Urban Rider is a ‘bricks and clicks’ start up that is bucking the downward trend in retail. The firm, formerly Bullet Motorcycles, had already been around for a long time when Will Starrit and Andrew Taylor took it over in 2008. Once a popular haunt for London bikers, including celebrity riders such as Ewan McGregor, the Fulham shop was now struggling.
In Will and Andrew’s view, it was in dire need of a revamp. Having renamed the business, redesigned and refitted the store, refreshed the range and — crucially —opened an online sales outlet, Will and Andrew are well on the way to turning Urban Rider into a cool ‘destination’ store for bikers from London and beyond.
They have done this by targeting both commuters and serious recreational bikers and by having a clear separation between the bricks and mortar shop and the online store. While the shop sells a range of ‘must-have’ scooters, motorcycles and accessories, the website focuses on a select range of clothing priced from £40-£600.
“It’s key that we sell clothing that is highly desirable and hard to track down,” says Will. “We go to the manufacturers and get exclusive deals where we can and because they can see the quality of the website and what we stock, they usually agree.”
As a sales strategy it works. The website generates sales, but also interest and it pulls a lot more people into the physical premises than conventional advertising could achieve by itself. Total turnover for the business in 2008 was £380,000; figures for 2009 suggest Urban Rider can expect to turn over nearer half a million.
Opened in February 2008, Will and Andrew’s venture is a great example of style on a shoestring. For example, they saved the £90,000 they were quoted for the fit-out by doing the work themselves — partly thanks to Will’s talents as a design graduate of the Royal College of Art.
When it came to the ecommerce site, Will and Andrew knew they had to reflect the strong identity they had established for the store. So, even though their budget was tight, they opted to use a web designer to adapt an off-the-shelf ecommerce package. Using SellerDeck Catalogue as a foundation, Green Jersey Web Design have created a site that projects the cool urban image Urban Rider were seeking while clearly differentiating the site from other motorcycling commerce websites.
“The software and hosting came in at under £1,000 and our total spend including design and professionally produced images was around £7,000,” Will explains. “We launched at Christmas 2008, and without it we’d have lost out on at least £2k in profit.
“Our web presence is already driving extra customers to our shop,” he continues. “The other day a guy from Oregon who’d read about Urban Rider in a biking blog dropped by and spent £700.”
Such examples aren’t a one-off. Many customers are visiting the shop in person, having already browsed the website. One German customer who comes to London every couple of months spends a few hundred pounds each time; a Spanish businessman ordered a helmet online and asked for delivery to the hotel where he had his London meeting on a particular day.
“On a Saturday we can take £5-6k but half of that is because people have found us on the web, so this is a key reason to have such a good-looking site,” says Will.
Web sales now account for about 15 per cent of turnover, but the profit is significantly higher on goods sold online as the overheads are much lower. In fact, the site was profitable within four months and now sells to a worldwide market, with 75 per cent of sales to UK customers, 20 per cent to the USA and 5 per cent to bikers in the rest of the world.
Will and Andy are not just using the ecommerce technology for retailing, either, but also building a community. They are in the process of developing ‘how to’ video guides on different aspects of biking and have added live weather and traffic reports for London motorcyclists.
“We want buying from Urban Rider to be a lifestyle experience, not like buying a toothbrush,” Will concludes. “We’re using web technology to show customers a cool, edgy side to biking that they can aspire to.”
Based on his experience of running his first ecommerce business, Will has devised five essential tips for other online entrepreneurs: