As Mike put it a while ago, we fit into this weird non-space that we call "retailfacturing." What we mean is that when the open market hands us a product that we think fits a purpose for us and our customers, we'll use it. When we don't see what we want but have an opportunity to get it made, we do that. There's always method to the madness. This might be as simple as "a lot of people are asking for this specific thing," or it could be complicated, like "there is no carbon clincher made that has the bead seat width that we want," which is how the Rail began.
This is our seventh year in business, and in that time there have been a lot of changes. One of the bigger changes is that people do now seem to pay a whole lot of attention to specs. Whereas before it often seemed as though everybody bought Product X kind of because everyone else was buying Product X, so it only made sense that Product X was the thing to get, so you got Product X, the market seems more discriminating. Niche-ification is a ready follow-on from that. The gravel and fat bike categories didn't even exist in 2010, yet they drive a good fair bit of the very-enthusiast market these days (a self-referential version of niche-ification there, in which I coin the term "very-enthusiast market," whose meaning is hopefully obvious).
The market interplay around very very specific specs is bound to create some problems. Manufacturers get into one-upsmanship with each other, and consumers get drawn in by it. How could they not? I often draw the analogy to an old game show called "Name That Tune." Most often this comes up in terms of spoke count. As many of you know, we're somewhat conservative on spoke count. We want you to have great wheels. We know our builds are top notch, but there's a definite tinge out there of "they're not confident enough in their builds to let me get away with as few spokes as I want." Nope. We just know that an aggressive 190 pound rider on a 1460g allow wheelset with 20/24 lacing has a high likelihood of experiencing some undesirable wheel behavior. Behavior that 20g or 40g worth of spokes and nipples is going to eliminate. So instead of playing the "I can build that wheel with 18 spokes!" game, we just pass and let the other builder have it.
One of the two funniest phone calls I've had in recent memory was a guy who started off more or less yelling at me because we weren't offering builds with a rim we'll call Rim W (not its real name!). Rim W didn't seem to offer anything that a rim we'll call Rim SL23 didn't do, and by that point we'd done a few hundred builds with Rim SL23 and had grown quite quite fond of it. Nothing's perfect, and Rim SL23 is no exception, but this gentleman really seemed to think Rim W would be. Since we'd worked with the company that makes Rim W before, it was easy work to get a few in and do test builds. I did not like the way they built - at all. At all. And now we've come to learn that production of Rim W has been suspended as they change a few things to address things that we'd seen. We hadn't been part of the conversation with the manufacturer, instead we just quietly made the "nope, not for us" decision between ourselves and left it at that.
It's easy to get jazzed up about something that hits all the specs you want, but it's often the seemingly boring stuff produces the best outcome. There's not a lot of sex appeal in being a little conservative and relying on metronomic execution, but hey Mike and I have each have TONS of experience getting by in the world without benefit of sex appeal (although I do have Brad Pitt's eyes), so we'll just keep dragging that rock along, I guess.