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Bicycle Retailer - Roll: Bicycle Company begins selling customizable bikes online

Bicycle Retailer - Roll: Bicycle Company begins selling customizable bikes online

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BRAIN) – Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, retailer Stuart Hunter, who owns four Roll: Bicycle Company shops in Ohio, has begun delivery of his new line of custom bikes.

The Roll: Bicycle Company bikes are available online and can be customized to suit the rider's needs and tastes. Each Sport, City or Adventure model can be configured in 12 frame and component color combinations using the online bike-builder tool. Rides can also choose from an array of accessories and upgrades to further tailor their bike to fit their needs and personal style.

Hunter said that through the Roll: brand he hopes to provide a unique customer experience to help alleviate fears and challenges many consumers experience in bicycle retail, and deliver a high-quality and personalized bike.

"What got me into bikes is pretty simple. I loved biking as a kid, and after a successful career in retail design, I was looking to get back into shape," said Hunter, who opened the first Roll: retail store in 2005. "My experience trying to buy a bike for myself wasn't good, and just didn't make any sense to me as a customer or a designer. Building on the experience in our shops and by leveraging technology with the roll: Bicycle Company, we are now able to build the bikes that we want to ride ourselves, and to share that experience in a very personal way with a much wider group of likeminded riders, one bike at a time."

The bikes are also custom fit to the rider via Roll:'s proprietary perfect fit system, which uses three body measurements provided by the customer. Once bike size is determined, the tool then calculates the optimal saddle height and cockpit set up, including handlebar height. The bikes are ready for pick-up at a Roll: retail location or delivery in 48 hours. Each bike is assembled by hand in Ohio and ship for free in the U.S. in a flatpack box. Customers can finish assembly in four steps using a provided tool. Roll:'s bike models start at $699.

Roll: also provides a '50 Days to Ride' guarantee to ensure customers get the exact bike they are looking for.

Forbes - How This Niche Retailer Reinvented The Online Customer Experience, One Bike At A Time

Forbes - How This Niche Retailer Reinvented The Online Customer Experience, One Bike At A Time

It might not sound sporting, but customer experience "appropriation"–borrowing and repurposing what's working for companies in non-competing industries–is a technique I recommend when I’m consulting on customer experience design and innovation. And, happily, the roll: Bicycle Company customer experience borrows unabashedly from noncompetitive companies. It owes debts to Amazon and Zappos for the standards they’ve set in easy shopping/easy returns and to Apple for the glorious MacBook "unboxing" experience, which roll: Bicycle Company has emulated in the way it packages its bikes to improve both shipping and the customer’s experience of receiving a new bicycle.

What follows is my interview with founder Stuart Hunter. Let’s dig in.

Micah Solomon: How did you come up with the idea of selling bicycles online?

Stuart Hunter, CEO: First, I was aware that the consumer experience is shifting toward a tailored, omnichannel experience in other retail sectors, and that this was influencing customer expectations in the bike channel as well. Second, there is a shift happening in the industry right now, as the “Big Bike” brands in the U.S. scramble to retain market share in the face of a flat market, a declining number of stores (from 6,000 down to under 4,000 in ten years), and changing consumer shopping habits. Speaking more personally, nobody was building the type of bikes that I myself wanted to ride every day, bikes that had the same ride qualities and attention to detail as a custom-built race bike, but that didn’t cost a fortune.

Solomon: How have you’ve refined your online customer experience to compensate for the limitations of ecommerce?

Hunter: Fit and road-test are essentials here, so it was important that we build a simple tool–we call it “Perfect Fit”–that people could self-navigate to ensure the correct fit of their bikes. As far as road-test, our “50 days to ride” guarantee is key. And developing our “Flatpack” box for shipping simplifies home assembly [which compensates for the reality that roll: can’t set your bicycle up for you in person, as would a brick-and-mortar-bike shop].

Flatpack Box, after arrival. (Credit: roll: Bicycle Company)

Solomon: Are there ways in which your customer experience is actually superior to the traditional bike shop experience?

Hunter: Our entire online approach distills the experience of buying a bike in the most transparent and compelling way possible, putting the customer in control of the process so that they can design their bike, have it built to order, fit to them, and shipped for free. Having said that, what distinguishes us starts with the bikes themselves. We don’t limit ourselves by following model years; this allows us to make changes and improvements constantly, and we’re personally testing the bikes to destruction, riding them every day, and sweating every component and detail.

Solomon: Tell me about a challenge that stumped you, at least temporarily, when creating roll: Bicycle Company.

Hunter: How to ship bikes is a major challenge, and we’ve invested a lot of time and effort to overcome this. This is a problem that has two faces: “outbound” [the company perspective] and “arrival” [how it appears to the customer upon arrival].  On the outbound side, bikes are large, heavy items that are expensive for us to pack and ship. On the arrival side—seeing this from a customer’s perspective—there’s fear of shipping cost, or of difficulty in assembly, or of what happens if everything’s not quite right. Our solution to both sides of this challenge is our Flatpack box, which is more akin to a laptop case than a traditional bike box. On the logistical, “outbound” side, the Flatpack box represents something that is as compact and efficient as possible. On the arrival/customer side, the Flatpack approach offers a great “unboxing” experience that affords the customer easy assembly at home, using a single tool that’s included in the box. Its compact size also allows us to offer free shipping, removing that final barrier—shipping cost—that has stood in the way of people ordering bikes online in the past.

Solomon: Do you have any final customer experience hints for other entrepreneurs?

Hunter: I see businesses getting lost in focus groups and in the battlefield of fighting for consensus. The important challenge, I think, is much more personal: to figure out what works for a single person. Make your product and experience the best it can possibly be, and then go find enough people who share your vision to connect with and to build your community around. Know that you are your own best customer; if something doesn’t work for you, chances are it won’t work for somebody else either.

Micah Solomon: Author, consultant, keynote speaker, thought leader on customer service, customer experience, corporate culture change, innovation, and hospitality. Email or call 484-343-5881

PYMNTS - Warby of X: roll: Bicycle Company Goes Omnichannel

PYMNTS - Warby of X: roll: Bicycle Company Goes Omnichannel
Buying bikes online can bring up a lot of fears for consumers. When it comes to assessing fit, style and assembly, purchasing a bike online can be a daunting task.

But that doesn’t mean the experience has to stay that way.

Stuart Hunter, founder and CEO of roll: Bicycle Company explained how taking its bike sales online is helping customers not only overcome their fear of purchase, but also find a completely customized product that can be returned if it’s not the perfect fit.

In this week’s Warby of X installment, Hunter shared how the digital approach is helping to bridge the gap between wary online consumers and personalized bikes that can provide the type of experience they think they can only find in store.

Here is an excerpt of the conversation.

PYMNTS: How did roll: Bicycle Company get started?

SH: The idea for roll: Bicycle Company was born in our brick and mortar shops. The way that customers shop for and buy bikes is out of step with the way consumers shop in other categories, which often comes as a surprise to a customer when they step foot in a bike store. The ability to personalize and tailor to suit individual needs does not exist in an industry which largely follows an off the shelf approach. This was the spark for us to create a much more engaged experience, and personalized bikes for customers, and to use technology to deliver on that experience. More personally, we saw this as an opportunity to create and build the kind of bikes we wanted to ride ourselves, but couldn’t find, and to share them with people. Bikes with an incredible attention to detail, wonderful supple ride quality, and a modern clean design.

PYMNTS: It’s surprising that only 2 percent of bike sales take place online. Knowing that, what inspired you to pursue a direct-to-consumer eCommerce business model versus using a physical channel?

SH: It is a small number but also represents the opportunity. Buying a bike online can be a daunting prospect for customers. The three biggest fears are: Will the bike fit? Isn’t it expensive to ship and complicated to assemble? And what happens if I make a mistake? We address these concerns with our roll: perfect Fit online, our unique flat pack box, more like a large laptop case that facilitates assembly in four simple steps, and our 50 days to ride guarantee. We’ve worked extremely hard in our business to remove the fears or preconceptions that prevent people from getting on a bike, and instead allow people to focus on the excitement of riding a bike again.

PYMNTS: How does the roll: Shop fit into the business model? Can customers purchase bicycles there or is the physical location only used to fulfill orders?

SH: You can test and purchase roll: bikes in all our shops. We continue to see shops as part of the future of roll:, and look for opportunities for growth here as part of our belief in an omnichannel approach. We also know that as retail changes, the needs and expectations that the customers have for our shops also change. It’s exciting to be able to explore what bike shops become, as the traditional uses of square footage for inventory and stock recedes and the opportunity to create new experiences emerge in their place. ECommerce and brick and mortar often get painted in opposition to one another. We believe that we must meet the customers where they prefer to experience our brand, be that online, in store, at home or out on the trail.

PYMNTS: How has the company disrupted or changed the bicycle industry?

SH: I think this approach is allowing us to connect with customers who are not shopping in our industry, and ultimately to grow the customer base by inviting new riders into the community. Underpinning this, our ‘why’ has always been consistent. We want to see more people on bikes because we believe bikes can play a huge role in connecting people and building sustainable, engaged and vibrant communities. That gives us our purpose.

PYMNTS: How does the roll: Perfect Fit concept work? Did you face any challenges in convincing customers they could really create a customized, built-to-order bicycle online?

SH: It takes much of the fear out of buying a bike online, allowing a customer to be excited again. Fit is incredibly important. A bike that’s uncomfortable, or not fit correctly, is one of the main reasons we see people fall out of riding. So we place a lot of emphasis in our business on ensuring that not only are our customers riding the bikes that best suit their needs and lifestyles, but are also correctly fit to them and their riding preferences. In taking this approach online, roll: Perfect Fit lets a customer enter three simple body geometry measurements as part of our online bike builder. It combines with some simple selections on riding preferences, which in turn allows us to calculate the customer’s body geometry to correctly size and set up the contact point position of the new bike. It’s enlightening for our customers.

PYMNTS: What is the online bicycle market like? Do you have any direct competitors in the space?

SH: The space is pretty fragmented right now between companies that operate at the high end catering to existing bike enthusiasts, and companies that offer inexpensive, mass-produced bikes at the other end of the spectrum. We’re seeing that there is a lot of blue sky out there — to attract and to serve customers that don’t see themselves on the traditional cycling spectrum of novice to expert. People who want to ride and are looking for value, great quality, great bikes and a really great experience.

PYMNTS: How does roll: Bicycle Company differentiate itself and stay competitive?

SH: It starts with the bikes. We sweat every detail to make sure that what we offer and what we build is absolutely the best bike in its class and provides the best quality and value available. Then, being able to build those bikes to order and custom fit in 48 hours to suit a customer’s needs and desires is a huge win for people.

PYMNTS: What is your take on the “Warby of X” concept? Do you see direct-to-consumer evolving as sustainable business model?

SH: I believe people look for brands and people that they share common values with, and will stand behind the products and services that they sell. I think that’s also true online and in store, it’s not new. Particularly in categories that are very personal to the customer. Whether it’s glasses, or a mattress, or a bicycle, people want to know you have their back. For us our ‘50 Days to Ride’ program creates that assurance for people. It removes the fear of making a mistake to allows people to be excited about getting back on a bike. That’s a really good thing.

PYMNTS: What’s next for roll: Bicycle Company? Do you have any news or updates you can share?

SH: Stay tuned, we’re just getting started!