Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tangerine dreams

Colour. Apart from price it's the one question or objection that always comes up on the sales floor - for low to mid priced bikes it's usually a choice of two, at the high end, one. Most of the time when I'm asked what other colours that blue dream bike on the floor comes in I usually make a joke of it and say "blue, blue and blue".

My customer then usually responds with a wisecrack about Henry Ford, Model-T's and the bicycle industry (yep, most of my customers are quick witted smartarses even though some of them appear to hide it really well).

I always take these kinds of questions home with me, and always with a big what if? This time it's - "what if bicycles were available in an unlimited selection of colours?"

The Long Tail, Chris Anderson's exploration of new economics, culture and commerce ('How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand') provides a few examples (c13/p203) of companies that are using this economy of choice to grow their business, and it was on the topic of colour that one resonated with me. KitchenAid.

But between 2001 and 2003, KitchenAid built a system to offer all of it's colours - typically more than fifty between it's different models - online. If you shop for mixers on Amazon or KitchenAid.com, you can now pick any of those colours from a drop down menu. These include the regular staples along with bolder colours that are Web-only: pistachio, tangerine, cranberry, grape, crystal blue, sienna, lemon and others.


He goes on to note that when presented with this 'unlimited' choice, customers didn't stop at the selection available in retail outlets, they went on to explore and purchase just about every other colour on offer as well. Anderson finished the KitchenAid example with this:

But until KitchenAid had an online channel that allowed customers to pick from it's full range of products, it had no way of knowing that there was latent consumer demand that it hadn't previously tapped.


Of course neither do we, but I reckon we can make a pretty informed guess. The industry has dealt with a host of possible customer objections, saddles are a good example, now an area where just about every shape of backside appears to be catered for and where every permutation sells, but still it seems we have not dealt properly with that most emotional of questions. Colour.

So? What if? Is it doable? Would it grow sales? Will this much colour choice drive everyone crazy?

Posted by Phil at 3:05 AM

13 Comments

  1. Anonymous Dirtpedaler posted at 1:44 PM  
    Santa Cruz and Intense offer huge color palates. Turner, Titus, and Ellsworth offer at least a few options per model. Ventana has gone from multiple colors to a few standard colors with custom upgrades.

    High end mtb buyers have tons of options, unless they go to a prebuilt bike. Is this different in the road bike world?
  2. Blogger Fritz posted at 4:21 PM  
    I think road selection might be more limited than MTB. Another consideration is that inventory is owned by the LBS. Yes, you can order bikes through the LBS, but delayed gratification also impedes sales.
  3. Anonymous Ryan posted at 1:00 AM  
    To achieve the same thing with a bicycle commodity, such as a seat while maintaining a similar price, you will need to develop a Supply Chain that does not exist at this time. QBP, BTI, SBS, and some others are in the process of creating this Supply Chain, but it will require a bit more time before this concept really can become possible. Maybe in 2010?
  4. Blogger George posted at 6:30 AM  
    I'm just your average consumer, but I'll buy a bike if it's the right color and worry about upgrading components as they wear out if they are sub par.

    Eye appeal is buy appeal.
  5. Anonymous A-Slice posted at 11:24 AM  
    Too many choices paralyze the decision making process:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9L-MhxcHhvM

    (Warning: Audio and Video totally out of sync.)
  6. Anonymous Phil posted at 1:47 PM  
    I should say that I was thinking more about the majors, Giant, Trek etc. as far as colour is concerned, working as I do in a retailer that stocks the big brands I see this question coming up in relation to them regularly.

    A-slice, interesting that you bring up Gladwell and his opinion on choice, but Anderson is claiming otherwise, in his book he provides commentary that indicates while customers always complain about too much on the menu, they always seem to buy just about every item supplied, so there is a disconnect between what they do and what they say.

    In fact I see this everyday on the shop floor. Going back to the saddle example, we'd have to have over a hundred saddles on display, a lot of Specialized, Fizik, Selle Italia, WTB blah, blah, blah, and if I had a dollar for every customer who said to me "is that all you have" I'd be a rich man.

    Obviously the major difficulty for the majors with colour are the production timelines and the annual cycle of model releases, still there should/has to be a mechanism that can give customers the choice.
  7. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 1:01 AM  
    Apologies for the long post…

    Interesting you brought up Kitchen Aid... they were the must have kitchen appliance. They were 'core' I guess you could say... until product support fell as did quality. Price stayed the same however and they did a good job of milking the early adopters who helped give the product cred (pro kitchen appliance and tool of chefs).

    They were what say Santa Cruz is now BUT as we are seeing on forums everywhere... people are looking for the new core products. As SC moves up the curve and is seen less as a 'US' core brand and more of a mass produced bike it is losing its core supporters, its 'sneezers'. It will be interesting to see what happens. For 07 at least SC's colour choices are limited compared to previous years and this obviously has to do with costs and SKUs. But are they forgetting their core group as they try to cross the mystical chasm.

    For colour choice it is a tough one. Being small has its advantages. Someone like Intense has say a few 1000 orders. Breaking up these into custom colours of small batches doesn’t affect average cost too much but for a major co to offer choices it is tougher. Take a Trek or Specialzed for example. 10s maybe 100s of 1000s of bikes. To offer wider colour palettes would be a nightmare at the factory. Cleaning out paint guns, firing up the line etc. Say 10 colour choice in 10000 bikes. There are say 2 or 3 sure sellers in there that the disti would consider an easy sell... so they get produced in the 1000s whereas other colours may be requested in the 10s or 100s. It just doesn’t make sense from a $ perspective. Customers would be over the moon but since when have big companies listened to customers? So... buy core! :)

    Chris
  8. Blogger pelotonjim posted at 1:17 PM  
    It's all cyclical. Once you expand borders on choice, everyone runs toward the edges exploring their new found freedom. Afterward, things settle down to a more reasonable pace. As an example, look at Microsoft Word. When Word for Windows came out, every document looked like a ransom note. Fonts and colors all over the place. Now we settled into a new equilibrium where things are more or less stable.

    Jim
    http://pelotonjim.wordpress.com
  9. Blogger Bernie posted at 9:42 PM  
    I've wondered for a long time if a bike manufacturer could be successful by reducing the number of different models available, and increasing the colors available in each model.

    Do you need road bikes at 8-10 different price points? Could you distill these to, say, 5 price points and offer 4 colors in each model?
  10. Anonymous Ryan posted at 11:22 PM  
    This still comes down to supply chain efficiency. Weather it is a size, a color, or a model, it is still a SKU that takes up a section in a warehouse, or on the floor of a bike shop. Anyway you want to slice it, it is inventory. A shop has a maximum amount it can have tying up resources, and the same can be said for the manufacture, and the factories that actually make the stuff. This is the cold hard facts that all the marketing and sales concepts cannot dismiss.
  11. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 9:05 PM  
    I'm all about raw titanium, since I hate paint chips. Ok, maybe have a big vat of TSP handy, and a large power supply. Then we can just choose a color and zap it. While I currently have my eye on a new bike of a certain color, price and spec still play a big role. Color alone is not a deal breaker, unless we're talking about the crappy colors Giant had in '06 in their MTB line. IndustryOutsider
  12. Anonymous mobguyt posted at 12:22 AM  
    If the bike companies didn't offer such horrendous color choices, it wouldn't be an issue. How many electric blue Trek 5000 were sold last year? Probably a lot less than if the bike would have been grey, silver, black, or white.

    I have a beautiful vintage green Bianchi TT Bike that I absolutely love but my wife thinks its the most disgusting looking thing in the world. She says it looks like the color of clown vomit. But I can see where shes coming from because if she came home with a car that color, divorce papers would be filed.

    Give me a silver or black bike any day. If you want to give me color options do it with the decals which can be changed with minimal fuss. I don't think one bike Ive owned has kept the decal for over a year anyways, with the exception of the Bianchi. It would be nothing for a shop to keep in stock 10 decals of each color, versus 2-3 frames in each color and size.
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