We recently had a chat with the founder and CEO of Booomers International, Kwabena Danso.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I am the founder and CEO of Booomers International. I’m in charge of operations and product marketing. I was born and raised in the town of Yonso. I’ve had a lifelong interest in community and educational development. In addition, I’m the Executive Director of the Yonso Project, which is a local NGO supporting rural community development. I’m also a Global Fellow of the International Youth Foundation. I graduated in 2006 from the University of Ghana in Legon with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration degree in Finance from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
How did you get the idea of using bamboo as frames for bicycles?
The idea of bamboo bicycles was conceived in 2009 when we were looking at ways to sustain the operations of the NGO. We came across the idea of the bamboo bicycles, which had been developed by renowned bicycle designer, Craig Calfee. Craig agreed to train me and other people in Yonso. After the initial training in 2009, we started marketing our products through Craig’s company, Bamboosero.
Are there any advantages of using bamboo for bicycle frames?
There are several advantages in using bamboo for bicycle frames. First, it is a sustainable material and has no degradable effects on the environment. For instance, bamboo bikes do not rust. It is also lighter than steel. The bamboo plant itself has many advantages and its use will encourage its plantation. Bamboo absorbs more carbon [dioxide] than any other plant and it is also anti-bacterial which means it has advantages health-wise as well.
Who are your customers? Are they mostly local or international?
We currently sell mainly to international customers. Thus, 95% of our market is in Europe, Asia and Australia. We are however seeking new distributors and clients in the US market for our products. It is difficult selling in the local market due to pricing issues which arise as a result of the cost of production. It takes about 40 hours to finish a frame, so it is highly labor intensive. By early next year, we will design a new product with the focus on local marketing. These new bicycles will use a new material instead of our regular resin epoxy, which is very expensive. This is to make the product available to people in Ghana and across Africa.
How are bamboo bicycles being received in Ghana?
There is a huge euphoria around the bamboo bikes. A lot of people are curious about the product. People think it’s a game changer and it’s something that will project the image of Ghana. There has been a lot of demand but as I said, a lot of people get discouraged because of the price.
In contrast with the west where you can see the wealthy zipping around town on bicycles (even Barack Obama is a cyclist), do you find the opposite to be true in Ghana?
Biking is not popular among the rich in Ghana. Most rich people prefer driving. Most people view biking as a program for the middle or the lower class, but there is a growing interest in biking and some rich people have started forming cycling clubs in the cities.
In Nigeria where I’m from, bicycles were perceived to be something reserved for children and the “lower class”. The wealthy didn’t ride bicycles. They had cars, and even then many didn’t drive. They had drivers. It seems the sentiment is similar in Ghana in that bicycles are something reserved for the “lower class”. How do we change that mindset?
Yes, most wealthy people view cycling as a reserve of the poor or the lower class. A lot of wealthy people do not bike. In my view, there is the need to promote cycling as a key exercising tool. A lot of the rich people are afraid to die of heart related issues. One of the things they can do to maintain their weight and body is by cycling.
There are some companies in the US and Europe who are now selling bamboo bicycles. Do you have an affiliation with any of them?
We are affiliated with several distributors around the world. Our distributors include My Boo based in Germany, Foresta Bikes in the Netherlands, Ethical Bicycles in Australia and Modin in Taiwan. We will begin selling in the UK through a company called Lucid Ghana Ltd. We have also sold several bikes through Craig Calfee’s Bamboosero. We seek to enter the US market with great prospects in the coming year.
I find the idea of a bamboo bicycles to be brilliant. It’s a sustainable material and it is abundant. Do you plan on making more bamboo related products in the future?
Yes, we have already started researching several bamboo products. Currently we make bicycle stands also from bamboo. We intend to make furniture, interior decoration, flooring and household equipment from bamboo in the future. We will ultimately go into real estate using bamboo in helping solve Ghana’s housing deficit.
Your company has created local jobs and economic empowerment, particularly for the youth. Did you always envision this?
Yes, providing jobs for the youth has always been a dream, especially to those in rural communities. Youth in rural areas hardly have access to other job opportunities apart from farming, leading to high rural-urban migration (which also comes with its own problems). By providing jobs for them, they are also empowered economically to improve their own lives as well as that of their families. Also, every sale of our products supports a child’s education through scholarships and library programs. Booomers does not only exist to make profit but to improve the community in which it operates and this is what sets us apart from the rest.
What’s next for Booomers?
We hope to build Booomers into a multi-billion company in the next 10 years. We are hoping to make it the center of excellence where several products from bamboo can be obtained and become the number one company in Africa with such a focus. This is our vision and our goal.
Thank you for your time Kwabena.