Preparing for a bike trip from Oregon to North Carolina, April and Nathan Reinhard unwittingly created a prototype for what would become a business.
They sell their Luggers, colorful and rain-resistant “saddlebags” for bicycles, through their new company, NatrilGear. Luggers use environment-friendly materials and come in 12 designs. According to the NatrilGear website, the average price for a Lugger is $80.
Before their 100-day bike trip, the Reinhards went into bike shops to find bags for their gear. However, they only found solid, dark-colored bags, such as panniers, that “didn't speak to safety or seem like the color of luggage you would buy for a big, lifetime adventure. So we decided to make our own,” said April Reinhard, 29.
Throughout the trip, they were stopped by other cyclists asking where they could get similar carriers.
“We realized there was definitely a market for them,” she said. “We got these kinds of reactions from people who would be our customers.”
One customer, local resident Krista Braman, 30, credited Luggers for helping save almost 200 miles on her car last month.
“I started using a bike instead of a car and was looking for a product meeting that need,” she said. “Everything I found was kind of bland, and I like color accessories … now I can store a lot of things at the grocery store, when before I had to strap a crate to my bike.”
NatrilGear was established in April 2011, and the Reinhards spent the next year learning to run a business, as well as connecting with Sew-What?, a manufacturer based in Uniondale.
Originally from Texas, the couple moved to Fort Wayne when Nathan Reinhard, 28, received a job offer for Ambassador Enterprises. Soon, April hired on at Summit City Bicycles and Fitness, which sells some of the Luggers. She said that Summit City sold Luggers before she worked there and other markets include Spokesmen Cycling in Huntington.
Before marketing to retailers, the couple waited for feedback from their first customers. One suggestion was not to use rivets and keep the original mounting system from the prototype, which kept the backing removable and easy to clean.
Customers also solved a problem of how to close the Luggers.
“People really like the buckle, and this was helpful to know,” said April Reinhard. “We also weren't going to have a carrying handle, but a lot of customers were asking for it.”
The name of the product also was determined by customers who voted on submitted names. April Reinhard said there “was an amount of risk in this, but we really wanted the company to grow in a communal way.” And community involvement is a large part NatrilGear's mission statement, which makes a goal to improve the world through great products and encouraging others to live their dreams, as stated on NatrilGear's website.
Along with other efforts to increase Fort Wayne's bike-friendliness, including the expansion of Fort Wayne's bike trails from 20 to 68 miles over the past six years, April Reinhard believes the fun and efficient Luggers “will help encourage people to ride their bikes more … perhaps creating a new lifestyle.”
The Reinhards moved to Fort Wayne in October and chose to live on the Towpath Trail.
“We want our home to be one of those old-fashioned welcome/rest stops where people can come for water or a snack … We really want to contribute to a healthier local community that tries new things and gets to know each other more.”