Consumer direct is still a dirty phrase in the bike business, and something that Mike and I have been sheepish about for far too long. Before we get skewered here, let me reiterate for the umpteen thousandth time that we aren't anti-shop, per se. To be fair, neither are we ready to unilaterally kowtow to 'the hardworking folks who sweat and slave blah blah blah' in bike shops. Like anything else, there are good ones and bad ones.
The retail industry has two primary functions: to accessibly present, sell, and service product to a consumer base; and to increase the volume of available inventory.
Presenting, selling, and servicing require: 1) having the thing on hand so that you can see it/feel it/try it on/confirm it's appropriate for your needs 2) having the product knowledge to know how relevant product choices compare to each other and help the customer make the best selection for his/her needs and 3) having the tools and technical acumen to maintain, repair, and replace products for the customer, in a timely fashion, as needed.
Increasing the volume of inventory available just means that the shop has bought inventory and is holding it ready for customer purchases. The supplier-side tactics and strategies used to accomplish this get a bit ugly, and I would posit that many of a bike shop's "valued and trusted suppliers" do much much more injury to the sustainability of the bike shop landscape than online sellers of niche products (which we most assuredly are). A manufacturing company may not afford to keep $1mm of inventory on hand, but if it had a dealer network that collectively bought $.5mm, then the company could keep the other $.5mm on hand to replenish dealers and then reinvest in new inventory to keep the pipeline primed.
The bastardization of that system through artificial product life cycles, aforementioned nefarious supply-side strategies, and "give 'em enough rope" financing schemes are relevant, but are beyond the scope of this blog and only serve to distract.
The first premise (having the product on hand) and the global inventory holding capacity increase are closely intertwined, and are November's first major disconnect with traditional store-based retail. The average bike shop has approximately zero customer requests per year for our products. Unless a shop was motivated to invest in proactively making a market in our stuff, there is no reason any sane shop would keep it in stock. Shops should stock what's in high demand and sells quickly. People walk into a store, they see Zipp 404s, they're aware of them from Zipp's investments in promotion (never forgetting for an instant that investments need payoffs), the salesperson hopefully has at least basic product knowlege, the wheels get sold. Same person walks into a store, sees November, asks the salesperson "who's November?," salesperson has very limited knowledge of the product (largely because we don't have the facility to educate shop staff, certainly not to the level we'd require), sales process is unsmooth in extremis, customer says "I guess I have a lot more to learn about wheels!" and leaves without a sale being completed.
A customer on the hunt for a specific product is easily able to gain DEEP information about that product. We're constantly asked to compare our wheels - in depth - against specific alternate choices. It's a ton of work to stay up to date with what's out there enough to do this competently, and I'm like nearly sociopathic in my obsession with and pursuit of the ability to do that. To be able to do that with every product category that a bike shop needs to have a trade in? I immodestly consider myself to be of somewhat greater than average intelligence and PROFOUNDLY more suited to that type of knowledge than all but a handful of people, and there's no way I could do it. Your average bike shop salesman isn't anything near approaching stupid for not having your current awareness of the relative rolling resistance of 35 different tires - s/he needs to know a little bit about a TON of stuff. Mile wide, inch deep. We get the luxury of being inch wide and mile deep.
Okay, I've run long and reached a point where I can't go any longer without going a lot longer, so I'll inelegantly pause this one here.