Admirable as it is to live a life free of regrets, it tends to be more entertaining to live inside an almost bottomless pit of them. Plus, you can learn from my mistakes. Here are a few things I wish I’d done.
First, I wish I’d sold products at absurdly over-inflated prices. Today’s Bikerumor.com featured this very interesting take on a “custom-built bicycle.”
“Design boutique Need Supply Co. partnered with Virginia neighbor Carytown Bicycle Company to create a limited edition fixed gear city bike fashionable enough to get a shout out from GQ.
Need’s designer Gabe Ricioppo partnered with frame builder Tim Mullen of CBC to create this urban machine. Built on an All City Big Block track frame, which is designed to work equally well on the boards or your backstreets, CBC added bits from Velo Orange, Cane Creek, Continental, Regal and others as much for their looks as their performance.
Price is $2,450, available at needsupply.com.”
Yes, $2,450. As the comments on Bikerumor.com themselves point out, that’s quite a price tag, considering you’re starting with an All-City frameset that costs about $400. You could very likely buy this exact bike from your local bike shop for less than half what ironically named Need Supply Co. is charging for it. But then what kind of statement would you be making about how important bicycles are to your
Silly me. Unlike “designer” Gabe Ricioppo, I only charged people regular retail price or less for custom-built bicycles. Granted, I wasn’t selling exclusively to chronically inbred royalty or trust fund hipsters, but that was probably the source of my mistake in the first place. If I ever sell bikes again, somebody remind me to grow an artisanal beard and stare dead-eyed into a camera while standing behind a Surly Pugsley I’ve wrapped in denim and am offering for $6,599.
Gabe offers some further insight into his design aesthetic as relates to clothing in an article I found by Googling his name. Here he sounds like a nice enough guy, and I’d probably like him as much I could any surfer, but the article proves the world of
high fashion people clothes is just different. Case in point:
The guys who wear our clothes obviously do things, like ride a bike, and go to work.”
Sound advice. Market to people who “do things” and “go to work.” I look forward to reading the future best-selling marketing book I suspect Gabe is already having ghostwritten. At any rate, my point here should be clear. If you can’t be born a baby that shits hundred dollar bills, wish you were born this guy.
Another regret: I sold nice bikes. In retrospect, offering wretched faux-Dutch shit-mobiles with myriad festive paint options ala republic (they’re way too cool to capitalize their company name) would have been far more lucrative. Republic (that’s right, I capitalized your name there because I’m a Rebel, bitches) has been featured in Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. According to their web site:
republics are built by the people Republic Bike assembles custom bicycles based on shared design. We develop designs and offer components curated for quality, value and aesthetics. Pick, choose, swap and decide and we’ll build it, box it, and ship it out. Built by us & you.”
Much like Need Supply Co., the key here, of course, is that the “product managers” at republic don’t “properly spec” bicycles; instead, artisans “curate” the component selection. This means the components found on your bike will be liberated from any bourgeois conception of “quality” or even “accountability,” and are thus free to be wildly mediocre or downright bad, but in a rainbow of expressive colors. In specing the bike yourself, you’re also taking at least some of the responsibility for bringing yet another pastel fixie into an already tired and depressed world. I’d always thought letting the customer choose the orientation of his or her King headset logo was good customer service, but I realize now that I should have literally let the customers smelt their own potmetal cranksets in China via some type of remote control robot. Then, using the motion sensor on your X-box, you can virtually slather everything on your bike in whatever unholy combination of white and magenta you can manage. I call trademark on all that shit, by the way.
But a big part of Republic’s success and recognition seems to come from the fact that happy companies apparently purchase Republic bikes by the tractor trailer load. Google never calls up a high-end shop and orders a fleet of Mooto X RSLs for their employees to cruise around the corporate campus. Come to think of it, why doesn’t Google order 12,000 Mooto X RSLs for their employees? Facebook would totally do that, and I hear they offer massages while you’re eating free sushi. Plush.
As it turns out some companies do occasionally reward their faithful employees with bicycles, often as an attempt to convince them to stop smoking and freebasing McRibs. Last year Swedish performance artist and comedian, IKEA, took a break from forming particle board into garish and unstable pre-boxed landfill and literally bought their employees over twelve thousand “all-terrain” bicycles.
Of course they weren’t assembled! Well-played, IKEA. I’ve always found Swedish comedy to be less screwball than Icelandic humor and less madcap than Finnish humor, but I have to hand it to IKEA on this one. My only disappointment is that the bikes themselves do not appear to be made of wood and held together largely with dowel rods. That would have been amazing.
While Evel Knievel regretted not killing some people, and I don’t (yet) have to live with regrets that significant, I do wish I’d bent a few rules during my otherwise pretty boring and upstanding time in retail. I wish I’d sold products primarily to corporations. Corporations are the new people anyway, so I think everyone should be focusing marketing on the 20-60-year old corporation dynamic. That’s where the money is right now.
You have to throw a few eggs at the neighbor’s house if you want to make an omelet, though. In the bike business, for instance, there are things one is allowed to sell on-line, and then there are things one is banned from selling on-line. Ever. And yet, reading this article I found recently at Inc.com, one wonders if shipping Trek bikes to customers–the most forbidden of dances in the cycling industry–was really forbidden after all. It certainly didn’t appear to be for successful entrepreneur, Chris Zane of legendary Zane’s Cycles in Connecticut. In particular, this section drew my attention:
More than a decade ago, he used that concept to launch a business filling orders for custom-fitted Trek bikes geared for corporate rewards programs. He has sold his bikes to credit card companies for their rewards programs and corporations who offer them as employee incentives. Zane’s Cycles builds the bikes to specification, and all the recipients have to do is attach the front wheel, using the included instructions. The end goal: Creating experiences that will make customers feel good about the reward product—and not irritated that they have to spend hours putting something together.”
Um, OK. I reread that three times, but it kept seeming to tell me the same thing: somebody made a business out of shipping Trek bikes to people. Again, as rules go in the bike industry, selling Trek bikes on the internet is roughly akin to marrying your sister and holding the reception at a puppy shooting range, and I once got in trouble for having two sets of Bontrager tires show up in my web catalog. So maybe if this business was really shipping Trek bikes to customers, then it was only a few here and there, under the radar, that sort of thing. Only $15,000,000 a year in sales, or three quarters of Zane’s sales.
According to the article at Inc.com, Zane’s corporate rewards program business apparently counts for three quarters of his $21-million–yes, bike shop owners out there, twenty-one-million–in yearly sales. That suggests the bike shop itself is making a little over $5-million a year, which is certainly outstanding, but, given that this income is dwarfed by the sales numbers of the shipped bikes, I don’t know if it’s fair for the author of the article to conclude: “He’s come this far with the help of store policies that would make big box stores blush: Lifetime service guarantees, 90-day price protection, and a trade-in program for children’s bikes where parents get 100 percent of the purchase price applied to their child’s next bike.” Those are certainly wonderful consumer-centric values, yes. Very Zappos. But I think it’s more likely the business he built shipping Trek bicycles to corporations–the business that makes up three quarters of his sales and one strictly forbidden to every Trek dealer I’ve ever known–might have had a semi-important role in his success.
Don’t get me wrong. From what I’ve seen, I like Chris Zane. He seems like a nice guy, and I honestly believe the world would be a better place if his philosophy of service over product was indispensable for all businesses. I’ll bet his book is interesting, and I share a lot of his service experiences (I, too, have driven bicycles to customers’ homes after hours, not to mention picked up customers’ bikes for repair work and driven thirty miles to deliver a bike rack). But, if the article is accurate, I just can’t get past those numbers. Again, owning a bike shop that’s pulling in over $5-million in sales is no small feat, but generating almost $16-million putting Treks in boxes when no one else is allowed to seems to be the real growth story here.
In fact, it could be that rules are more like “suggestions” in the bike industry, and, if that’s the case, then boy, I regret not having broken some of them. And, sure, I also regret not killing a few people. And that jet car over the canyon thing. That was just stupid.