Friday, 25 April 2008

Soft Launch, Hard Lesson

So, having got the site ready to the point that anyone clicking the button could actually buy a Downtube, I submitted it to Google, and blithely headed off to the USA, safe in the knowledge that the site was unlikely to get far enough in the rankings for anyone to stumble on it before I got back. Of course, I returned to find that we'd received our first email that very same day, and I had yet to reply, 12 days later! Talk about customer responsiveness!

So, whilst goods are shipped straight away no matter where I am, I realised that quite often I'm away for a day or two, and the idea of customers waiting 48 hours for a response did not please me. As a result, I'm now the proud owner of a Blackberry, and Velo Chocolate email will find me almost wherever I am. Of course, I'm still sometimes in meetings or unavailable for other reasons, but I can promise to respond in reasonable time.

I've now started talking to suppliers about other products I could carry, and hope to be able to add some soon. First priority is accessories suitable for the Downtubes - mudguards, seatpost racks etc, but there are some other fairly interesting things out there that other online suppliers are neglecting. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

As we prepare to launch our business, I felt it would be a good idea to set out exactly what we're about, and here seems a good place to do that. Some or all of this will also be added to the main site in the near future.

Velo Chocolate is not a big-time internet bike sales business, and nor do we plan to be. Instead, we are a small business with a very specific market, and though that market may grow and see us grow with it, we don’t ever envisage trying to take on the Wiggles and SJS Cycles of this world. They’re already there, and very good at what they do.

We see the price of fuel rising, we see the introduction of congestion charging, and instead of seeing these as bad things, we’re excited! These developments mean that more and more people are seeing bicycles as a real means of transport, as a tool. In recent years, people have started to think of cycling purely as a sport, or a recreational activity, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What it overlooks is just how useful the bicycle can be as a means of transport. Something close to 40% of car journeys in this country are under 2 miles, and so many of those could be completed by bicycle. But why would you do so? Well, it’s cheaper, for one thing. No fuel costs, no insurance, no road tax. Secondly, you get into shape while you travel. Imagine cycling 10 miles each way to work. That might sound like a lot, but a relatively fit cyclist can do this in 45 mins easily. Every day, you’ll get yourself a 45 minute workout, without paying for the gym! 10 miles of city driving will take you most of that 45 minutes anyway, so why not go by bike? Thirdly, it cuts down on traffic congestion, and reduces the risk of road accidents. Finally, it’s FUN! You arrive at your destination wide awake, with your cardio-vascular system working well, and you feel really good.

We exist to serve people who use their bikes as part of their daily life; be that for commuting, doing the shopping, popping to a friends house for a cuppa and a round or two on the Playstation. We call these people Lifestyle Cyclists, as opposed to hobby cyclists; simply, they’re people who’ve decided to make cycling a part of their lifestyle. At the time Velo Chocolate was founded, if you wanted to outfit your bike for use in commuting, or for shopping, you would end up making it look, to put it concisely, a bit tatty. We want to provide equipment for lifestyle cyclists which makes their bikes more useful, AND makes them look great. The products we will stock will include innovative solutions to carrying luggage that look really nice, helmets that are fun, rather than just serious looking, and products that overcome some of the little niggles that afflict cyclists. Indeed, we’d like to hear from you about what products you wish were available, or about products that are available abroad, but not here, that you’d like to buy.

What we’re hoping to do is to make this “Lifestyle Cycling” a really enjoyable experience, and help you put together a bike that not only does what you want it to do, but also makes you feel fantastic about riding it. We want to give you special cycling treats.