Last week Wiggle announced that they are opening an office in Sydney, their first overseas office and a move which symbolises the value of online bike and accessories sales in Australia. Adam Johnson is leading Wiggle Australia as CEO and acknowledges the vastly different reactions; some welcomed the news with open arms while others have been vocal in their opposition. “Conflict makes headlines,” suggests Johnson, but for Wiggle it is a natural evolution of their business.
Wiggle and other overseas online retailers can’t please everybody. “In some ways we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t and I guess all that we can do is what we think is the right thing at the right time,” says Johnson. “There are people who are hostile that we are here now, but we used to have criticism that we weren’t here. I am employed here, we have an office here. We are here. It wasn’t like we were here and then set up off-shore”.
A big part of the decision to set up an Australian office was to support marketing activities with local organisations. “We made the investment to support the Amy Gillett Foundation and Bicycle Network Victoria. It is all very well doing those things from a distance, but that is only one small part of it. You need to be on the ground supporting them, listening to them, helping them. At the moment with Bicycle Network Victoria, we are helping them with the membership drive, so we have their flyers in all of our boxes.”
Simplifying the relationship with these organisations, Johnson explains, “Wiggle is a bike shop, and what good bikes shops do is sponsor events. We are lucky, we can do it on a big scale because of the scale of our business”
In a small but busy Italian cafe in the Sydney beach suburb of Dee Why, Adam Johnson delved into his credentials. As an Englishman he worked for a Swedish CNC firm in Memphis, USA, took a role in the legendary (and now defunct) Wang and then spent years in New Zealand with Sybase. As the digital boom continued he took management roles in online travel businesses including lastminute.com and most recently was recruited to lead Wiggle Australia.
Clarifying the exact role of the Wiggle team in Australia, Johnson continues “You can really describe us at the moment as a sales and marketing organisation. We are going to be adding customer service because we think there is opportunity there. It is about saying, Rather than doing things here for the sake of it, it is about what can only be done here, best be done here”.
When prompted about specific changes to Australianise Wiggle, Johnson says, “The first things we are doing is customising the website to suit the Australian market, thinking of seasonality, but also some brands are stronger here than they are in the UK.” Beyond just ‘picking seasons’ “it is the nuances.” For example when Australia is experiencing rain it affects purchasing habits (home trainers become popular) and the local knowledge will allow the online retailer to react.
Johnson discusses how the UK success of a small bike shop called Butlers Cycles has carried across into the Australian market. “Consumers have led behavior and the companies have followed. I am sitting here, doing what I am doing, because Aussies found Wiggle in the UK, and paid in pounds, from across the planet, because we had what they wanted. That is consumer sovereignty, consumers lead it”.
Adam Johnson was not prepared to provide details on the percentage of sales for Wiggle attributed to Australian customers or the number of monthly shipments except to say that 2011 figures of 10,000+ shipments a month have been vastly exceeded.
What is next for Wiggle?
Johnson provides a hint about the direction of online retail, “Interact with the consumer in the way that they want to interact, at that point in time.” This leaves a lot of room for speculation, though you can be certain that Wiggle are moving and adapting to be where they think consumers will be.
While Wiggle has strong competition from Chain Reaction Cycles (as well as smaller shops; Evans Cycles, Ribble Cycles, Merlin Cycles, Slane Cycles, ProBikeKit and US based Competitive Cyclist and Jenson USA), the local competition is also notable with Cell Bikes, Torpedo7, TBSM and Pushys enjoying a significant local following in Australia. Australian business, both traditional and online, can learn a lot from overseas online bike shops, but rest assured, Wiggle won’t be resting, and openly invite clubs or events to engage with them.
Though Johnson recognises that many clubs and events already have local industry sponsors and respects these relationships, there are gaps and Wiggle has their doors open. Partnership and sponsorship enquiries can be directed via AUContact@wiggle.com (note – order and product enquires should be directed via the website).
Wiggle advertise on Bicycles Network Australia. This interview was not funded and is not an advertorial (I paid for lunch).