COLUMBIA, S.C. (BRAIN) — By the end of the year Kent hopes to make 75,000 bikes in a new South Carolina factory. And by the end of 2016, 500,000 bikes should be rolling off Kent’s assembly line, according to Kent CEO Arnold Kamler. Kent’s $4.3 million investment in the factory is expected to bring 175 jobs to the area.
“We are excited with the challenge of assembling and manufacturing affordable bicycles in the United States,” Kamler said. “Wal-Mart is committed to buying the bikes as part of its Buy America initiative,” he added. South Carolina-built Kent adult bikes will sell for $119 to $249, and 20-inch models will sell for $99 to $149. The South Carolina bikes will only be a part of what Kent sells internationally. The company will continue to produce many of its bikes in Asia.
Kent’s bicycles will be the first U.S.-made bikes sold in Wal-Mart stores in more than 15 years, the company said. The U.S. production will allow Kent to deliver bicycles to stores in a 90 percent assembled condition, raising assembly efficiency for in-store personnel. In addition to Wal-Mart, Kent is a major supplier to Toys R Us, Amazon and Academy Sporting Goods.
“China is still a great place to build bikes, but over the past five years it’s clear it is also going to be an increasingly expensive place to make bikes,” Kamler said. “The bikes made in South Carolina will be more expensive than we could make them in China today, but not as much as you think. Real estate and energy costs are lower in South Carolina than China, and steel costs the same. I’m hoping with good use of automation that within a few years we will be cost-competitive with China,” he added.
Kent is locating in an existing 200,000-square-foot building in South Carolina on a 50-acre parcel. This year the company will focus on training its employees to assemble bikes from Asia-sourced frames and parts. At the same time it will be putting in conveyor lines and wheel building, painting and welding systems. Frame production is planned to start next year.