Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, we’re Chris and Nicole Parr, husband and wife and owners of PRO BIKE TOOL. PRO BIKE TOOL is a manufacturer, brand and online retailer of essential, affordable bike tools & accessories for riders of all disciplines and abilities. Our flagship products include a Mini Bike Pump with innovative in-line pressure gauge, a CO2 Inflator with a unique gas regulation lever, and a precision calibrated Torque Wrench Set.
Here is a short video of the pump in action:
We retail through Amazon in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, UAE, Europe and our website. Several of our products are bestsellers on Amazon and we have been awarded “Best Buy Winner” by Outdoor Gear Lab in 2018.
We have also been shortlisted as a finalist at the UK Business Awards 2019 in two categories:
“Best SME” and “Customer-Centric Organisation Digital Initiatives” at the UK Business Awards.
Over four years, we’ve grown from selling one tool to selling 32 products across 10 marketplaces, with a turnover of $750K per month. It’s been quite a journey.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We both built our careers in commercial roles, with Chris working in sales, marketing and eCommerce across a range of multinational brands such as the BBC, Royal Mail, and The Post Office, while Nicole’s background is in sales and commercial relationship management in the airline industry.
PRO BIKE TOOL was born when Chris decided he’d reached the stage where he wanted to try something new in a field, he felt passionate about. Being an active runner and cyclist, Chris saw his future in the sports industry. As a bike rider, he’s always thought that bike tools sold through traditional retailers were expensive and sometimes over-engineered, while online brands lacked quality.
The single most important thing in the early years, and maybe the hardest thing to develop initially, is the right mindset. Resilience is key.
Given his ‘hands-on’ nature and love of building and fixing things, addressing that gap in the market became his new goal. Chris used his expertise in ecommerce to launch PRO BIKE TOOL, initially selling just a Mini Bike Pump with an in-line gauge, with the gauge being a product twist that very few online retailers had tried. Within two weeks, the product was number two on Amazon USA. And with that, the wheels started turning. Nicole came on board 18 months later to add her complementary skills to the business mix, and the momentum picked up even faster.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Once we’d decided to set up a bike tools and accessories brand, we searched for an “ODM” factory in Asia to work with us. All initial research was done online. We contacted up to 20 suppliers with our product brief. We were specific in what we were looking for (high quality yet affordable bike tools with focus on functionality & unique design) and the type of factory we wanted to partner with - proactive, open to feedback, quick to implement changes, ability to consistently deliver great quality and live the same core values as us.
After the first lot of samples arrived in the UK, we knew we had found our supplier and first product, a mini bike pump with an in-line gauge. The in-line gauge was a rarity at the time, and the quality was excellent. Chris visited the factory in Taiwan, worked with the team to produce a unique design and to inspect the production line – he continues to visit twice a year, it’s a highlight in our calendar.
At the time of its launch, this type of pump was not readily available in the eCommerce market and online channels. The pump became a best-seller almost as soon as we launched it. The pump still does very well for us today, although it’s currently on its third iteration – we’ve made various tweaks along the way based on customer feedback to continuously improve it.
The Amazon platform with its global customer reach was an obvious choice for us to launch PRO BIKE TOOL. It also means we do not have to have a warehouse to hold stock, it goes straight from the production line into the Amazon fulfillment centers worldwide. Good stock planning is paramount for us. Amazon made the distribution simple; we use their excellent fulfillment service.
We decided to go for robust and high-quality packaging to enhance the customer experience. The packaging was a collaboration between us, the team in the factory and our designer. We are currently in the process of a packaging redesign – Watch out for packaging 2.0! We marketed the product through the go-to platforms – on Amazon, and through our Facebook and Instagram pages. We worked hard to build a cycling community on social media from the outset, so that helped us get PRO BIKE TOOL in front of a large, receptive audience.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We started out by using our own savings and redundancy money to launch PRO BIKE TOOL. Whilst the initial invests of $5,000 for the first order seems low, it was “make or break”, as Nicole was working part-time and Chris had left his corporate job to work on the new venture full-time. The business had to make enough money to take care of a family of four after the first year.
Since then, we have largely funded the business by reinvesting the profits. Most of it goes straight back into the business, as we’re always looking to develop and launch new products.
When we were selling our first product, our only online presence beyond Amazon was Instagram and Facebook. These platforms allowed us to start building a community and developing a brand.
Although we saw instant success through Amazon, we knew that a website was essential in order to become a ‘brand’. By the end of 2015, just over 6 months from launch, we had a website that was initially non-transactional and served to get the brand ‘on the map’ a little more.
We’re on our fourth iteration of the site now, and it’s been transactional since the second version.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As a brand PRO BIKE TOOL is unique in the bike tools and accessories industry in the way that we place the customer at the center, making them just as important as the products themselves.
Of course, the quality of the tools is key, but the nature of the products in our line exemplifies our customer-centric approach. We release products that riders need and want, rather than over-engineered tools that are more a designer’s vanity project than a necessary item. We also make sure that those tools are sold at a price point that all riders could afford, whether they race on a $5,000 carbon-fiber bike or ride a second-hand bike.
No small business can survive without an intimate understanding of their numbers. We were always careful to make whatever savings we could.
But our key differentiators are the service we provide to our customers. Rather than abandoning the consumer after they’ve made the purchase, we pride ourselves on rapid and exemplary customer service, addressing issues in a timely and helpful manner as possible. And we do our best to anticipate queries or problems with our library of blogs and videos looking at the use of our tools, and wider bike maintenance. Furthermore, we are always using customer feedback to improve our tools, adding design changes to rectify any recurring issues.
Social media has been central to our engagement of the consumer. We were active in building a brand from our very formation and grew a strong community on Facebook and Instagram. We use these channels not just for sales, but to engage cyclists in a lifestyle that is so all-consuming.
Regular competitions and engaging posts that invite community response to ensure that we are a fun and approachable voice for our audience. We also use our mailing list for regular communication, sending around four emails per month. We try to make them as helpful and interesting as possible, promoting a new blog in each email and including a news roundup.
Shoppable Posts on Instagram, Facebook ads and ManyChat have been instrumental in driving sales for us.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re really pleased with how we’ve been getting on - the business has really grown quickly. As you can see from our year-on-year growth figures, we’ve constantly grown, and that increase has been exponential. Similarly, our dedication to building our social following has certainly paid off, and we now find ourselves with over 80k Instagram followers, 19k Facebook followers, 3k ManyChat subscribers and 11k on our mailing list.
Although there are only two of us at the core of the business, we now have a ‘virtual team’ of experts in the UK and around the globe managing key functions such as content marketing, social media, logistics, website design, customer service, inventory management and finance.
This allows us to focus on the key managerial decisions while making us a more specialised and intelligent business as a whole.
In the short term, we’re looking to continue developing. We’ve launched 10 new products this year, with the intention to launch a further 5 before the end of the year. Alongside that, we have expanded into new Amazon markets, including Australia and the UAE. Long term we would like to be a globally-recognized, customer-centric bike tools and accessories brand. Of course, like all owner-managed businesses, we are looking to exit at some point but for now, we are excited to bring more fantastic tools to our customers and expanding into new markets (Japan is next on the list).
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Perhaps the key things we’ve learned are making decisions, not being afraid to fail, resilience and the need to keep momentum. In the early days of a business, there are always setbacks, but it’s important to learn not to get bogged down and keep focusing on progression. We’ve gone through a few major problems around our trademark and come out relatively unscathed, but the experience has taught us where it’s essential to do due diligence.
Careful planning and understanding of the numbers are also paramount. No small business can survive without an intimate understanding of their numbers. We were always careful to make whatever savings we could, for example making tactical decisions around shipping methods and the timing of product launches.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Amazon’s systems are absolutely essential to help assess our sales performance; it feeds straight into our management dashboard (so does the accounting software Xero).
Advertising on Amazon has been essential to our growth, we use all the possible advertising options, ranging from sponsored and headline ads to product display ads.
Though our sales through our own website are relatively small in our mix, we use WooCommerce and Google Analytics to analyse our performance there. As our website is hosted on WordPress, we opted for WooCommerce rather than Shopify.
Slack has been fantastic for optimising our communications. Although, as husband and wife, we see each other a lot, we only meet with or host conference calls with our team every week or so. Using Slack means we can have instant live chat with the team without having to send each other hundreds of emails. The ‘channels’ that you can set up and the way you can connect apps like Dropbox make life very easy.
Hootsuite is essential for managing our social media. It enables us to schedule posts across all our platforms, and equally importantly, to monitor community responses and engage with our audience.
For emails, we use Mailchimp, which we like for the simplicity in its design features and the huge amount of data we can pull out of it.
We have hired virtual assistants to help with customer service and operations through FreeeUp.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Gary Vaynerchuck and Kirwan Rae have both been a big influence on us in terms of business strategies and development tools, and we regularly listen to both the podcasts.
Additionally, the Miracle Morning book by Hal Elrod and his podcast series has had a huge impact, it really helped us to learn to prioritize and stay focused and positive in what we do.
We’ve found that networking and meeting those in a similar position to us - entrepreneurs in all different fields – has had a huge positive influence as well. Meeting like minded people through networking workshops and events has enabled us to develop a wide support network and a wealth of knowledge. We’re always looking for ways to develop ourselves and learn, attending conferences and seminars to stay up-to-date and learn new skills.
Something that has been really useful for us, and essential to our growth, has been the Amazon Marketplace Growth Programme. It’s added a level of understanding and expertise to our Amazon operations that we perhaps wouldn’t have achieved otherwise thanks to the regular contact we have with a dedicated account manager and the head of the “Sports & Outdoors” Category. It also enables us to access major promotions such as Amazon Deal of the Day and Best Deals, which are important sales & promotional vehicles on Amazon and can make a huge difference to our sales.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The single most important thing in the early years, and maybe the hardest thing to develop initially, is the right mindset. Resilience is key – there will be setbacks on the way, but you can’t let them defeat you. And fundamental to that process is being positive, focused, and to have faith and belief in what you’re doing. It also helps if you can surround yourself with positive people. However, they need to be questioning – asking you questions that make you consider alternative approaches to strategy or operations.
Of course, having the right mental approach doesn’t surpass the essential fact that you have to work smart (this is YOUR business after all), know your numbers, and use those wisely to strategize and plan. Make sure that you are ready to commit to your plan, it is ok to “course correct” along the way – you are after progress, not perfection.
We also found that you can’t be great at everything, so find someone who is. It will give you valuable time back to grow the business.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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