Build a Community, Build a Business: Looking into Brunei’s Growing BMX Scene

When the #bwnstreetfest came around in July this year, we were hugely inspired by the seemingly endless amounts of energy and enthusiasm of Brunei’s youth. From the coffee crowd to the foodies, the young entrepreneurs to the hype beasts, IG influencers to the fitness fanatics, it was like seeing different pieces of the youth culture jigsaw puzzle coming together to make a picture of exuberant possibility.

Back at Progresif HQ the next day, while listening to everyone recount their event highlights and takeaways, one common theme emerged from the testimonies: complete amazement at Brunei’s BMX community! Having set up various ramps and grind rails at the Yayasan complex, the riders enthralled crowds with their gravity-defying jumps and adrenaline-inducing freestyle tricking routines. Every time a rider successfully landed a jump or trick, screams and applause rippled across the sea of onlookers. As we got deeper into the conversation, questions emerged that none of us had answers to. Who are these guys? How did a full community of BMXers pop up without any of us noticing? Where are they getting the bikes?

After doing a little digging we discovered that not only was this growing scene of BMXers only about a year old, but its growth had gone hand-in-hand with the emergence of a few local startups. In the current socioeconomic climate of uncertainty and unemployment in the youth sector, we wondered if this could be a winning formula for young entrepreneurs to start niche businesses based on their hobbies.

Take your favourite pastime, build a community around it, then build a business to service that community.

There were two business owners we wanted to focus on to put our theory to the test, Ariff Yusri bin Anuar, owner of BMX Garage Brunei, and Mohd. Zairy Izhan bin Hj Ibrahim (better known as Chom), owner of Uneek BMX and Skate Shop.

The magic of a niche business is that the focus is on creating deep connections with a small audience. The idea being to provide maximum value to a small, engaged community of like-minded individuals.

This approach is different to the usual push of trying to appeal to a broad range of consumers, which often involves huge advertising spending for a marginal gain in a saturated market. Instead, a niche approach to business focuses on building a small, engaged and committed community around your brand. Which is what Arif and Chom have done with BMX Garage and Uneek, respectively. Below, we’ve tried to take their stories to formulate a guide to starting your ideal niche business.

1. Identify your ‘thing’ and the business opportunities surrounding it

For both Arif and Chom, the love of BMX began just over a year ago, when the BMX Pump track was first built at the Health Promotion Centre in Berakas. It was a hot new draw for a number of local thrill seekers, and both individuals went about trying to get their hands on a BMX so they could join in on the fun.
The first stumbling block confronted them immediately; there were no local suppliers for bikes, spare parts, accessories, clothing or protective gear. They would have to delay their BMX debuts until they could order equipment online and wait for delivery. At the same time the entrepreneurial brain bulbs lit up; if the BMX movement grew, there was a business opportunity waiting to be exploited.

2. Fleeting Trend or Golden Ticket

If you’ve spent a long enough time in Brunei, you will have noticed how often trends appear to sweep the nation, and then fall away as fast as they appeared – think Pokemon GO. Neither Chom nor Arif knew immediately whether BMX would continue growing beyond the initial boom, or fade into oblivion. Both therefore realised the need to wait before getting heavily invested.

While there is no sure way of determining whether your new pastime will become fixed in society, one way to gain an inclination is to see if it’s something you, personally, will stick with. Both riders made a point of embedding themselves in the BMX community and seeing whether their love for the sport would burn brighter with each new trick or fade to darkness after the first big fall.

3. Test the Water

Needless to say, that big fall did not deter either of them. After a few months of BMX at the pump track or freestyling at the Skatedium, they were hooked. Confident that there would others who enjoyed it as much as they did, they decided to start their respective businesses.

For Chom, selling BMX bikes was not a major departure from what he was already doing. He had been an avid skateboarder since the late 1980’s and had started Uneek Skateshop in 2001. By 2012 when he sold his first few BMX bikes, his store was already established, so he didn’t have to put himself at too much risk.
Ariff on the other hand was completely new to the Extreme Sports business but said that his own intense and growing passion for BMX gave him the confidence to go ahead with the startup. His advice, “Start small”. Rather than going out and investing in a brick and mortar store, he ordered a few bikes and started selling on instagram. For both stores owners their initial stocks sold out, prompting them to reinvest.

4. Supply the Demand

When it came to deciding whether or not it was time to scale up the business, both Chom and Arif’s decisions were prompted by the early explosion of BMX enthusiasts. For a number of reasons, first time riders were appearing out of the woodwork and purchasing bikes.

Both Arif and Chom attribute the early boom of BMX in Brunei to the inherent novelty factor of a ‘cool new toy’ on the scene. The popularity was further proliferated by ease of access to facilities like the pump track and the Skatedium, as well as community events featuring exhibitions by invited pro-riders from Indonesia. Between late 2018 and early 2019, both Uneek and BMX Garage had experienced months where they would sell between five and ten bikes ranging from B$1,500 – B$ 2,000. A feat they were both proud of and inspired by.

5. Provide Value, Don’t Chase Profit

Throughout the interviews, it was easy to see that both Chom and Arif work hard to balance their ambitions with realism. When asked whether they thought selling BMX bikes and accessories could be a get rich ticket, they both laughed it off and raised strong points for doing so. The main point raised was that their niche market is very small and if you sell good quality bikes and parts, customers don’t need to come back month after month. They were just happy to be established and have a profitable business model, however marginal the profits.

This being said, there have been five BMX events and exhibitions in the last 12 months, and with each one newcomers have entered the scene. The lesson that Chom and Arif seem to have learnt is that as long as they provide good value in their products, and organise events and exhibitions to inspire and add value, BMX will grow in Brunei and business opportunities will come with it.