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Dan Britton, Chariot Carriers' founder and former president and CEO (EWAN NICHOLSON FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Dan Britton, Chariot Carriers' founder and former president and CEO (EWAN NICHOLSON FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

SELLING OUT

Thule's long ride to buy Chariot Carriers Add to ...

Launch a health club, convert an old movie theatre into a nightclub or create a bike carrier for kids: Those were the three ideas Dan Britton had for a startup business in the summer of 1990.

Unsure which to pursue at first, the one thing the 24-year-old was certain of, however, was that he didn't want to work for someone else.

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“I never saw myself in any traditional job, and that always frustrated me going through university, thinking of what to do next or how to advance myself in terms of education. Nothing felt right,” he says.

In the end or, you could say, in the beginning, he opted to pursue the venture that serendipitously presented itself as the most obvious of the three – one that has since proven immensely successful.

A triathlete and lifelong lover of sports, Mr. Britton had just completed a degree in economics from the University of Calgary and was working at a friend's bike shop. There, he would often come in contact with customers who were looking for a product that would allow them to bike with their kids in tow.

Although he didn't have children of his own yet, he had grown up in a close-knit family that would often do outdoor activities together. “Of my three or four or five ideas, this one really rang home for me,” Mr. Britton says. “I knew we were on to something and the timing was right to do this business now.”

Mr. Britton put his plans to do a master's in economics on hold and moved into his parents' house. He bought a computer-aided design (CAD) program, asked a friend who was an engineer for help, had another friend who could sew work on the covers, and started to piece together a product.

“We were literally bending aluminum up in the mezzanine in this woodworking shop, getting fabric made somewhere else and trying to put it all together – a bunch of people who were not particularly experienced, but committed,” he says.

It would be two years before he had a finished, saleable prototype. The company, which he dubbed Chariot Carriers, was incorporated in 1992, with the first production run happening the following year. A year and a half after the company was incorporated, Mr. Britton brought in his older brother Chris to help oversee manufacturing. Together, they would build Chariot from the ground up.

Mr. Britton's goal when he started was to sell 10,000 carriers in one year – a target he reached in less than four years. Today, Calgary-based Chariot Carriers Inc. is the market leader in multiuse child transportation system products in North America and in a number of European markets, selling more than 50,000 carriers every year to more than 25 countries.

Although the company refuses to open its books, it's been reported that Chariot's annual revenue is around $25-million. (According to Manta, an online community for promoting and connecting small businesses, Chariot had annual sales of $40,088,440 in 2008.)

A Chariot Carrier is, as the name suggests, a stately looking vehicle designed to chauffeur one's little princes and princesses. The strollers have large side wheels and enclosed private cabins, and come in a variety of colour combinations with dominant hues such as red, green, orange and yellow.

The product line includes several models: the Cheetah, the bestselling Cougar and the CX, which constitute the cross-country line; and the Cabriolet and the Corsaire XL, which are part of the Classic Bicycle Trailer Series.

Each model is also compatible with most of the Child Transport System (CTS) conversion kits, sold separately, which allow parents to cycle, jog, stroll, hike and ski with one or two children in tow. The Sidecarrier is a trailer that attaches to the side of a bicycle. The company also sells numerous accessories including extra storage units, stroller covers, infant slings and bike add-ons.

At 45 and now a father of five, Mr. Britton has guided his company through incredible growth, with the European market alone now representing 40 per cent of Chariot's global sales (the U.S. accounts for roughly 25 per cent, while Canada and some smaller markets like Australia and New Zealand take up the other 35 per cent).

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