Friday
Nov122010

We'll be at Vint Hill CX, giving away demos, swag and Gift Certificates

The Wheelhouse demo fleet will be at 540Cyclocross at Vint Hill Cyclocross tomorrow, which we're sponsoring by giving the winner of every honkin race one of these:

Even if you don't win, you can check out our demo bikes and wheels, pick up some swag (lots of water bottles, but you have to stop by early if you want a pair of our vaunted cool weather gloves - not many pairs left) and buy us a beer (with our margins, we can't do it ourselves).

Friday
Nov122010

Yes, we offer Payment Plans. 

Since we launched we've offered Payment Plans. Now that our 11/19 order deadline is looming, we're getting a lot more questions about how they work, who qualifies, and what they cost. Here's the lowdown: How our Payment Plans work:
  • Instead of paying 100% up front by 11/19 when you make your purchase, we split your payment into two parts - half by the 11/19 deadline and the other half when your products arrive, but before we ship to you.
  • We can't extend payments past the arrival date of your products. We don't want to be in the financing and collecting business. Instead, we chose to be in the sell-awesome-cycling-products-at-great-prices business.
Who qualifies:
  • Anyone who wants.
  • It's not really a credit application because, well, if you don't pay we still have half your money and all your November products. This makes it easy for us to trust you, so we don't run your credit score or ask for a guarantor or anything.
What do they cost:
  • We do attach a financing fee which varies based on what product you are purchasing.
  • For Wheelhouse framesets, RFSW wheels and FSW wheels, you pay 55% at time of purchase, and 55% when the product arrives with us, ready for shipping to you. So that's a finance charge of 10% of your total purchase.
  • For the Wheelhouse Max Perkins, it's 52.5% up front, and 52.5% before we ship to you, for a 5% finance charge.
  • The finance charge applies to the merchandise total only, not the shipping or tax (if applicable). But the shipping and tax payments are also split into two parts, so that your payments up front and at the end are exactly the same size.
Our Payment Plans are not a gimmick or a promotion. It's the same approach as our regular model: in exchange for asking you to part with your money up front, we only ask that you part with about half as much money. If you can't part with all of it up front, we can't save you quite as much. Simple as that. If you want to take us up on the Payment Plan, contact us here. Let us know what product(s) you want and we'll simply email you an invoice for the first payment, which you can pay online with your credit card or PayPal account. We'll hit you up for the rest when your stuff is here.
Tuesday
Nov092010

Fun with Web Metrics

We pay a lot of attention to web metrics. We want to know how people are finding out about us, how long they're hanging out on the site, what content they're reading, and whether Dave's or my blog entries have the most page views. (Help me win - forward this one to your team list.)

Since we've told you pretty much everything else about our business, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't share with you what we think we know about you. So here are some of our analytical findings, ranked in the order in which I think of them:

How long you people are hanging out:

  • Our web visits are up 266% this month over last. So that's pretty good, especially since we were pretty pleased with last month's numbers to begin with.
  • The average time someone is spending on the site is down 16% from last month, dipping just below 4 minutes per visit. That's still pretty good, particularly given the traffic increase. Our first month the average time per visit was almost 10 minutes. Know that advice your coach gives about not starting a TT too hard? Yeah, we don't listen to it either.
  • This single page has the longest average time per visit on it - over 6 minutes on that page alone.
  • Over half of our traffic is from people who have visited the site 5 times or more. One out of ten of you have been here 50 times at least. (You just can't get enough carbon fiber, can you?)
  • Look at the NovemberBicycles.com visitor to the left of you. Now look at the one on your right. One of you has already been here at least once today. 

Where all you people are coming from:

  • About 1/3 of our visits come from GamJams.net, and half our traffic comes from GamJams or the NewsRoll on blogs around the country (thanks GJ Ambassadors!). 
  • The most productive of which is this dude's blog in Nebraska. If we didn't already have Pro Deal Pricing for everyone, I'd give it to him special.
  • About 1/4 comes direct - that is, people just typing in "NovemberBicycles.com" or coming from someplace that isn't a website - like email. Normally this is a reflection of brand awareness. People started to know who we were pretty quickly.
  • We get a nice chunk of traffic from Google as well, though about 95% of it is searches on "November Bicycles" or similar terms.
  • One guy searched for "What do I have to do to become a carbon fiber bicycle engineer?" The irony of finding us is not lost on me.
  • We get almost as much traffic from Facebook as from Google. And almost exactly half as much from Twitter as we do from Facebook. 

Who are you people anyway?

  • Our Facebook fans are 81% male and 18% female. (I know. Aren't you glad we don't engineer the bikes ourselves? The top tube wouldn't reach all the way to the head tube.)
  • We have traffic from 44 states so far. Help us hit the cycle by forwarding our site to any racers you know in Maine, Mississippi, Wyoming, Idaho or Dakota (either type).

What are you looking at?

 

Tuesday
Nov092010

Support And Promotion

So this isn’t the blog post that I referred to in the comments yesterday.  We’ll run that one a little later because, not surprisingly, we have the concept of supporting cycling at top of mind right now. 

We see the way in which we support the sport as different and more effective than what we see other brands doing right now.  If you want to race bikes, you’ve got to have a bike – preferably one which gives you competitive parity with those against whom you’ll be racing.  No bike, no bike racer.  No bike racer, no bike race.  The cost of cycling equipment that puts you at competitive parity is a huge barrier to entry into (and staying in – the streets are thick with ex-racers who couldn’t deal with equipment cost anymore) the sport, and our business model is aimed squarely at mitigating those barriers. 

Go to a college race some time and see some of the janked up hoopties some of those kids are rocking – and they’re racing well and getting fast and learning about the sport and learning the life lessons that the sport has to offer (yes, I am one of those hippies who thinks that many sports actually have valid things to teach those who play them).  If they can’t already, they’ll soon be dropping my behind left and right.  They’re getting around those barriers to entry by hook or crook, but I bet there’d be a lot more of them playing the game if the cost of entry was lower.  Same with kids – for every one of those kids like the one in the picture with the Lightweight wheels that got emailed around to everyone a couple of weeks ago, there are a whole bunch who want to get in the game but can’t because of equipment.  For licensed juniors and collegiate cyclists, we give a no questions asked 10% discount on frames and wheels.   It’s a good thing we don’t have a board of directors because if we did, and they knew what our margins are, and we told them that we’re giving juniors and college racers a 10% discount on frames and wheels, they’d throw us out the window. 

We aren’t exactly a deep pockets corporation right now, and even though we’re doing this thing more or less on a shoestring, it’s taken a fair volume of resources to get off the ground.  The product samples that we’ve gotten haven’t been “free” samples, and there are other costs which we’ve borne – our beautiful demo fleet, setting up our business license and structure, insurance, shipping, driving laps around creation, web site domains, etc.  None of these things is a huge expense on its own, but put them all in a pile and eventually you’re talking about a legitimate pile of jingle.   Another big expense that I didn’t include in that list is promotion. 

Too many people equate promotion with support.  Support can be a subset of promotion, but the two are not mutually inclusive.  Sponsoring pro teams, in my view, is promotion that does nothing to support the sport.  It is promotion that it designed to differentiate a “super premium” product from other “super premium” products, mostly in the absolute absence of any quantitative differentiation.  The end game of promotion like this is to support super premium price points (omission of quotes 100% intentional) and to sell more units at those super premium price points.  Buying ads on race broadcasts and in other race-leaning media is purely fulfillment against that goal.  The only affect that this has on citizen bike racers is negative – prices go up.   If you’d like to become as convinced of this as I am, go check out Rick Vosper’s site (www.blog.rvms.com) and start from the beginning. 

Sponsoring amateur teams is one of the great ways to support the sport.  Teams are the backbone of racing, and supporting them is great.  Several big brands sponsor grass roots teams, and we do too.  The level of support varies, but I won’t ever say that increasing access to quality products is a bad thing.  That is an avenue of promotion that is definitely categorized as “supporting the sport.”

Off the topic of teams but staying with promotion, our big promotional effort so far (other than sponsoring teams) has been handing out gloves and bottles to racers, mostly at races.  The gloves have become as ubiquitous at local CX races as GamJams socks are in the road peloton.  They are a useful benefit to people, and promote our brand.  Same with the bottles.  So, when you’re sitting in my seat, our method of promotional support of actual racers is a heck of a lot more beneficial than paying millions to sponsor the “doped up slabs of meat,” as Rick Vosper calls them.

Sponsoring races is another good one.  Races are expensive and a financial risk to the promoter – I spent 2009 acutely aware of this as I was developing the Lost River Classic with NCVC.  Curiously, in my experience with that event, only two cycling related companies came forward with any meaningful support – The Lost River Barn (www.lostriverbarn.com) and GamJams (www.gamjams.net).  It’s worth noting that GamJams has supported a list of races over the past couple of years that far exceeds any other individual entity.   Every other endemic company declined.  I need to point out that the Altarum Institute was an incredibly generous sponsor of the race, and a great partner to the project.  We are far from able to sponsor races with any significant cash contributions right now, but we’re doing what we can.

But the biggest way in which we can, and do, support racing is to provide you with as direct an access as possible to really great racing equipment, through our business model.  The genesis of our business came when, through our own personal experiences, we found that the cycling industry doesn’t do the job that we think it could of supporting racers and racing.  We set out to do it differently, purely focused on that goal. 

Thanks for your support.

Sunday
Nov072010

The Shift (Part 1)

At the outset of this venture, my primary concern was that there wouldn't be any uptake on a new and upstart brand.  There have been a lot of brands that came up out of nowhere, of which the majority are more or less stillborn.  Some of them make it - not too long ago there was no such thing as Cervelo, for example.  It's hard to sell bikes or wheels with no brand credibility, or an unattractive brand.  Strong guys might win some races on brands at which your average consumer would reflexively turn his nose up, but your average consumer is still turning his nose up at those bikes.  Simply winning races doesn't do it - although it doesn't hurt.

But my big fear was that we were going to wind up in the category of Sca------, and Se---, and a lot of others.  I could make a lot of guesses at why it appears that we haven't (and I will, shortly), but first to discuss THAT it seems like we haven't. 

First, while we may not have come out of the gate smelling like Sc--ta---, and S---e, I certainly can't say that people are responding to us as though we changed the paradigm of performance or technology.  If someone were to say we have, I'd correct them.  We have not.  And, if anything else, in one dimension, we've stretched the limit of credibility by even having a brand.  It takes some amount of brass ones to attach a brand onto something that someone else produces with zero amount of input (other than the credibility of buying it) from the entity which will eventually brand it.  Nonetheless, it makes a lot more sense to have a brand than not to - if nothing else you need a name for your web site, right?  So here we are, claiming to have advanced the ball zero amount along the leading edge, and justifying the having of a brand pretty much purely for the purposes of identification in the mast basic sense of the concept. 

Being in that position, you might expect people to reflexively turn their noses up at our bikes.  They might well be doing so, but neither of us has heard, directly or indirectly, anything along those lines.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  We spent at day at the well run and very festive Tacchino Cross Race, and several people who've had ZERO brand impression prior to walking up to the bikes today had very favorable things to say about the bikes and wheels.  Obviously, in writing this, and every other thing we've done, we're trying to leave you with a good impression of our products - why bother otherwise?  Yet some of the strongest positives we heard all day were from people who've never read a word we wrote?  What does that say to us and about us?

First, maybe we should write less and display more.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and "show and tell" works better than two dimensional images.  It's hard to get to too many events to show the stuff to all of the people we'd like to reach, but this is an avenue on which we definitely place a premium.  Come see us on Saturday at the Vint Hill CX race next weekend if you are out that way, or come on Sunday's GamJams team ride, which leaves from the Whole Foods in Friendship Heights at 930.  See for yourself.   Even better, go for a spin and feel for yourself.  The bikes and wheels look great and ride better.

Second, the whole thing about "looking good," I think, has a lot of components.  Our gear has a very plainly stated purposefulness to its aesthetic.  To me, it says "utility" and "quality."  You can't hide much behind clear coat.  The tube joins on nearly all bikes constructed like ours are painted black - not ours.  If you look up by the brake bridge, you'll see a very neatly done transition wrap layer.  If it wasn't going to be on display under clear coat, it wouldn't need to look this good.  At first glance, you might (or might not - I've just read Blink so I'm prone to overthinking first impressions at the moment) think that it looks odd, since you don't normally see this transition.  But if you look at it for a second, you'll think "man, that is REALLY neatly done." 

We also think we've hit a chord with our "bike flavored bike" thing.  I think people are sick of acronyms and shapes that make no sense.  The other side of that coin might be "inelegance," but I don't think so. But the frame looks like it's going to do what it's supposed to do, and tells you so. 

We keep coming back to the concept of transparency, but we're convinced that the transparency with which we've done this whole thing (and not just the clear coat on our frames) lets you know what we're about.  Remember when Anheuser-Busch and Miller (and maybe Coors, I can't remember) came out with "microbrewery" brands?  It's easy to overstate the whole "passion" angle - and I wouldn't necessarily use "passionate" to describe the motivation that got either Mike or me into this.  I mean, in a way we're passionate, but the genesis of the whole thing was "somebody's got to call BS on the way this bike thing's going down, and I think it's up to us" as opposed to some abstract thought that kept us awake at night.  Selling enough stuff to not lose our shirts keeps us up at night, figuring out what to sell and how to do it is pretty straightforward. 

I know Mike has some thoughts about retailing and its processes, so I'm going to cut myself short here (your eyes are probably rolling into the back of your head by now, anyway).  But I'm glad that our intuitions about how to avoid saddling ourselves with the albatross of creating a bike that people wouldn't feel at least neeutral or better about associating themselves with weren't misplaced.