Three years ago Ben Serotta was facing difficult decisions forced by the recession and changes in the high-end bicycle market.
He had downsized his world-famous bicycle manufacturing business at 41 Geyser Road in Saratoga Springs as larger bicycle manufacturers moved their operations to Asia to save on labor costs. In 2011, he decided to put the state-of-the-art facility up for sale.
But the picture has since brightened for Serotta. “It’s a happy landing,” he said this week.
His business was purchased by Bradway Capital, a private investment company based in Massachusetts, for approximately $1.5 million.
The infusion of capital has allowed Serotta, a Saratoga Springs native who has built his bicycles in Saratoga County for 40 years, to start hiring back former employees and, possibly, add some new workers.
Instead of taking his business offshore like the larger bicycle manufacturers have done, Serotta and parent company Great American Bicycle will keep all operations in the United States.
“We have a pretty exciting vision,” Serotta said.
The handmade bicycles, which start at about $4,500 and range to more than $20,000, will continue to be manufactured in Saratoga Springs. The carbon fiber parts used in the bikes will continue to be manufactured in Poway, Calif.
William Watkins, 58, a longtime Serotta Competition Bicycles customer and road racing expert who won the 2011 USA Cycling Masters Road National Criterium Championship on a Serotta bike, has been named chief executive officer of the company now called simply Serotta.
He was on the U.S. Olympic development and national teams from 1976 through 1984, when he won numerous national races and represented the United States in international cycling events.
In addition to being a longtime cycling competitor, Watkins is also an experienced businessman. Bradway Capital Chairman Brian K. Case said Watkins founded a company, The Marena Group, that makes medical devices in the United States. The company has become very successful, he said, selling its products in 72 countries and becoming a leader in a market dominated by Asian and Latin American companies.
Watkins, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, has moved to Saratoga Springs.
“I consider it a true privilege to see my career come full circle,” he said in a prepared statement.
“Today I lead the company that designed and manufactured the bikes that were part of my launch into life back in the mid-1970s when I pursued my Olympic cycling dream,” Watkins said.
Ben Serotta, who remains company president, said he currently has about 18 employees at the Saratoga Springs plant, up from just a handful two years ago.
He said he has been friends with Watkins since the early 1970s, when Serotta was first designing and manufacturing his high-end bicycles.
Serotta announced that starting next week the company will start building the first two models designed specifically to compete with bikes “churned out by Asian assembly lines.”
“We’ve resisted the trend toward production in Asia, which is where nearly all bikes are made these days,” Watkins said.
“Next week we will begin production on the first two new bike models designed to compete, head-on, with Asian imports,” Watkins said.
Starting Monday, the company’s American craftsmen will start producing the “Fondo SG,” a titanium road bike with a suggested retail price of $4,295.
“This keeps jobs in Saratoga Springs and will bring cyclists an excellent, Serotta-level bike at a very competitive price, all with American craftsmanship and ingenuity,” Watkins said.