Retailufacturing

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When people ask me about November and what kind of company it is, my typical response is that we're a bicycle company. "Oh like an online bike shop?" Sort of, in that you can buy bikes and wheels from us online. But our model is to sell a very limited range of our own products. "Oh, so you're a manufacturer?" That's also not exactly correct. We're as much a manufacturer as 95% of the other brands in the bicycle industry who rely on contract manufacturing to bring all manner of products to market. But we commonly reserve that term for the companies that, you know. actually manufacture things themselves - like White Industries and Corima and Sarto. For a while we would call ourselves simply a "brand." But that too was a sloppy fit. On the one hand, it diminished our hands-on role in bringing products to market. On the other, we were not then (as a new company) able to do the work that brands normally do - which is to help relieve consumers of the burden of decision making. 

It's easier to describe us not by what we are but what we do - we don't make or sell as much as provide. In fact, the very first line of copy ever written for our website (wayback machine set to Oct 2010) describes us thusly:

November Bicycles provides equipment to amateur racers and teams. 

I remember clearly hashing that line out with Dave half a decade ago. We didn't choose the word provide to make us sound different. From a positioning stand point it's actually weaker than saying we make or sell. Rather, we chose it because it best reflected our customer-centric approach. We were born to fill a gap - namely that the "empty calories in the distribution channels" that Dave mentioned yesterday had pushed prices of high end equipment to prohititive levels, where often 70% or more of a customer's price was to cover the cost of selling him the product, not making him the product. The industry was ripe for disruption. And while we weren't so bold as to think we could single-handedly achieve it, we did at least see inefficiency we could address. 

Fast forward five years and nothing has changed about our ethos, while almost everything has changed about our business. We still provide, and we realized with the launch of our Alloy Nimbus Ti wheels that our position at the intersection of retailing and manufacturing is able to help us achieve our mission in a whole new way. When most other brands are building proprietary rims around proprietary hubs, we realized we couldn't come up with a hub of our own we'd like better than the White Industries T11, nor could we come up with a single rim that would fit all the use cases of the most popular offerings already on the market. So why shouldn't we go to White Industries and have them build for us a hub that's functionally identical to the T11, and is there any reason why lacing it into rims we know our customers already covet isn't a good idea? Well for one, it's not what manufacturers do - they'd make everything themselves, or buy everything and call it their own. And it's also not what retailers would do - they'd offer custom builds from all the component parts. But the former doesn't tap into the same customer demand as our model, and the latter doesn't allow for the same value. 

That's what we realized is the cool part about our model, since dubbed retailufacturing. It combines the elements of retail (sourcing the best branded component parts) and manufacturing (assembling by hand around known premium contract manufactured components) that don't require the kind of demand generation activities that push up prices or carry the empty calories of a distribution legacy that don't affect our business. It's where we ended up when we started with the question 5 years ago, "How can we provide cyclists with the stuff they really want at the greatest value?" 

Is this the same model we will use in carbon wheels, bikes and other categories? If it creates the same customer value, why the hell not? We get no bonus points for single-brand purity, nor do we really want them. We've always wanted the November brand to stand for premium quality at outstanding value. That's more important to our customers than proprietary or unique, so it's also more important to us.

 


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