Most riders think his last name is ‘Strapz’, but it’s actually ‘White’. And that’s just for starters. So how did a nurse end up creating Australia’s most successful motorcycle accessory manufacturing business?
Like all good roads, the story of Andy Strapz is a long and winding one. Born in Western Australia and son of a bricklayer, Andy White’s early life was spent leading YMCA groups adventuring in the great outdoors. He followed this up at college, gaining formal qualifications and working in a psychiatric unit as a recreation officer in Townsville. Seduced by the rock ’n’ roll life, he toured the east coast as a roadie and sound mixer, eventually using his band truck to work as a courier in Sydney.
Business on the road dried up during Paul Keating’s “the recession we had to have” and Andy took on nursing as a qualification likely to withstand hard economic times. He topped the state while he was training and continued working as an emergency nurse some 20 years later while his motorcycle accessory business started to develop.
He’s always been a rider. His first bike was a Yamaha 350B and he wisely shouted himself a Ducati 750 Sport for his 21st birthday. He still has it, but it’s probably worth more now than the $2000 or so he paid for it. He still remembers his MZ250 fondly, but it wasn’t until he acquired a Cagiva Elefant for adventure touring that the business penny finally dropped.
Necessity the mother of invention
Andy isn’t your typical motorcyclist. Most of us buy the best riding gear and accessories we can afford and put up with the consequences.
Our luggage falls off; everything gets wet when it rains; we can never pack the same way twice; buckles and clips break, we’re too cold in winter and too hot in summer. When Andy identified the problems and couldn’t get anything off the shelf to fix them, he constructed his own solutions.
His first product was the original ‘(H) andy Strapz’. Andy was aware from his nursing and through anecdotal evidence that the traditional occy straps were responsible for multiple eye injuries when the straps let go unexpectedly. His solution was a stretchstrap with Velcro fastening – safe and secure, although he had to educate an entire generation of riders on how to use them properly.
Andy moved to Melbourne in 1999 as the business expanded, set up a factory and began developing new products. ‘Piggyback Strapz’ were a development of the original idea and allowed riders to attach items on top of the primary load. You could attach a backpack with your essential items in it on top of your main bag so you didn’t have to undo everything to get to your toothbrush or phone.
Then came ‘Smart Strapz’ that allowed riders to locate the stretch straps on just about any bike using D rings to apply the necessary tension. Sportsbikes could suddenly carry luggage that wouldn’t fall off.
Inspired by both the ‘Piggyback Strapz’ and the ‘Smart Strapz’, Andy combined their virtues and designed what many Australian riders now consider to be the best soft-bag system available. Straps are sewn into the bottom of the bag so that you can thread them through available frame space to keep the bag in place. If you do it properly, which is easy, the bag can’t shift. This means there are no straps over the load to stop you reaching the things in your bag, and there’s even a top skin secured by clips for storage of stuff you might need immediately, like wet-weather gear. Following the lead set by battery sizes, the ‘A bag’ holds 30 litres and the ‘AA bag’ 18 litres.
A natural progression from the ‘A bag’ was a soft-pannier system. This has been another outstanding design success, and the system is widely used by touring riders, adventure-tourers and even competitive rally participants. Chief among its virtues is its flexibility and robustness.
If you crash, you get some protection without sharp edges and the frame system can be bent back into shape if it’s damaged. Small and large loads can be accommodated in the same bags because, unlike hard panniers, they can be expanded to fit the load required.
Made in Australia
Any product that carries the Andy Strapz label is manufactured in Australia. The current business model in other companies is to design it here, have it made where labour is cheap and simply distribute it in local shops or online. Andy’s factory and shopfront is located at 1/95 Brunel Rd, Seaford, in Melbourne’s outer south east. His staff numbers have varied over the years depending on demand, but every Andy Strapz product is made here by Australian workers.
Part of the induction process for new staff is getting them to understand that if a product fails in use, it might have tragic consequences for the rider – every stitch is important.
“The problem for us with overseas manufacturing is that it’s impossible to control quality to the level we demand with every item,” Andy says. “We could design a product well and then open a container to find the clips, webbing or stitching are inferior. We source the best possible materials and have production procedures that ensure consistent quality.
“Our reputation is actually what sells our products and our warranty issues are virtually nil.” Andy is also concerned about Australia’s declining ability in the area of manufacturing. “An island country like ours needs to retain manufacturing skills. The future is always uncertain. I could certainly make more money having my designs manufactured overseas but, quality aside, don’t we need to keep these skills and the employment it creates local?”
If you buy anything from Andy Strapz, it will work and you’ll know Andy has tested it himself.
Anyone who has used an Andy Strapz product would think it would be a no-brainer to export. Americans, Europeans and Asians would all benefit from his advanced industrial design.
Price is a problem. Andy describes himself as a “first world manufacturer”. Selling in the US, for example, involves a warehouse charge, fees for distributors and representatives, and a substantial cut for retailers. Add it all together and many of his products would price themselves out of the market. The quality is so good, though, that distributors in the US, parts of Europe and New Zealand are continuously in negotiation with him.
His own business model emphasises the local. He’s well known among riders because they see him at motorcycle shows, rallies and, more importantly, on the road.
He likes the personal touch and believes his business will continue to be viable because of the quality of his products, the fact that he doesn’t hype it and that the service the company offers is exceptional.