Improbable inventory

Bicycle Biz Economics business products

Back in 2017, we wrote a post about why it takes a little while for us to get a set of wheels onto your doorstep. Things have moved on even a bit from then, and one of us* came up with what I think is a great idea yesterday which may have a bunch to do with this, so I thought I'd take that post as a jumping off point and roll with it.

When we started, we had two wheel products - 24/24 laced 27mm deep Kinlin rims with Novatec hubs, and 20/24 laced 50mm deep carbon tubulars with Novatec hubs. We had Campy free hubs available if you needed them. Our lead times were pretty short - we'd get a set of wheels out in under a week for sure. Disc wheels weren't yet a blip on the radar, everyone had road quick release, there was no Boost or XD/XDR or Cannondale Ai dishing or 6 bolt/center lock or straight pull/j-bend or any of that. Soon, however, that all changed, and we started doing builds with White Industries and Chris King hubs, and then the carbon clinchers in different depths, and then you wake up one day and there are 103 different variants of a HED Belgium+ build with I9 center lock hubs. 103. And that's just the 700c size, and doesn't even cover all of it because there are hub colors that our system won't let us show because the "product variant" capacity is overfilled as it is. And it excludes Campagnolo and XDR drivers, and it excludes Cannondale Ai dishing, and it excludes any spoke/nipple combo other than CX Rays and brass nipples, both black. 

This isn't even the correct rim, it's an Eroica.

Plenty of people have had me tell them "we could keep $100k worth of hubs in stock and still have terrible odds of having the ones you want," and that's very true. So we've taken the sane decision to stock nothing in terms of hubs, and almost nothing for rims. 

Since we first cracked open Pandora's box on choice, our customers have chosen the "make my wheels my own" option way more often than not. We've adapted the original FSW moniker a couple of times now, and we've also had a Select line a few times (originally used with the Nimbus Ti hubs). These were all attempts to make a standardized wheel set at high value, with quicker turnaround. 

With the exception of Nimbus Ti, which was a bit of a success disaster, these have all fallen flat in the "post choice" world. People have simply chosen custom options more often than not. Nimbus Ti was the different one, and I'll posit that it had three compelling differences. One was that it was based on a then-hugely popular rim, the Pacenti SL23. Two was that the hubs were an identifiably November product but came from the top-tier-est of all top tier suppliers, White Industries. Three was that the price was just ludicrous. The whole predicate was that the pricing worked so long as we could walk in the door, churn out wheels for a full shift, and that's that. As we've beaten to death several times in prior posts, the sales support function turned out to be more than the program's margins could bear. The birth of road disc and proliferation of axle standards and drive types didn't help either - ordering 120 sets of hubs from WI isn't cheap by anyone's measure. But volume was there, holy cow was volume there. But I was working 70 hours a week and I was miserable, and my income is about a comma away from justifying working that much - I could have worked retail with zero "stay up all night worrying about work" stress and been in the same place.

However, focusing your product line does do some nice things. I won't disguise the fact that I absolutely loathe Hunt as a company. They've now taken to calling one of their wheels "the fastest alloy disc wheels on the planet" because they tested them against Zipp 202s and some other somewhat irrelevant alloy disc wheels. Their marketing defines baseless sensationalism. But they are successful at PR/marketing and product placement. No CyclingNews general wheel story EVER runs without a set of Hunt wheels in there. And when you build yourself that kind of a mouthpiece, and put that mouthpiece to work selling rebranded Kinlin rims and Bitex hubs (maybe Novatec), pre-built in the Far East, you can turn that into a high margin business. When you focus your buys, you get to buy in volume, and when you buy those OEM-centered parts in volume, the price goes down. Their raw cost on the components for the wheel set in question is probably substantially less than what we pay for a set of Kinlin rims buying them as we do in ones and twos. 

Without focusing on a limited range of products, we can't get our pricing down to be able to compete with some of this pre-packaged stuff, and without being price competitive with it, we're dead in the water as far as pre-configured wheels goes.

So our lot is cast with offering dizzying amounts of choice and all that that entails. And it works. But Mike and I are both relentless improvers and tinkerers, and are perfectly happy to fix what ain't broken. The market's landscape moves every freaking day, and part of what makes this fun is making up your playbook to predict and respond to how those moves will play out. 

Now to that idea.* As we discussed recently, the alloy rim brake rim supply landscape is contracting, and some of our favorites are going away. Is there a chance for us to put some shoulder into that market and make a play? We'll soon find out because we'll soon resurrect an old way of asking you. If we can put together a great product and structure it to be somewhat price advantaged to how it would be as a "one of a zillion options" product, we might have a great play there. Don't know yet. 

*It's Mike's idea, he just doesn't want to own it yet until he knows if it's good or not. 

 


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  • Dan V on

    Personally, if I was going to buy a set of rim brake wheels, they’d be 24/28 or 28/32 HED Belgium+ with DT 350’s, brass nips and CX Rays. Just felt like throwing my $0.02 in there, cause I feel like I’m not alone.

  • scott on

    Keep up the good fight! Sure glad I got a set of those Select rim brake wheels!!



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