Breadth of choice versus depth of stock

Breadth of choice versus depth of stock

This is sure to be a huge post since we know that posts with "versus" in the title always go big

If you've tried to buy stuff from outside the country lately, you may have found that shipping is a little sticky right now. Our normal delivery scene for carbon rims is that they get ready and boxed, wait about 2 days to get consolidated, then ship, then go through customs in NY, and then get delivered to us. Once they go in a box, it's usually 5 to 7 days before they arrive. Because non-essential freight isn't being allowed to go through the normal postal channels, it needs to be shipped by commercial carrier (DHL, FedEx, UPS) instead of the mail. Lots of freight goes in commercial airlines, and global air travel is down somewhere around 75% depending on what you read and how you slice it. That takes a bite. 

After a whole lot of back and forth, we've found that we can get shipments reasonably quickly by FedEx, for around triple the normal cost. This sucks, don't get me wrong - it's an extra $50 or so per wheel set. But when your choice set is 8 days expensively or 8 weeks cheaply, well 8 weeks has its own expensiveness so we're going with the 8 days. This is still a brave new world se we really don't know how smoothly this all works, what hidden costs there are, how long we'll need to deal with this, etc. 

Which all impacts us pretty hard because we give you people an awful lot of choices. We offer 8 different carbon rim choices, which is a lot. Are that many really truly necessary? This is what we're batting around right now. We could be suffering the paradox of choice, we might be just right for the market. But the upshot is that in order to have every rim we sell in stock, we need to have 16 carbon rims on hand. That doesn't seem like all that much, I know, but it's a few grand. If we were to keep 10 sets of each rim on hand, which might be reasonable, that's all of a sudden a ton of money. 160 rims again may not seem a lot depending on your perception of our output (we're not Zipp, I'll tell you that). But having 10 sets of 8 different kinds of rims works wildly differently than having 40 sets if 2 different rim types. Anyone who would choose to be in the business of 10 x 8 instead of 40 x 2 is a fool. Not only do you get to have things in stock way more, you spend a heck of a lot less time on logistics and inventory tracking and ordering and all that BS, and critically for us you don't have to run through one. million. options with a good majority of your sales inquiries. 

There's a thin line between selling what you have in stock (push the veal!) when it may not be really right for the customer's needs, and having what you really want to sell and fits the customer's needs to a huge degree a vast percentage of the time. I know that 100% of our road and gravel customers could buy RCGs and be deliriously happy with them. I sure am. But each and every day we get at least one inquiry of do you think a 21 or 23mm width rim better suits my needs. There's not that much difference, I can almost guarantee you won't notice. 10 years ago, 13 or 14mm inside was universal for road, then we coalesced around 18 for a while, and now people seriously kill themselves over 1mm differences. 14 to 18 was a big change (almost a 30% increase in rim width!), especially on the narrower tires we all used then. The difference between 21 and 22 (almost a 5% increase), comparatively, is not a difference. Especially with the wider tires we all use now. 

Similar with depth. We've beaten wind tunnel studies to absolute death. The differences are what they are, and if I recall correctly Tour Magazine pegged the difference between the worst wheel around (Ksyrium) to a 404 at 13 watts. Your "not even that dirty" chain costs you many multiple times the difference between AL33s and 404s. 

Now, out of the other side of our mouths, in a big way we exist to help you sort out these differences. A Cafe Racer and All Road 50 have different ideal use cases, and at almost a 4mm difference in interior widths (a 16% increase) you will begin to see some notable differences. Are you going to see that big of a difference between an RCG and a Cafe Racer, at either the aerodynamics difference (small) or the weight difference (about 3% difference per wheel set)? Is there a huge handling difference in breeze? I'm not going to say they're the same, but would you notice any of these aspects in isolation or in aggregate? Same deal with All Road 50 and All Road 38. We see the width category there as the big thing, with the depth difference being of much much smaller consequence. Zipp currently has one depth of "all road" width wheels. Are we psychopaths for trying to support this sliver of choice? Probably.

This is a weird year, weird for sure. The overwhelming thing I see is that people are sweating timelines. The season is going to be short because of restrictions and knock-on effects from them, and people are going to want to kill themselves having as much fun as they can in the shortest possible time. Waiting and waiting isn't going to cut it. So we've made the choice to go deeper and narrower. We'll still have preorders for everything, and we'll try as hard as we can to keep the preorder schedules (there will be some instances where stuff gets dragged out a bit - the world is quite far from normal and quite far away from our control). 

It's all about trying to meet what you all want as well as we can. In times when lead times were shorter, the array of choice is very tough but workable. Right now, we're sort of cutting straight to the "gun to your head, what do you choose" answer paradigm that we so often end up at anyway. We're not ever going to willfully sell what we don't think will work outrageously well for you ("push the veal!"), but we are going to shade more toward "if you had to cut the menu in half, what would you keep" type operations. 

Yesterday was the first weekday without a blog post in 42 days. It was a good run. We've got some things planned for next week, including the video post of "how to prep and lace a front wheel," a survey that we're dying to get some answers to, and some news about the rim brake rim market (it's tightening up!) 

Have a great weekend. 

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Joe, too bad you didn’t consider the RCGs. Dave built a set for my road bike that, likewise, won’t take any more than 29mm. I’m two years and two sets of rubber in, and they’re as true and solid as the day they arrived. I recommend November every chance I get, and look forward to the next set Dave builds for me.


It’s easy to sympathize with the dilemma. I pulled the trigger on a set of café racers this week. They are for a road bike that doesn’t have clearance for any more than 29mm of rubber. I considered the goat but the rcg didn’t even tempt me, weight difference is negligible so why wouldn’t I get the deeper ‘slightly’ more aero wheel.

Thinking of the all road 38 for my gravel rig, the 50? What’s that going to offer paired with 40+mm of rubber, less aero drag from 12mm per spoke vs 120 grams. There isn’t much in it is there.


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