Huffy CEO Bill Smith addresses a Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce event about the company’s evolution over the past 125 years. KAITLIN SCHROEDER/STAFF

From sewing machines to bikes, Huffy has adapted to changing times

Huffy Corp.’s CEO says the company’s success has been its ability to adapt, evolving from a sewing machine company to a modern bike brand changing to fit an e-commerce world.

Bill Smith, the chief executive of the locally-based bike brand, said only an estimated 15 percent of companies in 2020 will have been in business for 50 years or more, which makes Huffy on pace to be a rarity.

“At 125 years, we’re in the 1 percent league,” Smith said.

The company had its start as Davis Sewing Machine Company but started moving into making bicycles and by 1905 the company was producing 600 bikes per day making it the largest bike maker at that time. For comparison, Smith said in August as Huffy prepared for busy season, it produced 25,000 bikes a day at its factories in Asia.

The company adapted over the years to making what was needed and shedding off those divisions as the market changed. When the automotive sector was getting its start, the company was moving into making oil cans and gas dispensers and has a brass fitting factory on Wyandot Street, which today is the home of Warped Wing Brewing Co.

During World War I and World War II, the company pitched in for the war effort with bicycles and then brass bomb shell casings.

In the 1950s, Huffy made millions in lawnmowers and was one of the first to market in electric lawnmowers, though instead of with a battery, the mowers needed plugged in to an outlet.

“Occasionally we still get calls on our 800 number for lawnmower parts,” Smith said.

Huffy made the first transistor radio bike, though not many have survived and the ones left on Ebay sell for thousands of dollars.

The 1980s was a period of diversification, Smith said, when Huffy shed the lawnmower business, bought a lawn and garden company, a baby products company and an assembly business that made a range of products from bikes to Christmas trees.

In the 1980s, Huffy built bikes that were used by Olympians who won five medals. Those bikes were developed and built in Dayton.

Smith said in 2000, as scooters became a fad, the company produced 2 million of the folding scooters.

“That was a banner year for the company. These things had a wholesale price of $60 a piece so you can do the math on that one. That was an exciting year,” he said.

And now the company is evolving to stay ahead in an e-commerce world, whether that’s starting to sell on Ebay or launching a self-assemble bike that can be ordered online.

Smith said it doesn’t mean the company is less focused on bricks-and-mortar retail, it just means the company is expanding so its selling bikes all the ways people want to buy bikes.

Huffy just opened a store on Ebay last week. Smith said they are also looking at ways to work with mom-and-pop bike dealers, which have the potential to become service shops and distribution centers for all of its e-commerce business.

Next year, Huffy plans to launch an easy-to-assemble bike line that requires no tools for the consumer to put it together. The self-assembly is good for stores but even better for selling online.

The Centerville-based company, which will soon move to Miami Twp. near the Dayton Mall, just launched an e-commerce initiative so it can become a bicycle supplier in China, where most of its products are manufactured.

“So we will use e-commerce as a new marketing vehicle to enter markets where we didn’t have a presence,” Smith said.

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