We’re all about covering firsts in CI.N and this may well be the first time we’ve written about a concept that is, as it stands, not yet in business. Samuel Downes, one half of Vero Cycling, talks about a daring new model for the high-end…
Hands up if you’ve ever bought a product you’ve lusted after for an age, been blissfully happy for a period, yet then had your head turned by something newer, shinier, more capable, or simply a better fit.
The classic honeymoon period applies to nothing more so than bicycles; we even have our own formula for the phenomena; “The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.”
But what if you could remain in a constant honeymoon period and be punching well above your weight at the very same time?
That’s an equation that bicycle retail has thus far been unable to crack. Repeated sales of £5,000 or more is a big ask, even for those stores lucky enough to reside alongside the most affluent cycling clubs in the country.
Enter the Vero Cycling concept, explained to us by one half of the project Samuel Downes who as recently as 2018 was a university student with a knack for fixing bicycles.
“The concept we’re working on, hopefully with increasing support from partners and the wider industry, is a means to improve accessibility to the high-end for the masses. This will be achieved by an annual membership that will loosely equate to a similar figure to that of a good level cycling investment,” explains Downes.
The idea was coined when his flatmate and business partner Sam Comerford sold what is described as a “deathtrap” in order to seek out a Cannondale that had caught his eye. Both cyclists, the duo got thinking about pooling their talents and experience from industries outside of cycling that have thrived on a very personal customer experience based around membership.
Explained in a nutshell, Downes’ idea will see a customer pay between £250 to £300 per month to be part of a very exclusive club that will have access not only to high-end bicycles with a fast turnaround, but potentially even call ex-team bikes their own, even if only temporarily.
“The process will begin with us inviting the customer in for a fitting and to ask about their preferences in ride style. With that data we then have the ability to match clients with a catalogue of high-end bikes that we will have ready to be customised by our mechanics. The best bit? This is an ongoing process and we can chop and change a customer’s bike choice as regularly as every two weeks,” explains Downes.
The end-game, if desired, is to help the customer find their dream bike by trying a wide pool of dream bikes.
“I want the Vero Cycling client to see themselves as a member and to ask for more from the service,” says Downes. “For the cost the client is seeing an immense level of trickled down accessibility to bikes they’d perhaps only dream of riding otherwise. The key here is bigger than that too, the customer will be able to say without any doubt that they have been getting the absolute most from their cycling experience year-round with no compromises made. From a training perspective that’s huge.”
It’s also huge from a non-ownership perspective. As those in the trade will know all too well, as soon as a high-end bike leaves the showroom its value begins to fall. Such is the pace of industry model year turnaround and indeed the shift earlier and earlier to get new bikes launched that, for the consumer, it’s often a delicate process choosing when to buy. For the stockist the forecasting and risk is perhaps more complex still.
“Our model is stripping back a lot of the challenges and approaching things differently. The concept will further become sustainable for us as time passes. In year two we will be able to offer a lower tier that gives access to stock that has aged a little, but that still flies at the very top end. Year three again introduces a cheaper tier. We forecast that access could begin from £175 a month down the line and that perhaps we’re not limited to the road bike; whether that means introducing extra kit to the membership package or exploring other categories, that’s to be decided,” says Downes, who admits to having mulled over such high-end services as physio and training plan creation.
“The subscription economy is coming,” he adds.
As far as initial reach of the concept goes, the plan is to begin capturing attention in South West London and expand outwards from there. Admittedly one of the greatest challenges, aside from securing the best of the best bikes, is to market the idea to prospective clients.
“We’re spending a lot of time around the Box Hill circuit, talking to potential clients and introducing the Vero Cycling concept,” says Downes. “To launch we will need a certain threshold of customers in place, so we’re working on that acquisition now. I think a broad appeal for many will be the ability to hire the perfect bike for trips outside of their usual stomping grounds. Say you’ve a trip overseas and you know you’ve got to climb Ventoux, well then plan ahead the right bike for the task.”
Planning ahead will be made possible via an app to be developed, which will also deliver on the community goal whereby customers share their ride experiences of bikes and even plan rides together. Ultimately such a community built around the app could become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the business, if it goes to plan.
“You could plan your next six bikes on the app. We will work it on a first-come first-served basis, so it will be key for customers to get familiar with the app and use it to browse regularly. Once they have identifies a bike we can book it in and aim for a one week turnaround on the build. The end game here is to change the nature of bike acquisition by making the honeymoon period last until you know you have found the one,” concludes Downes.
Related: Vanmoof announces shop-based bike subscription service.