Mad Wheel Men

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As Mad Men has largely taught the people who didn't already know it, the commerce of advertising traditionally existed by the agency's media function buying space and then reselling it to clients. The creative side of everything got done to win the business, but the shameless commerce was actually all in the media. That's a strong enough analogy to what we do here. 

Let's take a two second look at what we percieve to be our strengths and weaknesses. We are good at wheel building, we are good at customer service and relations, we give well-informed and "as objective as we can be" advice, we're trustworthy, our prices are good to excellent, our selection is broad, and we do a good job connecting with people through the blog. We are bad at having a high margin product that either is percieved to be or is exclusive to us (carbon), our web site's shopping functionality is challenging, scaling our operations is a huge challenge, and the greater industry hates us.  

All of the advice and wind tunnels and measuring this and observing that exists in service to selling wheels. We do all of that so we can do "our job," which is to monetize the situation by selling well made wheels. If there was a business in doing the other stuff without selling well made wheels, it would perhaps obviously be of great interest to us. There is not, but since scaling our business is very hard (compensating people to develop and execute the skill of building wheels to our standard isn't easy), we continually bat around ways of alternate monetization (now THERE'S a tortured B-School phrase for ya!) of the "foreplay" stuff we do. And selling stuff packaged with our knowledge but without our execution is likely the best route for that. 

What do I mean there? Well, we're pretty sure that we build a set of (as an example) HED Belgium+ with T11s as well as anyone out there. We know how to vary the inputs (spoke type and number) to suit basically anyone. We have the spoke lengths to within like a quarter of a turn of optimal every time. We know how different tires are going to affect the build, and we know how the build is going to affect different tires. We just don't know if packaging that in an "everything but the build" way will work.

As stated, there's no business in spending however much time delivering this info to people without getting paid in any way for it. Part of that is just being in business, as every person who "walks into your store" doesn't buy. And it could easily be that for a lot of people, the thing that we more or less require you to buy in order to be a customer - the build - isn't the compelling way for us to provide transactional value. A lot of people want to build their own wheels, a lot of people have a buddy who'll do it for a six pack. Having owned that "buddy for a six pack" set of wheels, and having had that be a significant precursor to my position in the world right now, well... But in any case we've developed a body of knowledge that can provide transactional value without us actually building the wheels. And that's a far easier thing for us to scale. 

Of course our conundrum (and I have a long-planned post about the harrowing conundra that face the industry at large) is the our pricing for built wheels is such that there's no across the board "$X discount" for getting an unbuilt set. We just plainly don't do pricing such that the cost of the build is factored as a standalone thing, and we know that that would be the first hurdle in this.

I guess this is something of a trial balloon. Is a "Blue Apron" approach, rather than us requiring you to dine in at our restuarant, a valuable option?

 


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  • Dave on

    What Scott said. I'm happy to pay someone who builds regularly for the piece of mind that comes with wheels that are well built.

  • Dr_LHA on

    My feeling is that there are already guys out there selling the parts for self builders (e.g. BHS, BDop, and/or any number of online shops). Although I harbor the desire one day to try building my own set of wheels, the value I got from your wheels is in the build quality, at I'll admit, a significantly lower price than my LBS could offer (who also don't have your rep for build quality). I guess the big question you need to ask yourselves if you're going to start supplying build kits is: what's the cost of after-sales support?

  • Joe Bond on

    Going the other way, you don't seem to be charging all that much extra for a built set of wheels compared to identical or almost identical DIY build kit prices out there.

  • Scott on

    To answer your final question, take out is not a wise purchase for me… I have gotten reasonably good at performing my own bike maintenance, and love the idea of building my own set of wheels, but it seems just outside of what I'm willing to take a run at knowing that there is an aweful lot than can go wrong, and I'd rather not find myself stranded 30 miles from home or descending at 45 mph.I'll just ride!! You guys do what you do!

  • dave on

    Scott, Joe, Dr_LHA, Dave, and Chris – Thanks very much. What you've said is confirmation that what we're doing now is working reasonably well, and there's no way we're going away from doing that. So it's not either/or. We'll always build wheels.Jon W – A great question, and one I've generally carefully considered in my life. The job I most enjoyed prior to this was at a company that eventually sought growth which its market wasn't readily able to accommodate and did so at the expense of doing other, more critical functions, as well. That caused me to leave, shortly thereafter the company was sold, and it is absolutely no hyperbole to say that the company's market has suffered badly for the situation. But yes, overall, we do want to, and probably need to grow. Roy T – I blame "achieve" which breaks your mnemonic (as do many others – "weigh," "neighborhood," "sleigh" – but those are covered by another mnemonic). There's also no spell check in our site's blog function. So long as we aren't being pedantic, though, spelling errors are spelling errors and grammar errors are grammar errors. The sentence in which you call out my spelling error contains a significant grammar error, but no spelling errors, for example. This blog is about a 250 page book per year, there are tons of editing (or lack thereof) mistakes. There may even be some in this reply. On to your bullet points:- Nearly every carbon rim out there is either proprietary to a brand (as Rails were) or there is obfuscation by the brand as to where non-proprietary rims come from, or even that they are non-proprietary. As well, lots of wheel brands know who they've bought from, but have no clue who the actual manufacturer is. When we sold open mold carbons, we knew both, but our customers were told point blank that they were open molds. The vendor didn't sell at retail, and required us not to disclose them, so it wasn't relevant or allowed to say who the vendor was, but we were up front that it was not a proprietary shape. Of course this situation exists in alloy rims too. We've often joked that the Kinlin XR31T should have been called the "Our New Proprietary Alloy Rim" rather than XR31T, since that is what it's called by so many brands that sell it. But carbon is generally much higher margin than alloy, often in both $ and %, but basically always in $ terms. And when the work you do to transform a unit of product input into a unit of finished goods is the bottleneck, rather than carrying cost or access to available product, then margin $ becomes significantly more important than margin %. So yes, in fact, due to provenance exclusivity or arbitrage, carbon becomes exclusive and high margin. Additionally, you have precisely no idea whether we will sell any rims with carbon in the future. We certainly can right now, as we have dealer access to many carbon rim and wheel products. None of which are exclusive to us, but all of which are to the brands which would supply them to us. – I find your assertion that this is "ridiculously easy" to fix quite droll, as you've no idea the parameters and restraints we're working against on this. For starters, any clue how many different wheel variants it's possible to buy from us? But if you have an easy fix, we are so all ears you can't believe.- That isn't the case at present, so our business doesn't scale, hence the thoughts behind this post.- Some of the greater industry knows about us in specific, more of it doesn't. Some of the greater industry loves us in specific. Generally, the greater industry is ill disposed toward businesses like ours, which provide either execution or price efficiency which the typical bike shop struggles to match (a few examples of which are elucidated in the comments above), and are outside of the typical bike shop supply stream. Of course that is a situation for which the greater industry gets most of the credit, as wheel building as an in-house shop competency was largely done in by the industry's choice to transition to selling higher margin "wheel systems." Though we do have an incidental, bizarre, and quite unintentional relationship to Sean Spicer, I don't see us as making any attempt at propaganda. I see us (perhaps quixotically) trying to inform our audience about propaganda, but more often hyperbole, propagated by the greater industry, but there are two sides to every coin. Thanks



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