Sunday, September 19, 2010

BikeNüt: the brand

Any marketing expert will tell you that a brand consists of much more than a logo or a website. A company’s brand has a lot more to do with its fundamental nature—the beliefs, habits, and goals of its people—than its surface. But the success, or not, of a company depends in large part on the emotions it evokes from its customers. Are its customers loyal to it? Is their experience with their product memorable?
What are the BikeNüt values, what is it that makes it a valuable and unique service provider for cyclists? What is it that resonates with its customers and makes them return over and over for bikes, bike components, maintenance, or simply for a chat?

During one of my early visits, when I was just falling in love with bikes but knew little about them, Kevin, without even knowing whether I would become a customer or not, gave me an hour of his time to begin my education about carbon frames. He explained to me the technological state of the art; he compared different manufacturers and their products; and he described what components were available and, perhaps more importantly, advisable. 
I left with lots of excitement about bikes. I did my research, discovered a few things about bikes on my own, and confirmed that what Kevin had told me was accurate. Kevin had established a connection based on trust with a potential customer. When I could contain myself no longer, I returned to BikeNüt to make my purchase. Where else would I go?
This openness and willingness to select what is right for customers rather than steering them to the most expensive products, is at the core of the BikeNüt brand. They only sell what they believe in. I can see it in their eyes: there is none of the usual detachment, the slightly glazed look that announces that they are just doing their job, the protective distance that establishes that they are employees and you are a civilian. I hear them enthusiastically describing a bike frame or a piece of equipment. I also listen to them talking to other customers, describing options available for their bikes, based on their connections with manufacturers, options that are usually not available to the public. They are eager to experiment, and finding like minded customers makes their day. These are emotions that cannot be faked, and certainly not day after day in the shop.

This is one of the first Umlauts. It comes in all kinds of configurations,
from the handlebar to the wheels, and, of course, the saddle.
BikeNüt has developed its brand in a new, exciting direction, by producing the Umlaut, their first bike. The name, of course, comes from the umlaut in the BikeNüt name. This is actually a carbon-fiber frame that can be completely customized. There is no set package of components to go with it. Pretty much everything, from the frame color to the wheels, can be decided by the customer. Every bike that comes out of BikeNüt is a special build.
We know that all top brands charge a premium because their name is on the bike frame or on the components. This is why their graphics are not very subtle, plastering the company’s logo all over the place. Perhaps I’m the only one thinking this, but I wish they did a better job.

Actually, not all frames are quite equal. Some, to remain nameless,
try to sell you a frame that has the appearance of a monocoque, when
in reality it is made of tubes glued together.
We can see the seat tube from the opening.

Do they have much reason for their premium price?
Ten years ago, a bicycle manufacturer could get a lot of mileage (pun intended) based on their superior carbon-fiber technology, how separate tubes could be lugged together to form a relatively rigid frame, how a carbon frame could be lighter than an aluminum frame. Monocoque frames, made of fewer parts, more durable and more efficient, eliminated all of these advantages. Technology advanced even more by orienting fiber to make bikes even stiffer in some areas and more forgiving and comfortable in other areas of the frame.
And now? Well, they’ve all caught on, offering more or less the same advantages.

This is the frame: simple, elegant, with a geometry that is almost traditional.
It is as light as a feather and stronger than steel.

The Umlaut is a monocoque frame, built in Asia with the latest technology. It is well made: try inserting your finger into the seat tube and feel the inner smoothness and the complete absence of loose fibers. The Umlaut is light and is extremely rigid in the right places. It has a fork made exactly of the same fibers as the frame, to maintain the same riding characteristics throughout the bike. 

This particular frame shows a threaded bottom bracket.

It comes with two types of bottom brackets, a threaded model and a BB 30. Thus, it can accommodate all of the gruppos available today, from a Shimano workhorse such as the 105 to the top of the line DuraAce, or SRAM Red, or whatever. The frame is worth of all the extras.
So, what makes the Umlaut different from the other top brands?
What about its value?
Based on the bottom line, there is virtually no competition: an Umlaut, equipped with a complete Shimano Ultegra package and Shimano wheels, can be purchased for $2,500 USD, about $1,000 USD less than the nearest competitor.
Based on the performance, BikeNüt has received terrific feedback: the bike is stiff, ready to accelerate, handles exceedingly well, and is comfortable to ride on long distances.
And based on the service? Well, the same customers keep coming back, to try new things, or to talk to the people at BikeNüt.

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