Blaine Thatcher, 37, bought Aardvark Cycles from its original owners just three months ago. It was a decision they haven't regretted.

"The business has been doing extremely well, and the growth is amazing," Fruit said. And, Thatcher added, "It's been a lot of fun."

Since they bought the company, over 200 new products have been added to Aardvark and revenues are in the "double-digits," according to Fruit.

The pair actually have three reasons to be happy. In addition to Aardvark, they own Lizard Skins and Timpanogos Cyclery, both very successful. All three companies operate out of an increasingly inadequate 3,500 square-foot building, located at 25 W. Center in Pleasant Grove.

"We've optimized as much as we can optimize the space that's here," Fruit says. "I expect that business will grow by 50 percent this year between the three entities. It could be a very large company, with 50-100 employees total." Aardvark currently has more than a dozen employees.

David Adams and Kevin Innes created Aardvark in August 1996 and, after a slow beginning and being ripped off on their first order, began to enjoy the fruits of success.

"But, it (Aardvark) was just a home business at the time. Kevin was going to BYU, and David was working for a computer software company that developed the program the Web site is based on. Then the business got big, and they were too busy to keep up with how quickly it was growing," Fruit said.

That's when Fruit and Thatcher, BYU graduates and owners of the 1-year-old Timpanogos Cyclery, stepped in.

"We had thousands and thousands of dollars of inventory in the store and only a limited market to sell it to, so it made sense to expand that market," Fruit said.

The Internet niche-market created by Aardvark, which was already buying Lizard Skins' pro-ducts, turned out to be the surprising answer.

"Internet-only (businesses) will work," says Thatcher, who maintains Aardvark's Web site at (http://www.aardvarkcycles.

com). "That has been one of the interesting experiments with this company."

Surprisingly, Thatcher is no Internet wizard.

"I'm not an expert by any means. I consider myself computer literate, but I don't know HTML programming or anything. Through the program (developed by the company Innes works for) I can basically maintain it by myself."

The accounting-major-turned-entrepreneur stresses timeliness as a key factor in the success of Internet business.

"People want it, and they want it now," he says. "The Internet's such a unique medium - it's so immediate. You can make changes, and you see the effects very quickly."

The site was originally developed by Adams and Innes, and has won several awards, including the Best of Buy Online and the Mudsluts Cream of Bike Sites awards.

Shoppers of Aardvark Cycles can look at hundreds of products by clicking on the specific parts of a bike graphic, engage in tech talk about parts and repair, get "ride info" about hot trails, and tally the amount of their purchases by looking at their "shopping basket."

"We have a big advantage over the competition. Our site is very user-friendly, has a lot more description of products, and it has good pictures. People are just raving about that," Thatcher said.

However, Fruit cautions that it is not all fun and games.

"The Internet is a full-time job. It's not something you can just take and do. It's something you have to work at vigorously everyday or you'll be in trouble."

And it seems that Internet shoppers are easily bored. "You need to have a `neat' product every once in a while," says Fruit. "Our goal is to put up three new products every day."

The pair also has to supplement Aardvark, for now, with advertisements in "every major mountain biking magazine in the country" just to let people know that Aardvark is on the Web.

"A lot of people are into the routine of buying a magazine each month, so they are a captive audience. If we can direct them into the Internet, Aardvark will keep growing," Fruit said.

Both Fruit and Thatcher are unfailingly optimistic about the future. Thatcher predicts more than 100 orders a day when the summer biking season arrives and Fruit can see the three-company conglomeration becoming "the largest bicycle entity in Utah" by the end of the year.

Aardvark's success seems to validate the hope of many avid computer users that a good idea, a lot of hard work and a well-built Web site can make an Internet business work.

"We have great vision, hopes and expectations for this company," said Thatcher. "We have the right mix. We see ourselves becoming a major player in the mountain bike parts industry."