Channel You

 Bikes, E-commerce, Swine  Comments Off on Channel You
Jan 302012

Lane Armstrong Mobli

So much bicycle and tech news to get through today, starting with business tycoon and inventor of yellow bracelets, Lance Armstrong, who’s joining the board at tech startup Mobli, a “place” (you’re not supposed to call them web sites any more) where people can post videos and images of their lives so that other people can oogle them. I’ve noticed that blending celebrity with tech startup is the new hipster business model, maybe because all conventional forms of publishing and making money off of content are rapidly disintegrating, and it’s getting tougher and tougher to buy that sixth Ferrari each and every year. Hence we find ourselves entering the age of the human “celebusinesses,” people like Zooey Deschanel who act, sort of make music, and sell us shit based on the fact that we’re almost buying it from Zooey Daschanel. It’s a weird kind of pop-culture feedback loop, no doubt. Mobli offers “channels” that attempt to be peoples’ lives, so you can basically stalk someone without having to actually put on pants and go outside. Given that one of the only things America is producing these days is narcissistic self-obsession, I predict Mobli is going to blow up huge–or at least get a ridiculous amount of VC money before going public and losing two thirds of its value in three days. In going direct-to-consumer with his life, Armstrong joins a roster of Mobli celebrities already investing, on the board, or just inflicting themselves upon us making their lives available for view, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Paris Hilton, and David Arquette. I would have provided more information about Armstrong’s specific “channel,” but once I got to Mobli, I found it impossible to look away from David Arquette’s life.

In other news this morning, Reverend Paul Sinclair is reconsidering the sale of his tandem hearse. According to Sinclair,

I said I wanted to sell it because I was struggling to ride it. But I have had so much interest in it since I said that, and people saying ‘Oh, I’d like to use that’, I think what I should be doing is hunting out someone fit enough to ride the thing for me.”

Rumors that the massive influx of interested buyers was largely the result of a Canootervalve post advertising the tandem hearse could not be confirmed at the time this post was written.

  • Frame Material: Steel
  • Head Tube Type: Standard 1-1/8″
  • Fork Steerer Tube Diameter: 1-1/8″
  • Seatpost Diameter: 27.2mm
  • Rear Dropout Spacing: 135mm
  • Rear Dropout Type: Standard Geared
  • Maximum Tire Size: 26×2.3-inches
  • Wheel Size: 26-inches
  • Front Dropout Spacing: 100mm
  • Water Bottle Bosses: 1 set, top of downtube
  • Color: Green
  • Size: 18-inch (both captain and stoker)
Here’s your chance to pretend to own a truly exclusive bike. This is the only tandem bicycle hearse in the UK. The Reverend Paul Sinclair of Motorcycle Funerals had this unique bike fabricated for addition to his unique line up of funereal vehicles. Unfortunately, Reverend Sinclair does not feel he’s sufficiently fit to operate the hearse, so he’s making it available in the hope that it will one day find a good home. Own a genuine piece of British history that just also happens to be able to transport dead bodies. Should also be able to transport at least two kegs, 4-8 surfboards, children, furniture, and another bike.

Learn more about the bike on the Daily Mail’s site.


I haven’t forgotten that I’m supposed to drop the little bit of code required to make that “product for sale” box in anybody’s WordPress page (and probably just about any other type of blog post, too). I would’ve gotten to that today, but I was too fascinated with the new clothing line by venerable saddle manufacturer and arbiters of all things “authenticly artisanal,” Brooks.

Word from Bicycle Retailer is that Brooks has controlling ownership of Pedaled, a Japanese company offering clothing for people who’s smugness precludes them owning anything of opulence that doesn’t involve bicycles or coffee. And once you’ve installed your own indoor Peruvian forest and bean roasting facility, about all that’s left is to spring for a $520 jacket. Suck on that, Rapha!

Like all truly expensive hipster-wear, Brooks new Pedaled clothing is displayed hanging from meat hooks, evoking simultaneously a sense of casual durability and a disdain for lofty marketing, with just a hint of unrepressed veganism. When you can finally manage to pry yourself away from the life channel of Lance Armstrong or David Arquette and start looking for pants, you can, of course, purchase stuff directly from I don’t know what the mark-up is on a $120 t-shirt, though, so I can’t fault Brooks from cutting out bike shops and going consumer-direct with this new line. Something tells me the new line isn’t targeted at “people who ride bicycles” anyway, so much as “urban cyclists” looking for “outfit solutions.”

Final note: so I changed my logo over the weekend. I’d always disliked the original graphic, and some updated descriptive text was in order, given that bike technology is only one of the topics my rants occasionally veer into. In the process, I noticed that my “theme” had gone wonky. WordPress lets you plug in various themes–the look and feel of your site–but WordPress itself seems to get updated about once every thirty-seven seconds, and that can screw up some more unique themes. The lesson for WordPress users who don’t want to wrestle with this sort of thing? Use a really boring, standard theme, and let your images, logos and overall content be what makes it unique. It really should be the content that people find interesting anyway, not the decorations. Or so I’ve read.

Friday’s Crotch of Luxury and Self-Esteem Check

 Bikes, E-commerce, Swine  Comments Off on Friday’s Crotch of Luxury and Self-Esteem Check
Jan 272012

While enjoying my morning ritual of fourteen cups of coffee and browsing, I was relieved to see yet another place to custom build your own luxury, multi-colored, bikefashion accessory. Apparently Villy Customs will let you create just about any color $150 bicycle you’d like for between $400 and $800, thus fulfilling their corporate mission statement: “Luxury. Fashion. Bicycle.” (In that order.)

Because I think a lot about marketing, when I see yet another company with a fancy color-picker feature, I don’t concern myself with the overall shoddy quality of the product or what I suspect to be a woeful lack of customer service (I leave those concerns to the buyers), but, rather, the funny way these companies distinguish themselves from the actual bicycle industry, which apparently sells an entirely different product. See, a “bicycle” is a mechanical device, which needs proper assembly and periodic maintenance, whereas a personalized “Cruiser” or a “Fixie” is actually classified as a fashion accessory, and, as such, apparently needs none of those things. Smartly, the companies offering these fashionable accessories understand that they are “luxury” items in a way that properly designed and functionally assembled bicycles can never be. Cruisers and Fixies that allow potential owners to choose from a rainbow of nondescript components of dubious quality are, in fact, the very definition of luxury. Think of them as small, street-going yachts with chains chattering against improperly installed but festooned-with-painted-daisies chain guards, veritable Bugatti Veyrons of style, oozing down the street with all the passion and aggression a rapidly detensioning and wobbly rear wheel can command.

As such, their companies inevitably have their own marketing pages bolted (threads stripped) right onto their sites. In the case of Villy, this page is smartly filled with the various local morning TV shows that found their products adorable. Who needs function, when Entrepreneur magazine, Modern Luxury Dallas, and Good Morning Texas have featured your business.

Speaking of personalized service, one of my older posts regarding Specialized and the recent nonsense with Volagi received the following comment yesterday:

This is a poor representation of the Specialized brand. I feel Specialized strives to protect it’s intellectual property and it’s IBD network. No other brand is as IBD exclusive as Specialized. They could double there numbers if they sold to everyone and anyone. But they don’t they only want true knowledgeable bike shops representing there brand. Agreed the lawsuit with Volagi is a bit frivolous however if you let one company copy your ideas than soon all will.”

I thanked this person for the comment, and I can appreciate a need to stand up for the many positive things Specialized has done, the clearly great bikes they make, and the support they do offer dealers.

But I had to take issue with both points made in that comment, which are not only inaccurate, but also reinforce dangerous misconceptions about this particular case, and about the relationship Specialized and other vendors have with independent bike dealers. So I replied. And replied. And replied some more. Because, for some reason, I take both of these issues very seriously, and I reject the warm and fuzzy notion that Specialized–or anybody else–bases their relationship with dealers solely on some kind of vague personal respect. It’s an adorable and whimsical idea, but I think the reality has a lot more to do with things like territory, supply chain strategy, and mutual need.

For starters, the intellectual property argument might have some validity if Specialized had actually had any intellectual property stolen, but they didn’t. Just because the battle is over, doesn’t mean you get to rewrite the outcome, or give validity to an argument the legal proceeding dismantled. This whole sad event wasn’t just a bad marketing decision for Specialized; it was a genuine legal proceeding, and its results confirmed they had no intellectual property stolen. The lawsuit wasn’t “a bit frivolous”; it was baseless, and the more we learned about it, the more it seemed like classic intimidation of competition, something I find distasteful. Volagi did not steal anything from Specialized. Your assertion that once you allow one company to steal your intellectual property, others will follow, makes it sound like theft occurred here. What we’ve determined is that it did not.

I’d like to put to rest the bullshit notion that a company like Specialized could “double there [sic] numbers if they sold to everyone and anyone.” I’ve heard this ridiculous assertion put forward in the bike industry time and time again, and it’s the argument of beaten down IBDs with serious daddy complexes: “Daddy only sells through us ’cause Daddy loves us and takes care of us!”


I applaud Specialized’s business model and their execution–they’ve done an amazing job of working within an established system for selling bicycles. But it’s an established system, not something they’ve done out of compassion, and there are reasons they don’t sell directly to consumers. The point I’ve been trying to make is that if independent bike shops don’t start spending less time drinking Kool-aid and more time learning to read tea leaves, they could find themselves caught unprepared for the inevitable. Specialized has already begun selling “selective” products directly to consumers on-line. Independent bike shops should be hedging against even the slightest possibility of that trend continuing, and blind faith in the benevolence of vendors is not a viable business plan.

I honestly do believe dealer loyalty plays a role in Specialized’s decision to restrict sales of bicycles to brick-and-mortar transactions, but it’s a smaller role than you think. There are more valid business forces keeping them from selling direct. Why doesn’t General Motors sell directly to consumers? For certain products, the benefits of consumer direct sales do not outweigh the expenses. The notion that Specialized, or GM, or any company built on a dealer representative platform could flip a switch overnight and begin selling direct to consumers–if only they chose to–is just not accurate. Believing that glorifies the manufacturer while disparaging the role of independent dealers. If you own or work at a bike shop, think of the work you do to sell and maintain bikes. It’s tremendous. So you’re telling me Specialized, or any other company, could just absorb that workload? Even if IBDs continued to offer some support, the actual expenses associated with turning a B2B company into a consumer-facing enterprise are staggering. There are legitimate barriers there.

But what I find truly bizarre about all of this is the screwy logic that lets presumably good bike shops demean themselves–instinctively, and by default. I have a lot of respect for Specialized and their products. I can understand how any shop would be happy and proud to be able to offer their products. Almost nothing should come before a dealer’s relationship with his vendors–but belief in your own business should. By definition, if you’re a quality shop, doing quality work, you should not believe your vendors sell to you only because they’re being kind. Instead of counting on their continued kindness–even as the market shifts all around them–shouldn’t you be making yourself indispensable? Look at a retail brand like Competitive Cyclist and tell me that putting your brand first doesn’t work. Claiming to add value without being able to articulate that value to consumers is becoming obsolete. What’s great about any shop has to be far more than just what brands they carry, but too many shops still place their own self worth in the brands they sell. So Specialized could “double” sales if they let their bikes be sold everywhere, but “they only want true knowledgeable bike shops representing there [sic] brand.” Look at the word “want” in there. Why have you not replaced that with “need”? That’s what you need to ask yourself.

The Little Things

 Bikes, E-commerce, Swine  Comments Off on The Little Things
Jan 262012

Sometimes I think that, if I could have three wishes, the first would be for someone to finally drive a stake through the heart of the fashion industry’s fleeting love of bikes, and the second and third would both be for the first to come true, just in case. The image of the $5,000 Bianchi hipster-mobile above comes to us courtesy of a site called “The Pursuitist,” who’s mission is apparently to, “Find and share the good things in life.” Inevitably this seems to consist almost entirely of increasingly elaborate devices designed to take what little soul you might’ve been born with and painfully extract it from your person. According to the article:

Biking is a luxury, and now it has a price tag to go along with it too. Gucci has launched two exclusive Bianchi by Gucci bicycles designed by the brand’s Creative Director, Frida Giannini.

Giannini told us, “The Bianchi by Gucci bicycles perfectly carry forward our codes of luxury while creating a new cosmopolitan aesthetic for those looking to turn heads while on the go”.

However, the Bianchi by Gucci bikes are only available for purchase in London from Gucci’s store at 18 Sloane Street. The white, hydro-formed steel single speed bike (above) costs $5,000 while the black carbon fiber monocoque model (below) is priced at $14,000.”

Yes, as anyone in China can tell you, biking is, indeed, a luxury. I just quoted that in its entirety because I honestly couldn’t bring myself to read through it one more time to pick out only the quotable parts. And no, I don’t have the spiritual fortitude to show you the carbon fiber one, if you haven’t already seen it. I can’t claim to understand what strange force has trapped certain Italian bike companies in the ’80s, but could someone please tell Colnago and Bianchi that most of the pastel-suitjacket-wearing coke addicts who used to represent a market for high-fashion, co-branded bicycle abominations are now either dead or riding Specialized Venges? And everyone knows kids ride Cinellis. Yes, the 21st Century is proving confusing to some companies. Today, managing to have a bike featured on a site next to artisanal mable syrum and $800 amplification horns for iPhones is arguably the most ironic sign of “status” possible.

Still, you have to love how ruthlessly practical bicycles manage to remain, despite the pressure to turn them into luxury items and fashion accessories, probably because you almost always have to actually ride a bike in order to show it off to everyone, and that’s a pretty high barrier of entry for the frail and soul-less.

Besides, everybody knows it’s the #littlethings that really matter. Word in business news today is that McDonald’s is attempting to rebound from their ill-fated #McDStories Twitter social media bloodbath with a fresh hashtag, “#littlethings,” which, hopefully, will be a few more degrees separated from worms in fish sandwiches and “dying inside.” Clearly, some–I’ll go ahead and assume frantic–discussion occurred at Clown Food Central over the past 48-hours, and it was determined that anything even vaguely close to the discussion of actual food products was the real liability in this campaign, and that a new hashtag was needed that was much more difficult to relate back even to their company, let alone the “food.” Hence, “#littlethings.” Brilliant.

Here I’d like to official introduce a new term into the lexicon of social media marketing: to “rainblow.” It means to shield your otherwise disgusting brand, service, or product behind some form of generally recognized piece of undeniable goodness. I believe this is actually one the marketing industry stole from Congress, the original masters of rainblowing our minds by authoring bills with names like the “Children’s Health Act” that actually allows companies to dispose of green, glowing toxic waste by pouring it directly into the mouths of anyone with a household income less than $250,000 a year.

The beauty of the new McDonald’s hashtag is how it boldly says, “Think of the special shit that really matters to you. OK, got it? Now give it to us.” That’s some bold social marketing, right there. It says, “We don’t stand for the shit we expect you to eat. We stand for whatever you think is good . . . whatever matters to you dumbass morons, just think ‘McDonald’s!’ when you picture that.”

Speaking of social networking and the Internets, I haven’t forgotten the official wrap up of my e-commerce how-to segment. All put together, the actual ad is going to look like this:

  • Frame Material: Steel
  • Head Tube Type: Standard 1-1/8″
  • Fork Steerer Tube Diameter: 1-1/8″
  • Seatpost Diameter: 27.2mm
  • Rear Dropout Spacing: 135mm
  • Rear Dropout Type: Standard Geared
  • Maximum Tire Size: 26×2.3-inches
  • Wheel Size: 26-inches
  • Front Dropout Spacing: 100mm
  • Water Bottle Bosses: 1 set, top of downtube
  • Color: Green
  • Size: 18-inch (both captain and stoker)
Here’s your chance to pretend to own a truly exclusive bike. This is the only tandem bicycle hearse in the UK. The Reverend Paul Sinclair of Motorcycle Funerals had this unique bike fabricated for addition to his unique line up of funereal vehicles. Unfortunately, Reverend Sinclair does not feel he’s sufficiently fit to operate the hearse, so he’s making it available in the hope that it will one day find a good home. Own a genuine piece of British history that just also happens to be able to transport dead bodies. Should also be able to transport at least two kegs, 4-8 surfboards, children, furniture, and another bike.

Learn more about the bike on the Daily Mail’s site.


Next, I’ll be walking everyone through the exact little bit of code necessary to create that product listing, and then we’ll be able to start testing that buy button. Before then, I either need to make a tandem hearse to sell, or find something else I need to get rid of. Preferably something smaller than a tandem hearse or a Big Dummy, and easier to fit into a box and ship. #littlethings

Bicycle Hearses and McFailing

 Bikes, E-commerce  Comments Off on Bicycle Hearses and McFailing
Jan 252012

These days there’s a lot of talk in e-commerce and marketing circles about “managing social.” Entire departments are being created within companies, and an industry has appeared to support these efforts. The irony, of course, is that you can’t manage social. Sort of by definition, social relies on the people being people, and when you censor them, or try to direct the firehose blast of content they can generate, what you have ceases to be truly social. In other words, the problem with social–from a business standpoint–is the people.

McDonald’s ran into the “people problem” recently when they realized the shit they post on Twitter can be seen by everyone–even those who think McDonald’s food is repugnant. As countless people are pointing out on Twitter right now, a company known primarily for borderline poisonous food-shaped products probably shouldn’t serve up a ready-made hashtag–“#McDStories”–inviting everyone to share stories about McDonald’s-related experiences.

Here’s a screen grab from last night that shows you just how well social is working for McDonald’s, a company with sufficient resources at their disposal to be using social as effectively as possible.

McDonald's Tweets Go Wrong

In a sea of people pointing out how wrong this campaign has gone, there are still gems of personal stories here and there, and that second one from the top is among my favorites.

I mention all of this because I’ve been babbling a bit about e-commerce lately, and how independent bike shops need to get off their asses and start building a presence on-line. McDonald’s thoughtfully illustrates one of the potential dangers of staggering half-assedly onto the fast-moving and emotionally merciless Internet–but they also illustrate what a great opportunity these social sites are for small business. Here are a few things they did wrong, and how you can turn them around:

  • It’s About the People No, really, it is. That means you can’t just expect them to sing your praises. You’re a corporation. You might be much more important than people in America right now, but you haven’t yet figured out a way to force us to love you. You want promotional help? People ask what’s in it for them. How does participating in this stupid hashtag make their lives better? If you’re not sure, the answer is usually either, “It doesn’t” or, as in the case with McDonald’s, “It lets them vent their rage at you.”
  • The Web is Inherently Negative That might seem pessimistic, but, aside from adorable cats, the Internet is the Wild West of emotions and opinions. People value freedom of expression and entertainment value–not necessarily in that order. Even a company with legendary customer service knows better than to willfully put their head on the chopping block. Best to hedge with a safe and non-committal interaction. “Tweet your description of a new, trimmed down Grimus, and it must be under 140 characters.” That sort of thing. But all that safety is recommended even if you have a phenomenally respected product with an unassailable reputation for quality. Can you think of a positive experience at McDonald’s that would be fun to read? Personally, the last time I was forced into one (thanks again, Jason), the ketchup dispenser produced a giant, pink foam ball when I tried to use it. That’s my #McDStory. What the hell were they thinking?
  • Don’t Expect Something for Nothing My first example dealt with offering the people entertainment and truly listening to them, but a separate tactic is to just pay them off with swag. Today’s digitally social appreciate the value of their content. They know their content is helping to sell your products, and they expect something for it. Cough it up. Failing to “gamify” the deal, or offer some free stuff or other reward only serves to remind the consumer that they’re working for you for free. Marketing inside McDonald’s might love their company, but please don’t assume we all do. I suspect most people eat there because the food-shaped salt and sugar forms are so cheap, not because we have strong feelings about the company.

So the social media management lesson for those of us just now considering an on-line presence is simple: be yourself, but demonstrate at every step of the way that you’re there for the consumer. You’ll rarely receive warm and fuzzy moments from a consumer based just on his or her undying and irrational love of your company. Sweeten the deal. Give consumers a reason to participate, and make sure you’re standing beside them instead of peering down from your golden arches.

Used social media to build a wildly successful following for your on-line bike shop yet? Good. Then you’re ready to sell some stuff, and here’s another step toward making that happen.

Remember how we were working on adding product photos, information, and an “Add to Cart” button to our WordPress post? Today, I want to show you one of the last and easiest pieces to putting together a simple WordPress shopping cart: a nice border.

I’ve already had enough interest in the Big Dummy frameset I’m selling that even posting now seems to make no sense, so until I find something new to sell (there’s plenty), I’ve found an ideal stand-in.

For Sale: UK’s Only Tandem Bicycle Hearse

Yes, though this would probably be only one of thousands of bicycle hearses if located in Portland, the only tandem hearse in the UK is now available for you to purchase. The reverend who owns it claims he’s not fit enough to use it, but that it’s a great buy.

Now that we have some content, let’s build a container for it.

Borders are really easy to create using an HTML “div” tag and some simple “CSS.” I’m not going to tell you what any of that stands for, because I’m not teaching you coding here–we’re just stealing a little of it for our immediate purposes. Suffice to say that a “div” is a box you can create anywhere on a web page. They live in three dimensions, so things like those fancy menus that pop out when you mouse over them? Those are just hidden divs appearing over the top of the page itself, triggered by your mouse position. You can do just about anything with a div, but our purposes are really simple. We just need to drop in a small bit of code to make our borders.

A great characteristic of WordPress is that you can add custom code to your entries just by clicking the little “HTML” tab at the top right of the entry field for your text (that big box where you type stuff people will read). Make sure that’s clicked then copy and paste in this content:

<div style="border:2px solid;border-radius:25px;-moz-border-radius:20px;">

Congratulations, you just made a border. That’s the fancy new kind with rounded borders, because Steve Jobs said everything should have rounded borders and really juicy-looking buttons, and all web designers tend to like to dress up and pretend to be him. The sad news is that these fancy new rounded edge kinds won’t work in ancient, shitty, diabolical browsers like Microsoft’s IE6 (aka “Internet Exploder 6”). My friend Tae tells me IE6 still has like 90% of market share in Korea, so if that’s your target market, you might want to dial the fancy down a bit and stick with something more like this.

<div style="border:2px solid">

This will give you a border with good, old-fashioned square edges and make your border visible even in South Korea (though probably nothing else on your page will be loading correctly anyway).

Here’s what the fancy border with the rounded edges looks like:

I am in the house.

From here there’s just the simple step of putting our content together inside our swanky new border and then adding our “Add to Cart” button, and that’s what we’ll do next time.

Low Resolutions

 Bikes, Swine  Comments Off on Low Resolutions
Jan 242012

My New Year’s resolution was to have a better fucking attitude about shit. I’ve found it takes a lot of coffee. And practice. I’m getting better at it, though. Case in point: I’m going to bring you good news today.

Samuel B. Gause Retrieves Stolen Bike

Who’s Samuel B. Gause? He’s a Chemistry student at the University of Florida who’s once again the proud owner of an IRO Angus. Gause’s bike was stolen this past Sunday, but he found it for sale on Craig’s List and got his sting operation on, setting up a meeting to check out the bike and calling the Gainesville police, who ended up arresting one Collin D. Smith, a 5’6″ tall, 140-pound man who’d apparently been charged with battery and burglary the previous year. Gause, who appears to be nearly tall enough to race cyclocross for Kona Bicycles, sounds like a nice guy who was clearly nervous as hell setting up his first foray into crime fighting, and I’m happy he got his bike back. According to The Alligator, Smith, who was arrested and charged with grand theft and dealing in stolen property by use of the Internet didn’t return a phone call requesting comment, presumably because he was in jail. I suspect The Alligator also has incredibly poor luck receiving comments from deceased individuals and victims of kidnappings. Based on what we know, however, we can assume that Smith’s comment would have been something like, “You tall people with your fucking giant-ass bikes! I will find you all, and I will tilt your saddles into extremely uncomfortable angles! No jail will hold me, and I will find you! Gloating, towering, bicycle-riding, lanky bitches! You think you’re so great! I will find you all! I will make you so uncomfortable!”

Smith is currently being held pending extradition to Portland.

Something Completely Different

I know I’ve also been bitching a lot about the lack of innovative products out there lately, but I’m happy to report some people are still pushing the envelope. My friend Josh just let me know about a little company called Solstice.

Solstice Suspension Design

Solstice owner and designer, Chuck Dunlap, is focused on making one frame. One pretty wild, innovative, patented suspension frame. The Solstice is built around something Dunlap calls an “inverted 4-bar,” and that really does make sense once you look at it.

Solstice Suspension Frame Detail

I’ve noticed the fashionable thing to say about a totally unique suspension design you’ve only seen in photos is: “Looks like it has a vertical axle path.” Word is this does, however, have a pretty vertical axle path, something I was after with my design, too.

It doesn’t look particularly stiff, but there’s an article about the design in the Mountain Flyer, and it claims the rear end on this bike tracks great, and that it pedals well and absolutely stomps nasty terrain. Very interesting stuff.

The swingarm parts are cold forged, which is pretty cool and makes me wonder how a tiny bike company producing only a handful of frames can manage to create such a clean and professional looking machine. There’s a kind of beautiful simplicity to the design, despite the complexity of the suspension.

The Solstice features a fully “floating” rear shock, which is another way of saying it has a shock that doesn’t anchor to the main frame anywhere; instead, it “floats” or bolts to moving parts of the suspension system on each of its ends. Sandwiching a shock between two moving suspension members is scary stuff, as the shock rates can get really difficult to manage, but Dunlap’s design looks very well thought out.

The bike is getting 160mm of travel and no, there is no 29er version out there, as far as I know. At over seven pounds, it ain’t light, but there seems to be no reason this design needs to weigh much more than similar frames, so I think the heft represents a bit of caution on the part of Solstice. Better to have the occasional complaint about the weight, than to run into problems.

Most importantly, seeing this really cheered me up. Just the idea that here’s a guy hell-bent on making innovative new products–products that literally turn conventional wisdom upside down.

This is nice, this being positive bullshit. I think I can tolerate it in small doses.

I need a fourth cup of coffee.

Mad Skills

 E-commerce, Swine  Comments Off on Mad Skills
Jan 232012

Everyone needs a skill.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about skills. It must the resumes I’m sending out, the career search process in general, but I find myself thinking about the often blurry concept of “job skills” and what it means to be know how to do something. If this post has a practical use–and I’m not claiming it does–it’s as advice for small business owners, hoping to hire outstanding people who can actually improve a company.

I can remember sitting through an excruciating hermeneutics graduate course many years ago, watching some guys pouring concrete for a new sidewalk outside. After we’d wasted an hour dissecting sentences word by word, painfully trying to comprehend ridiculously cryptic ideas in a book that’s very subject was how we communicate, the professor adjourned the class with the pronouncement, “We did good work today.” A friend of mine and fellow writer of fiction (there were mostly philosophy students in this class, but some of the MFA writers–myself included–had ended up there because we needed the credits) announced matter-of-factly, “We didn’t do good work today.” Everyone turned to look at him, and he clarified: “We didn’t do any work today. They did work today,” he said, gesturing to the work crew outside the window. “What we did wasn’t work.” He was right.

When I went on to put in time as an English professor myself, the lesson I took with me from that class was to always be relevant, always keep the discussion of even the most obscure subjects rooted in the every day experiences of my students. This wasn’t a challenge, because I’d always thought of books as a necessary tool to get through life–a kind of multi-tool that included everything from a life jacket to hand grenades. You learn to read books and think critically about complicated subjects so that you can form your own opinions about things and make good decisions. I regarded those skills as being every bit as crucial and necessary to the average person as a level and nails are to a carpenter.

That particularly bad grad course I’d sat through didn’t have any meaning to me because there was no regard for a product: we weren’t even trying to create anything. To my thinking, the further you drifted away from concrete, tangible productivity–making something–the less relevant any of your gibberish became. Writers were, at least, still driven to create something.

This weekend, Bill Maher pointed out the difference between this photo of Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital

and photos of other famous wealthy people, including Henry Ford standing beside his Model T, Woz and Steve Jobs sitting there with their first computer, and Walt Disney at his desk, drawing a cartoon.

The distinction Maher’s photos made was a powerful one. Seems like too often these days, real money doesn’t come from making anything (except more money). Those gifted at living without creating anything tend to make money from money, and, as we’ve seen, they usually manage to do this by using loopholes, bad faith, and one hell of a disregard for others. Financial services companies can use the term “product” to describe things like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and Credit Default Swaps (CDSs), but that’s like saying you’re a rock star because you got drunk and crashed your car. Whoever created those must surely be proud, but I have to believe it’s a different kind of pride than what an engineer or an artist might have in creating something.

With all of this in mind, it occurred to me that the best people I’ve known, those who demonstrate what I consider to be strong moral character, are always people who can make things. I’ve known devoutly religious people, people held in high esteem by their local communities, whom I’d not let anywhere near my kids. This isn’t to say every diesel mechanic is a saint, but, if you think about your business like a child, I’d much rather have doers on board than talkers. Probably the thing that shocked me so much as I moved around my part of the business world–including everything from C-level managers, to business software developers, to mergers and acquisitions specialists–was just little anyone could actually do.

To my mind the world is already too full of people so absolutely incapable of successfully performing even the most basic of tasks that they end up in upper management positions. Sadly, what that can do to a company is pretty gruesome in and of itself. Here are a few e-commerce business rules I’ve learned the hard way.

  • Upper management that’s never engaged directly with the end user is useless. If you’re a consumer-facing retailer or e-commerce store, look for management and operations people who’ve spoken to customers, one way or another, somewhere in their past. Preferably within the past year. Unless you’re Proctor and Gamble, the days of the ivory tower CEO and COO in the retail space are over.
  • Everybody should know how to write at least some code. Yes. Everybody. I’m not talking about hardcore application development, but anyone involved in marketing, management, or creative development for your company should know some basic HTML, CSS, and, preferably, some really basic Javascript. How can anyone make good decisions about business development and marketing if he or she has no idea what’s behind the curtain at a web site? It’s management with zero coding skills that leads to consumer facing web sites with Flash screens that take two minutes to load.
  • Mergers and acquisitions guys have to understand technology. Without the ability to understand how Company A is making their donuts–or at least be able to comprehend the analysis of someone who does–how can anyone making business development decisions put a real price tag on merging it with Company B. There are cases where even two relatively strong companies, brought together by a weak M and A team, become much less than the sum of their parts due to incompatible technology.
  • Marketing people should have some experience in sales and customer service. This matters not just because they need to understand the consumer’s point of view, but because they need to understand the process of their own salespeople.
  • All managers are part-time chief technology officers, especially CFOs. The basic costs associated with something like an e-commerce site can vary enormously and most companies would do well to have a watchdog along every checkpoint. If you’re paying $25,000 a month for web hosting, and don’t know enough to realize you could be paying less than $1,000, don’t assume the IT department is going to take the time to set you straight. They’re still busy trying to get the reconditioned phone system you bought on sale to work properly.

The list could really go on all day, but the basic idea stays the same. All those job ads that include phrases like “creative thinker” might not be going far enough. In order to be a creative thinker, you need to have an arsenal of skills from which to generate ideas. You need to know how to make stuff and do stuff. I’d like to think that America in particular can reverse the current trend toward generating wealth without actually producing anything useful. Maybe Mitt Romney’s a nice guy, though I doubt it, and there’d have to be documented video proof of Mitt eating a live baby for him to scare me more than Newt Gingrich, but I think there’s something inherently wrong when separating value from reward. That image of the Bain Capital guys in suits stuffed with money is the America you end up with when the people making the most money have the least to offer.

Singing Toothbrushes and Simple E-commerce

 Bikes, E-commerce  Comments Off on Singing Toothbrushes and Simple E-commerce
Jan 202012

I woke up this morning to the results of last night’s snowstorm and a Groupon ad on my phone for singing Justin Bieber toothbrushes.

Imagine for a second brushing your teeth while Justin Bieber sings in your mouth. I’m no stock broker, but you have to wonder about the Groupon’s valuation sometimes.

On my agenda this morning, besides remembering to hate neo-retro mop tops and considerable snow removal, I’m dedicating five solid minutes to lamenting the demise of Maverick. I hate to see any frame manufacturer close, let alone one that was at least trying something different, but, as a guy who spent actual money on a Maverick fork, I can’t be all that broken up about it.

Lately, I’ve been incredibly busy doing many things that generate absolutely no meaningful income for me. So many things, in fact, that it can be difficult to remember them all, let alone get to them. I’m writing some articles, and–with the obvious exception of this blog–I tend to put a lot of thought into things I write, so those have pulled me away from studying Node and some other nerd stuff. For the two readers or so out there interested in the latest update on the suspension system, there have been some positive things happening behind the curtain, but don’t expect a prototype any time soon. Somebody smarter than me’s involved now, though, and that’s kickstarted my desire to keep putting in those hours. I still believe in the design–probably now more than ever, because now, whenever I start to doubt myself, I remember that Newt Gingrich thinks he’s a tremendous asset to all Americans. Anything’s possible if you’re willing to be completely delusional.

For the probably one person out there trying to ride the rapids of my E-commerce Small Business Empowerment rants, which might sound like John Kerry trying to explain how a toaster works to anyone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about selling things on the Internet, I just mentioned some solid, simple and free photo editing methods available for doing basic touchup. I wanted to also mention that WordPress itself has enough features to let you do just about anything without even bothering to look around. In fact, having worked with a bunch of image upload and manipulation programs, and even made some (will write code for food), the bundle of stuff you can do in WordPress is pretty impressive.

For instance, there’s this Surly Big Dummy frameset I’ve decided to sell. I’ve taken a bunch of photos of it, and WordPress lets me upload those images in bulk, and automatically groups them in a gallery for me. It’s pretty slick.

The only pain in the ass part is accidentally getting other images grouped in with that gallery–either by selecting them accidentally or by trying to add a fresh image to your post after having dropped your gallery in. Seems WP gets confused and keeps adding new images to the old gallery, which is a bit of a drag. If you write your post and then put your gallery in last, though, all should be well.

Here’s the WordPress inserted gallery of shots of the Big Dummy I’m selling.

Not fine art, but they’re clear and should answer just about any questions about the frameset.

For the next step, I’ve set up a PayPal test account, which isn’t particularly difficult, and basically gives you a fake credit card to use for development purposes.

Then I checked out WordPress shopping cart extensions–of which there are many–and picked up a free one called “WP Ultra Simple PayPal Shopping Cart.” There are lots, but this one had good documentation and, once you have the PayPal “Sandbox” (development area to test your fake credit card) set up, adding an “Add to Cart” button to your blog is as simple as pasting in some text. Another nice thing about WordPress, if you don’t write code at all, is that you can install plug-in extensions like Ultra Simple Cart just by browsing through the available extensions, selecting one, and clicking “Activate.” Pretty straightforward stuff.

Now all that’s left is to put all of this together into a blog post that would let somebody buy the Big Dummy, or anything else we’d want to post. I could see this exact method being pretty useful to any local shop interested in:

  1. Reaching customers by writing about what they know.
  2. Potentially selling off some closeout items to test out this e-commerce thing.

Again, if you’re a business, you’d want to check with your vendors before just posting anything, as there are some restrictions, but for selling off demo bikes and outdated merchandise, I really want small retailers to know there’s an option outside of eBay or Craig’s list, and it’s one that actually helps build your own brand, instead of driving people away from your shop.

8-tracks vs.Jetpacks

 Bikes  Comments Off on 8-tracks vs.Jetpacks
Jan 192012

Under the cover of high-profile SOPA protest blackouts, two ground-breaking innovations occurred yesterday. We finally saw detailed photos of Magura’s RT8TT hydraulic rim brakes, and Groupon finally had an offer on ShakeWeights (only $12!).

For only $12 for the women's, I'm getting two to jog with!

Plenty of people are happy to pounce on the perceived ridiculousness of a hydraulic braking system for road bike that doesn’t involve a shiny disc at the center of the wheel, and by all accounts, the momentum is solidly behind disc brakes for road bikes right now, boosted, no doubt, by disc brake advocates and current Goliath-slaying Bike of the People, Volagi. Why the hell would we want the pain-in-the-ass of a hydraulic system mated to all the old problems of rubber pads clamping a rim?

I have to admit, the notion sounds a bit silly–like adding a smartphone touchscreen to an 8-track player (or an 8-track repair company’s Facebook page). In fact, had I never ridden the original Magura HS-33 hydraulic rim brakes, I’d be unable to stop laughing at the whole idea of a hydraulic rim brake for road bikes. But as somebody with considerable time using those old Tomac stoppers, I have to imagine they’d be light years better than conventional TT brakes, and someday, may one day even contribute to a 0.4% drop in the cycling technology-related death rate of triathletes.

For all their faults–like the commitment required to properly align them or the way their horrible stock steel “boosters” made “aluminum” seem exotic as a material–the HS-33s had a range of stopping power that was like watching a color TV compared to the black and white of V-brakes (or the fuzzy white screen of most cantilevers). If there is such a thing as “mid-range” the hydraulic rim brakes had it to spare, and when it comes to controlling a tottering speed-centric death missle of a TT bike, I get their appeal.

But still, come on.

Hydraulic rim brakes?

Apparently, so, according to this Shimano patent filing from 2009.

Sure, the cost of a few patent applications is nothing to Shimano, but we seem to have an awful lot of thought going into a technology that will likely make an appearance, crack the fuck out of a few dozen carbon clincher rims, and then show up on eBay next to Airlines shifters.

This doesn’t feel like innovation to me. I mean, we were promised jetpacks, right? Where are our jetpacks?

Disc brakes have finally become a default in the world of mountain bikes because the perceived advantages now outweigh the disadvantages. Pioneering hydraulic rim brakes on a road bike feels inherently wrong.

Now magnets, those are the future.

A Thousand Words for Zero Dollars

 Bikes, E-commerce  Comments Off on A Thousand Words for Zero Dollars
Jan 182012

Google's censored doodle for January 18th, protesting SOPA.

I just finished sending e-mails to my various representatives, expressing opposition to SOPA, so it seems like a particularly good day to be talking about what the Internet can do for you. On a day like today, it’s nearly possible to imagine a level playing field, where communication and information between individuals isn’t owned or controlled by anyone.

So it’s a good day to look at some free resources that are out there to help small businesses ease into the wild and wacky world of e-commerce.

I’ve been stressing all along the value of creating good content. Lest you think it’s just me, consider this short article from, bemoaning the absolute lack of quality content out there. If the big companies–in every industry–were getting content right, some of what’s described in that article wouldn’t be possible; there’d be no opportunity to distinguish yourself among a bunch of white noise, because all the big companies would have already nailed content. But they haven’t, so there is. And that’s where your authenticity and knowledge as a small retailer comes in handy.

So to communicate that, you want to polish up your content, and it’s never been easier. Let’s look at images.

The old adage “An Image Says a Thousand Words” applies more than ever when it comes to digital merchandising. Maybe video will overtake images at some point as the most valuable media asset for a web retailer to generate sales, but it hasn’t happened yet. There are so many methods for searching out quality photos on the web or taking and filing away photos these days, that I don’t think it beneficial to waste time here on the obvious steps like “buy a camera” and “upload” your photos.” Suffice to say, cameras capable of high-quality photos are available for next to nothing, and most phones today take half decent photos, if not the quality of a dedicated camera. Keep in mind, we’re looking for web quality here, which isn’t as demanding as print quality, so you don’t need to hook yourself up with a $6,000 camera in order to sell things on the Internet. Another non-factor is uploading and storage. There was a time when just getting photos up to a site required a file transfer program or some ingenuity, but everything from Flickr to Google+ will let you upload and organize images pretty easily, and storage size is a non-issue. Better still, the recent versions of WordPress I’ve been discussing as the foundation of our first e-commerce configuration make uploading images, or linking directly to them from a storage area by inputting the image’s URL (the thing that’s in your browser’s address bar when you’re viewing a single image) extremely easy. Bottom-line: taking and storing images is a non-issue.

Other details are more important, though. Here are some things to consider when getting ready to “merchandise” or put a product up for sale on-line.

  1. Find Photos from the Manufacturer or Take Your Own?
    It’s almost always better to own your assets–in other words, take your own photos. This is true for a bunch of reasons, including that authenticity you hear me blathering on about so much. People want to see what you have, not the generic image. Potential buyers don’t like seeing the same factory photo everywhere they go, and they’ll often find unique photos more compelling, provided the quality isn’t poor. If you’re only listing a few products to test the e-commerce waters, you can usually shoot a bunch of photos of your product yourself, another advantage to being a little guy. If you absolutely lack a physical space to shoot photos or for some reason can’t unpackage an item for photos, using an image from the company’s site may be your only option. Never take an image from an on-line retailer, and be careful in general, as photos are property. There are cases where even the manufacturer doesn’t want its photos being used by unauthorized people. When in doubt, shoot your own photos.
  2. Shoot a Lot of Photos
    You want to take as many photos as possible, from as many key angles as possible. Have the potential buyer in mind. He or she may want to know even the slightest detail, so, if it’s a bike frame we’re photographing, don’t hesitate to get photos of the underside of the bottom bracket shell. Whenever possible always take a photo of what’s included in the box, another preemptive way to answer a lot of questions for consumers, and even how the item will be packaged when it arrives. Your goal is to put the potential buyer at lease with the decision to buy, and that means making him or her as familiar with the items as he’d be if seeing it in your store.
  3. Don’t Over-Edit
    Sometimes you need to crop a photo or resize it in order to make it look its best, but avoid fancy stuff like trying to cut a bike frame out of a busy background. These things often end up looking worse than if you’d just snapped the photo and posted it. Don’t go crazy trying to make it perfect, or it’ll look worse than a basic photo.
  4. Pay Attention to Your Background
    The setup for the image, and understanding what it says about your product and about you, is very important. There’s no point in offering up terrifying examples of bad images from Craig’s list, because BikeSnobNYC has made an absolute art form of it. Suffice to say, pay attention to what you have in the background, and what it says about you (I once had someone send me a photo of his personal commuting bike to help him determine proper handlebar position, and the image included a woman holding her head in her hands in the background). You shouldn’t be expected to spend three hours on each photo, cutting out the image and setting it against a new white background, but you should be able to touch it up as necessary to make sure it helps potential customers feel comfortable purchasing from you.

  5. Understand Consistency
    You might not have that much room for your photos, and it’s OK for viewers to see some extra stuff in the background of your image, but you need to keep some aspect of the photos consistent from one photo to another. If you’re taking pictures of whole bicycle, you may want to vary the location of their photos, but try to maintain some cohesion from one round of product photos to the next. If a close up of the drive side crankset was taken for one bike, it should be taken for others. Why? Because some aspects of repetition build comfort for your consumers. In the earliest days of my original e-commerce store, I had no room anywhere for photos on rainy days, so I took every gallery photo of a customer’s bike on the shop couch. It became a rite of passage to see a great, custom-built bike up on the same couch–so much so that customers who’d built their bikes up at home often sent in photos of their own bike on their couches (I can only imagine what their significant others thought about those photo shoots).

Regardless of how “DIY” and simple your site and your approach to merchandising some products, it’s just a fact that graphic design will come into play, and that’s where today’s free resources come in handy. For most people photo editing means Adobe’s Photoshop, but for the work most of us will need to do, Photoshop is overkill. Here are some free alternatives that will do the basics (crop, resize, sharpen), along with my personal choice.

First, consider the web-based photo editing services out there. They’re everywhere now, and probably it’s only a matter of time until WordPress bundles drastically better photo editing capability right into their already good image upload and file management system.

Picnik handles most of what you could need without any fees or hassles, and it’s particularly good at adjusting exposure to and shadows to help smooth out otherwise inconsistent images.

Picasa is a Google product that can be bundled with Google+–Google’s social networking platform, which I’m found to be a much better place for storing and managing information than interacting ala Facebook. If you like to tinker, you can configure a decent little image assembly line out of these Google products, and Picasa itself offers decent features like side-by-side image editing and borders.

FotoFlexer bills itself as “the world’s most advanced online photo editor,” and they might be right. You can smooth and fade in FotoFlexer, and it works well, which is pretty rare for online image editors, and the layout and overall functionality scored high with me. Of on-line resources, I’d spend some time with this one, though the downside is that they make you watch ads.

Gimp. That’s right, “Gimp.” Unlike on-line editors–which all seem pretty obsessed with letting you create stupid neon effects and stuff, the Gimp is a free, open source Photoshop replacement. Is it as good as Photoshop? Oh hell no (though die-hard Gimp fans would argue this). Is it really freaking amazing for a free program? You bet. For years, I handled all graphic design work for a three-million dollar e-commerce store using only the Grimp. I even used it to queue up print ads, which I then imported into another free vector-based editor to get ready for magazine publication. You can trace and cut out image content in the Gimp, do extensive effects work like dropping shadows, and generally do everything you can do in Photoshop, and there’s an extensive library of free resource material out there, as well as dedicated Gimp how-to books. It’s not as polished as Photoshop, and it’s not perfect, but you can run a decent sized company without investing anything in graphic design with this program.

Displaying quality images of your products doesn’t just increase the odds that they’ll sell; it also helps market your store as a brand. It goes to your reputation. Perceived reputation of an on-line store is one of the top considerations of shoppers, and they associate thing like organization and image quality with a well run operation. Even if you’re a very small business–hell, even if you’re just one person selling something–there is a tremendous advantage to professional-looking content, including cleaned up images, and it’s surprisingly easy now for anyone to display unique, high-quality images.

Occupy the Internet, Small Business Style

 Bikes, E-commerce  Comments Off on Occupy the Internet, Small Business Style
Jan 172012

Ah, the Internet, that terrifying behemoth hell-bent on destroying small business in America. Or not. You know how politicians start to talk about the evils of class warfare only after a large enough percentage of Americans are poor enough to face a little pepper spray? How class warfare isn’t ever brought up in relation to, say, an orchestrated effort to carpet bomb the middle class? Well, there’s a similar bit of tomfoolery afoot when it comes to the Internet. Only when the Best Buys and Targets of the world start to get hurt by the likes of Amazon do The Powers That Be start to swivel their fat, old white heads in that general direction to figure out which party has the most money and can be declared a winner. But what about the mom and pop stores? As I pointed out in the past, Amazon has been strangling small retailers out of existence for some time now–or that’s not entirely accurate: they’ve been leading them to their candy cottage in the woods with a trail of gumdrops, boiling them down to bones and sucking out the marrow.

But that doesn’t have to happen to all small retailers.

As I’ve argued, the absolute worst mistake a small business can make is to believe “Amazon” and “the Internet” the same thing. The Internet and its possibilities far exceed Amazon. It belongs to all small businesses, and if you’re not using it, you should be.

My friend Kyle posted a link to an interesting article in the New York Times that supports the notion that “little guys” still have a place on the Internet. The gist is that some consumers will pay more to support local stores–regardless of where those “local” stores are located. In other words, a guy in Kansas might by drumsticks from Drumworld near Pittsburgh, instead of, Musican’s Friend, an enormous web retailer, or Amazon. The article raises some good points, but also fails to flesh out the actual consumer making these decisions as anything much more than altruistic. In fact, there are plenty of self-serving reasons why consumers choose to shop with smaller e-commerce companies, and chief among them is product knowledge and attention to detail. Amazon can process millions of orders a day and offer low prices, but are they truly a resource for a lot of what they sell? Can you call someone at Amazon and talk drum sticks, or espresso makers? What about rear mountain bike tires, saddles?

Sure you can have reviews on mega-sites, but there’s a place on the Internet for qualified opinions, and actual quality product information, too. That place is the small retailer’s site.

Before the whole Specialized vs. Volagi madness took center stage, I was looking at some practical and specific ways for any small business to easily test the e-commerce waters. We looked at the importance of becoming a knowledge base for people, an authentic and trusted source of quality information, and from there we moved into getting specific and setting up a basic WordPress site. Today I’m offering some organizational tips and organizational resources to help you get ready to merchandise your product on-line.

Know Your Product Categories and Attributes

Even if you’ll only be posting one item at a time, trust me, you need to know that product’s category and its attributes. Category is a relatively simple term, but give it sufficient thought. You might not have a fancy database to work with right now, but, trust me, life will be much easier for you later on if you start thinking in these terms now. So I have this Surly Big Dummy frame and fork (aka “frameset”) I’m thinking of posting up here for sale. How would I categorize it? Start super-broad and then zoom in. Here’s on example.

Sports and Outdoors > Cycling > Frames and Framesets > Framesets (include the fork) > Commuting/Cargo

Try to define your category first, then check your work against the overlord of all things taxonomy and classification, Google:

Google Product Taxonomy Example

Now change your category structure to make it like Google. Why am I acting like such a badass when it comes to Amazon, but shrinking from going against the Google grain? Because Google’s in the business of getting your products found by people who need them. Think your product is unique enough that you need your own taxonomy and should ignore Google’s? Make sure you haven’t been drinking, and then model it as closely as possible, because chances are you’re wrong, but always keep in mind that you can be more specific than Google. Once they stop at “bicycle frames,” for instance, I might keep sub-dividing into “frame” and “frame and fork” categories. Whatever you do, never be more vague than they are. Why not just check the Google link I’ve provided first? Because you want to train yourself to think in terms of categories. It’s like crunches for the rippling six pack e-commerce abs you’ll eventually have. One day you might be sitting in a room listening to a pitch from a search engine ranking specialist, and suddenly realize–thanks to your well developed understanding of this stuff-that he’s full of shit. You’d be surprised how big an advantage instinctive organization can be when it comes to getting your information found, and making site visitors happy.

“Attributes” is by now a technical term in the world of content management systems for serious e-commerce companies, but everyone should use them. Simply put, they’re aspects of a product that lets people compare it to other similar products. “Color” and “size” are examples of very common attributes, but when thinking about what you want to sell, you want to be much better organized than just listing these really common attributes (sometimes referred to as “options” because they’re the attributes that most often show up in pull-down menus on product pages). Knowing a fill list of your product’s attributes means answering all questions a consumer might have–consumers tend to like that. For examples of bad or completely missing attributes, try to buy something complicated off Craig’s list. Here’s an example from the Big Dummy frameset I’m going to sell:

  • Frame Material
  • Head Tube Type
  • Fork Steerer Tube Diameter
  • Seatpost Diameter
  • Rear Dropout Spacing
  • Rear Dropout Type
  • Maximum Tire Size
  • Wheel Size
  • Front Dropout Spacing
  • Water Bottle Bosses
  • Color
  • Size

So that’s the list of questions you want to be able to answer for your site visitor. Think of the resulting set of attributes as “tags,” because all attributes are essentially information tags that help people find things. And by all means refer to Amazon and other retailers already selling the item in question, and check out their attributes, too. There’s always a chance they thought of more attributes than you have, and your goal should be to answer all of the customers’ questions as quickly and easily as possible.

From here we want to look at some free and simple resources that are out there to help you merchandise your product. That’s where we’ll be going next.