One of the greatest brand challenges we face is how to separate expectations of product quality from price. We are less expensive than other brands not because our rims and frames cost less to manufacture than the ones ridden in the ProTour (they probably cost us more since our volume is so much lower), but because we sell direct. This means when you buy wheels from us, you're not paying a cut to the shop or online retailer and a distributor, in addition to the manufacturing brand. We also spend less on overhead, marketing and R&D than bigger companies, but again because our volume is so low I expect as a percentage of sales all of our expenses are in line with bigger brands.
Still, when people see that our wheels cost $1400 while similar wheels from Zipp, Enve, Bontrager or HED cost $2800, the first explanation for the delta that comes to mind is that because ours are less expensive they must therefore be cheaper, or of lesser quality. For some, that rationale (however inaccurate) is a primary selling proposition. We hear this all the time: "You should check out November - they're a good option BECAUSE they're less expensive."
As more transparency creeps into the marketplace and more direct brands grow to prominence, we're starting to see the perspective of our products evolve. For our customers who understand the expense of multi-tiered distribution (and can rationally accept that it drives up product cost, but not product quality), the elevator pitch of our brand starts to look like, "Oh, November? They make nice stuff AND they're less expensive."
We like the direction this evolution is going, but it's still not quite right. Why? Because food trucks.
While I like a kimchi taco as much as the next guy, my greatest appreciation of food trucks is the customer experience and expectation shift they engender. When you hand over $8 at the truck, the person handing you the lamb meatball sub isn't some clerk or order taker or customer service agent. She is the CEO and/or the Chief Product Officer. It's her name on the truck, and the output of her very hands between the bun. This is profound, because when the manufacturer is in direct contact with the end consumer, quality is as high as it can be. The person running the truck is doing so because she is passionate about the product. Its quality is how she defines herself professionally, and often personally. If your meatball is cold on the inside, you will walk right straight back to the truck and tell her - the CEO and/or Chief Product Officer. Knowing this, and being so acutely aware of how any sort of product dissatisfaction can result in the loss of business as well as create a sense of personal disappointment, food truck owners take extra measure to ensure the product exceeds expectations.
In the bike business, as you add layers of distribution, you are distancing the product maker further and further from the product user. If someone building wheels in a factory in Indiana or Taiwan doesn't adequately destress them or goes too light on NDS tension, that wheel is ultimately going to disappoint the guy who buys it at the LBS, who saw it stocked via the distributor, who received it from the shipping department at the warehouse where the guy underbuilt it. The buyer takes it back to the shop, where the mechanic realizes it's easier to finish the wheelbuilder's job himself (with varying degrees of competence depending on the mechanic) than to gripe to the distributor or the brand. The builder never knows quality suffers (I'm sure he expects it when he takes shortcuts) because the feedback loop is broken. Brands work hard to avoid situations like this through QA processes, but the reality is that the direct feedback from customer to brand creates a proactive incentive for the brand to make the product as good as possible, not as good as necessary. And if you think about it, the guy who buys the wheels isn't the brand's customer. Neither is the shop in many cases. The brand's customer is very often the distributor, who isn't customer facing at all.
So yes, brands like us that sell direct are less expensive. But we're not good because we are less expensive. Rather, the very business model that makes us less expensive also ensures that we are as close to our customers as possible, creating an environment where the highest possible quality is a prerequisite to success. So as the public perspective of our brand continues to evolve, I hope it moves past "they have good stuff because they're less expensive," and then past "their products are good and they're less expensive," and ultimately settles on "their products are good BECAUSE they are less expensive," where the direct model gets some credit not just for lowering expenses but for making sure our wheels are food truck fresh.
This philosophy, by the way, is also why we only sell Rail rims to custom wheelbuilders and dealers, and not complete wheels. No matter where you buy our wheels, we want to ensure that the seller remains directly responsible for the creation of the finished product. Quality simply stays as high as possible that way.