The shutdown has inspired a resurgence of outdoor exercise, and the custom bicycle purveyor hopes people will keep moving.
Stuart Hunter got his start in retail design and strategy in 1993 with industry giant Fitch in London. After six years there, he was asked to open the firm’s San Francisco office where, as vice president and creative director, he worked with top brands. He also spent more than a lot of time on airplanes and at dinners.
In his pursuit of a healthier lifestyle and remembering how much he loved riding bikes as a kid, he started visiting bicycle stores to find the perfect set of wheels to help him get moving again. The experience, however, was anything but a fun ride. “I could get better service getting a $2 cup of coffee,” Hunter says. “I was completely ignored by the 18-year-old kid who worked there.”We're here to help you stay in touch with what's going on out there. Read our latest reporting on the coronavirus response here.
In 2002, Hunter was recruited to Columbus by NCT Ventures to help turn around one of its portfolio companies, Retail Planning Associates. After the firm was sold, Hunter was able to make an exit in 2005. Even though it had been several years, the experience in San Francisco was fresh in his mind, and it became the inspiration for launching a bicycle company of his own.
“It became apparent to me that, in many ways, the bicycle industry was still all enthusiasts for enthusiasts,” Hunter says. “I saw an opportunity to attract more people to riding bikes. Roll Bicycle Company would be a bike store for the rest of us.”
Bicycles can be customized in myriad ways from saddle style to frame color in Roll’s shops and on its website, and it also supplies bikes to more than 60 U.S. shops. While major brands insist on massive annual commitments to achieve a certain tier of pricing, Roll starts retailers with a small selection of bikes and offers custom-builds—there are 400 possible combinations—that can be shipped to them within 72 hours.
Roll, like everyone, has been forced to adjust amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Bicycle stores were counted among essential businesses by the state of Ohio, but even as its fourth shop was opening at 317 W. Bridge St. in Dublin, Roll closed its shops to walk-in customers and instead began going to them. It now shares its full inventory online, delivers bikes to customers’ homes and picks up bicycles for repair. Customers can make appointments to test bicycles in the shop, but the company limits those to one per hour and wipes all bikes down upon entry and exit.Stay up to date with the region’s business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
Last fall, Hunter hired Ryan Hughes as COO to help Roll expand into new markets. An avid cyclist, Hughes brought experience in retail analytics, operations and logistics from his time at Bath & Body Works and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The addition to the executive team was inspired, in part, by the book Traction by Gino Wickman. Hunter says it lays out the case for why “visionaries” need “integrators.”
“There’s a difference between being a local retailer and then rapidly becoming a national supplier and partner,” Hunter says. “You become a different business and need a different level of aptitude and experience. Ryan has a level of experience at scale that we didn’t have.”
A goal to double sales at partner shops from 2019 to 2020 stands even as the coronavirus pandemic worsens. “We are hopeful that cycling is seen as one of the approved activities that can help put a silver lining on this crisis,” Hughes says. “I’m optimistic that a lot of people will have developed new, healthy habits out of this and that will lift the cycling industry overall.”
To further its mission to move the community, Roll has been working with the nonprofit organization Community Development for all People to train people on Columbus’ South Side as bike technicians and, ideally, Roll will hire them afterward. The “Buy One, Get One” program donates a refurbished bike for every new Roll bike that’s sold.
“Bikes change lives,” Hunter says. “How can we get people riding bikes for more reasons, more often and elicit positive change in customers and the community you serve?”
Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.