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How we set up our multi-channel motorcycle and scooter business Urban Rider

Times were tough when Will Starrit and Andrew Taylor took over an ailing motorcycle accessory shop. However, they were soon bucking the trend using ecommerce technology to sell their select range of clothing and accessories

The online store www.urbanrider.co.uk went live in December 2008, only eight months after the Urban Rider shop opened on the fashionable New Kings Road, in Fulham, west London.

The shop had been around a long time as Bullet Motorcycles and was much frequented by celebrities such as Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, but it was struggling and run down when Will and Andrew bought the lease. It soon became a mecca for bikers from London and beyond who want to look cool.

The high street shop sells a comprehensive range of must-have scooters, motorcycles and accessories, but the website focuses on a select range of biker clothing priced from £40 to in excess of £1,000.

"It's key that we sell clothing that's highly desirable and hard to track down," says Will. "We go to the manufacturers and get exclusive deals where possible." The duo aims at a dual market of commuters on their scooters as well as the leisure biker who rides for the love of it. Both want clothing that is fashionable and different, yet weatherproof and practical.

Style on a shoestring

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. Will is a design graduate of the Royal College of Art, while Andrew has the muscles. The result is an ultra stylish boutique that communicates the fun and glamour of motorcycling, while appealing to those who are new to the two-wheel world.

The ecommerce site had to reflect the high street store, so they used a web designer but had a tight budget. The results are testimony to what a web designer can do with an off-the-shelf ecommerce package. The eye-catching design is based round a billboard theme and their own product photography, which really marks the site out as different from other biking sites.

The Urban Rider website was created by customising boxed ecommerce package SellerDeck Catalog. "Processing both web and telephone orders as well as day-to-day site maintenance is quick and easy. The software has the right balance between flexibility and features, while giving us room for growth as sales increase," says Will.

Net returns

"The software and hosting cost less than £1,000; our total spend including design and professionally produced images was about £7,000. We launched at Christmas 2008 - if we hadn't we'd have lost about £2,000 in profit. Our website's not just great for expanding online sales - it drives extra customers to our shop. On a Saturday half of our takings comes from people that found us via our website."

The business started in 2008 and online sales quickly made up about 15% of their takings, but the profit is significantly higher on goods sold online, because overheads are much lower. About 75% of online purchases are made by UK customers, while 20% lives in the United States.

And Will and Andy are not just using the ecommerce technology for retailing, but are also building a community by uploading video reviews and high resolution images, as well as adding videos to their own YouTube channel. "We want buying from Urban Rider to be a lifestyle experience, not like buying a toothbrush. We're using web technology to show customers a cool, edgy side to biking that they can aspire to," Will concludes.

Will and Andrew's three key lessons

  • "Look at your supplier chain. Does it have too many links? Ask manufacturers if they will sell direct to you rather than via a distributor. We doubled our margins on some products by doing this."
  • "Quality is paramount. Ensure the design, navigation, photography and copy on your website are top notch and reflect your passion. Your customer service needs to be fantastic, too."
  • "Always project a positive outlook when dealing with customers. People are more likely to buy if you make them smile. Even if they don't, they might recommend you to friends."

Written by Chris Barling of SellerDeck.

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