For a while we were offering custom wheel builds, using any of the rims, hubs and spokes available to us. We didn't promote them loudly but we had a page right up in the Wheels pull-down in the nav bar, and pointed people to it when they asked about custom wheel builds. If you look there now you won't find it. Today I'm going to tell you why.
First of all, the close rate on custom wheel inquiries is low. Dave and I are both happy to provide advice and perspective on wheels, builds, frames and other purchases through us. We do this because our customers ask us, and to not answer would be rude. When faced with the choice of being helpful or being an asshat, the marketer in me knows that helpful has a greater ROI. But the other reason we like to answer the questions is because it's important for us to hear what's being asked. If a few people start asking the same question at the same time, we realize there's a groundswell building and it allows us to get out in front of the next wave of questions proactively. For example, once cross season hit and we started selling more tubulars than clinchers, we started getting questions on gluing. So Dave provided detailed instructions here. The next how-to guide will likely be on installing valve stem extenders.
Custom wheel build inquiries were a little different, in that many of the questions were of the "how much if I do this?" variety, which were able to be answered but ended up taking a lot of time in email exchanges. And when a low percentage actually resulted in custom wheel builds (most ended up as stock wheels, not custom) it became clear that our custom wheels were not the same value proposition as our stock wheels.
In fact, now that we offer premium hubs by Chris King, White Industries, C-4 and PowerTap in all of our standard wheels, the main reason people were interested in custom wheels was for black spokes. First we added black CX-Rays as an option on all our standard wheelsets, and just today we have added black Lasers as an option as well.
What that means is that if you buy our in-stock wheels you have your choice of 6 different wheelsets, 4 of which are offered with two different spoke counts, 6 hubs across 10 separate colors, and two different spokes in two colors each. And that doesn't even include asymmetrical pairings, like a 38/58 or 58/85 wheelset. Go to pre-order and those 6 wheels with 4 spoke counts grows to 10 wheels, all with two spoke count options and the same number of hub and spoke choices.
I don't even know how to calculate how many "stock" wheel options that is. The first person who calculates it correctly - for in-stock and pre-order - and puts it in the comments here gets a November cap. Show your work please.
The point is, with all those options there is no need for custom, particularly with the black Laser spokes now available. But variety comes at a price. The black Lasers cost us more, so we have them at a $25 upcharge per wheelset. Reasonable we think, and fully in line with our Pay for What's Important To You philosophy.
The final reason we dropped custom is that it strips out much of our role as editors. One of the principal ways we add value is by winnowing down choices and leaving only those that work for the majority of racers and enthusiasts. Maybe that majority is 90%, maybe it's only 85%. But going custom has us aiming for 95% or above, and those additional few percentage points are expensive for us to reach. By keeping our focus narrower, we can save you money. We don't have to stock and manage inventory on 20 different rims in 4 drillings each, untold permutations of hub brand, drilling and color, 200 SKUs of spokes and 8 colors of nipples. We could do it, but we're not uniquely qualified for it. Someone else can operate that business better and less expensively (for them and you) than we can. So it doesn't make sense for us to be there. That would be like Trader Joe's trying to compete with Whole Foods and having to put a fresh fish section in all their stores, complete with the delivery logistics for supplying, staffing and managing it. They'd divert too many resources away from their core business to support an initiative they can't win anyway. That's not racing smart at all.