In a world where you can customize your coffee, to your car, to your sneakers, the bicycle industry hasn’t necessarily followed suite.
“There’s a degree of personalization and customization that’s available to me in all channels of retail that just isn’t available to the average rider in bikes,” says Stuart Hunter, founder of roll: and new custom-built bicycle venture roll: Bicycle Company. “Customers shopping habits are changing.”
Creating the best customer experience possible was the main reason Hunter started roll: 10 years ago.
Hunter’s work in retail design and and retail brand development took him from London to Columbus in 1996. After a three-year stint he headed to San Francisco until 2002, coming back to Columbus with a passion for cycling.
While on the west coast, Hunter took to two wheels to get back in shape and was met with a lackluster customer experience.
“Having built a career building consumer-centric retail brands, to find myself as a customer walking into a bike store and getting completely ignored because I didn’t look like a cyclist, kind of was a really tough thing for me,” Hunter says.
The situation made him realize that if he wasn’t finding a great customer experience, others weren’t either.
“That’s really where the idea for roll: came from,” Hunter says. “What is it that we can do from a retail standpoint to create an experience which is much more open and embracing and celebrates riding and invites more people to ride.”
Over a decade, roll: has accumulated four locations (three in Columbus, one in Chicago) and watched the industry and retail landscape change.
The bike industry has not been immune to the changing retail landscape that has shifted an increasing number of customers online. The problem is many of the independent bike dealers which supply roll:’s stock restrict or don’t allow online sales.
“So we have a channel that is being held back from being able to adapt to a changing marketplace,” Hunter says.
Bicycle manufacturers are also opting to launch their own online sales programs and go directly to customers. Hunter says in a flat industry, it creates an aggressive fight to gather market share rather than create market growth.
roll: Bicycle Company will gather its market share by bringing customization to an antiquated supply chain. Customers can design their own bike built just for them.
Two simple questions start the process – what are you going to use the bike for and where are you going to ride? roll: Bicycle Company will outfit the commuter to the off-roader with three models of their 1:Bike – sport, city or adventure.
roll:’s bikes are not only customized to why, but to a rider’s body.
“One of the neat things that we do is the roll: Perfect Fit system, which is a system that uses a full laser body scanner, that allows us to calculate an individual’s body geometry and then to fit them to exact style and size of bike that they need,” Hunter says.
The process rounds out with choosing colors and accessories – rack, fenders, lights, child seat, etc. – all built specifically for a customer’s needs. roll: also recognizes those needs might change over time.
“We’ve developed what we call the one bike concept, which uses a universal frame and chassis for all of our builds,” Hunter says.
By switching out the contact points – handlebar, grips, saddle, wheels – a city rider becomes a sport.
“There’s a lot of versatility in the bikes down the line,” Hunter says.
When custom bikes can run into the thousands of dollars, roll: Bicycle Company is aiming for a price point that’s more accessible to a broader range of riders with custom builds starting at $700.
Hunter has adopted a source global, build local approach, partnering with the best component manufactures in the industry, and assembling all of the bikes in Columbus with a 48-hour turnaround.
“From a distribution standpoint, not only are we able to distribute through our stores, but also because we are in control of our own brand, we are able to distribute and sell online,” Hunter says.
From the roll: Perfect Fit system to customers now being able to build their own bike online and manage that process online, “Technology has always been the underpinning of the customer experience in our store,” Hunter says.
But roll: Bicycle Company is more than just technology for technology’s sake.
“I think what we’re seeing here is technology that’s enabling an industry that is a very traditional industry to emerge and evolve to the next level in line with what customer expectations are,” Hunter says.
Shaped by other sectors of retail and expected across all channels, customers expect online sales and customers expect customization.
roll: Bicycle Company recently launched a Kickstarter to expedite the process in a city where bike riding contends with seasons.
Funds will go towards final build out and tooling and the website housing the online bike builder. But more than money, “I think Kickstarter has become a great platform that allows small businesses and entrepreneurs not just to seek funding, but also to share the story of the business and the idea,” Hunter says.
It’s two wheels ahead, albeit at a slower pace, even if the Kickstarter doesn’t fund. But four days in, it has already hit the halfway mark – a generally good sign.
For more information, visit rollbicycles.com.