Wright Brothers brand raises funds

Aug. 11--Wright Brothers USA -- the Dayton company controlling the Wright Brothers brand -- is raising money to bring manufacturing and tourism to West Dayton, fueled by an international e-commerce web site selling American-made bicycles, aviation jackets, sunglasses and more.

Last year, the Webster Street company, Wright Brothers USA, became the first business to license retail goods in the name of the Wright Brothers, with the blessing of Amanda Wright-Lane, great-grandniece of the Wright brothers, and her brother Stephen Wright.

American-made bikes and watches under the brand were offered by Michigan's Shinola last year. Those quickly sold out.

Now, Wright Brothers USA principals -- Dave Lightle, chief executive, and Kenneth Botts, president -- are seeking accredited investors to start an e-commerce site and start manufacturing in Dayton, Florida, California and elsewhere.

The company seeks $750,000 to start the site and another $350,000 to refurbish the Wright Cycle shop on Williams Street just south of Third Street, preparing it for bicycle production and hoped-for tourism. They also want to build a park next to the shop commemorating the famous brothers.

"We're about a quarter of the way there," Lightle said of funding thus far.

The company will employ Dayton workers for bicycle production, order fulfillment and packaging, but not many new jobs are contemplated -- perhaps eight to ten positions.

But refurbishing the cycle shop and establishing manufacturing there depends on garnering the full $1.1 million, Lightle said.

"With full funding, $1.1 million, our plan is to do it in Dayton," he said.

"We approached a master builder who happens to live in this area," he said. "When we approached him with the idea of being in the Wright Cycle Co. making bikes, he just flipped out."

The business has found a sun glass maker in Boston, a travel bag producer in Florida and an aviation jacket maker in Los Angeles.

The only product the company won't make in America are luxury watches made by English brand Bremont. And those won't be inexpensive -- they will range from $25,000 to $44,000.

Readers may remember Lightle as the executive behind the stalled effort to start HeartLand Airlines in Dayton in the late 1990s. Heartland operations stalled in 2001 after investment banks stopped funding the effort.

Lightle said he is tackling this project with the benefit of "lessons learned" from the Heartland experience. "If anything, we came out too small," he said of that effort.

Frank Winslow, chair of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance and president and chief executive of Dayton's NCIC CapitalFund investment fund, thinks Wright Brothers USA is on a promising track. And Winslow believes Lightle has learned critical lessons from the HeartLand experience.

"I do think they have gone about this in a thoughtful and measured way," said Winslow, who said he has not invested in the company but said he may in the future.

If the company "pulls it off," the business will be good for the Wright family and good for Dayton, Winslow said.

But he added that no worthwhile business venture is wholly without risk.

"Overall, I think they have thought it through and they have a good business plan -- not without risk," he said.

Lightle and Botts intend to present their vision to the NAHA board later this month.

The licensing strategy is more than a business move. Revenue from the business also supports the Hawthorn Hill mansion in Oakwood, the former home of Orville Wright, and historical aviation sites around Dayton. The Wright Family Foundation will receive 40 percent of royalties from products sold under the Wright Brothers brand, Lightle and Botts said.

Copyright 2014 - Dayton Daily News, Ohio

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