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How to find success in an unlikely sector: 5 lessons I learnt from selling electric bikes

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For many Australians, the idea of an electric bike conjures images of a less than appealing, somewhat dated form of bicycle with a bulky motor attached to ostensibly create speed.

With this overarching image at the forefront of consumer minds, the beginning for Dolomiti Electric Bicycles was always going to be a great challenge. It was my mission to get consumers thinking and feeling about e-bikes as a genuine form of transportation.

As a frequent traveller to and from the northern mountain ranges of Italy, I saw first-hand the popularity and growth of electric bikes in European culture and knew this was something I could bring back to Australia.

Natural world progress had seen people look for faster ways to commute and easier ways to integrate exercise into their daily routines, and there was a gap in the Australian transport market for an environmentally-friendly, healthy, efficient and low-cost mode of commuting.

Sometimes you gotta switch it up

To succeed though, I knew I had to do things a little differently.

Every bike store in Australia up until that point was the same: rows upon rows of bikes all in a line. I saw purchasing an electric bike on par with buying a car, so I wanted the store to reflect that way of thinking and I wanted our customers to feel the same way too. Our store is clean, spacious, categorised and stylish. It is entirely non-traditional.

Our innovative approach, coupled with ongoing marketing initiatives, has seen consumers make purchase decisions based on their desire for an electric bike rather than any specific need for one.

We have worked hard to change the stigma and perception around e-bikes and to build a successful business. Our efforts have seen us sell over one-million dollars’ worth of electric bikes each year and achieve an annual growth rate of more than 40 per cent. This exceeded any of our initial expectations.

What does it take to make it in an unlikely sector?

It was all far from easy though and there were often times I wished for someone’s help. So, here are my top five tips for succeeding in an unlikely sector… good luck!

1. Do your research

Although I knew I wanted to do things differently to traditional bike stores, I had no idea whether it would work or not. It seems cliché, but you really do need to do your research. As great as your idea may seem to you, never make assumptions. It is important to step outside your bubble and gauge what the world is thinking, and what’s really missing in the market.

In the process of founding Dolomiti, we engaged with market researchers who conducted extensive study into the retail presence of electric bikes, the existing perceptions about e-bikes and the profile and location of frequent bike riders. We also gave away free e-bikes and collated feedback on style, quality, ease of riding, likes and dislikes, pros and cons. As it turned out, few people had ever actually ridden an electric bike before and almost all were surprised at how much they enjoyed it.

Our research in the space confirmed our notion that the quality and look of the e-bike had a great impact on perception. Hence, we committed to selling only the most premium in European quality and style.

Market research should also be ongoing. In an ever-changing landscape, remaining on top of trends and perceptions is crucial for progress.

2. Be open minded

It’s important to be receptive to new ideas and to consider the advice of others. The fact of the matter is that no matter what you do in this world, there will always be others who do certain things better and certain things worse than you.

By listening to the thoughts and experiences of others, you are able to learn from their understanding and effectively make decisions and implement strategies within your own business. Don’t take offence to criticism either. Often this will come from a good place, and for those of whom it doesn’t, well, we all know not to listen to these people anyway.

3. Maintain healthy relationships

Of course, this is true of every part of life. And it is no less important in business. Having strong relationships with suppliers in particular is the key to success. At the end of the day, you depend on them to provide product as much as they depend on you to sell it. We work with well-known and high quality e-bike providers, using technology such as Samsung and Bosch.

4. Be consistent

It’s incredibly important that the messaging of your brand and values of your business translate across every aspect of your organisation. This includes the quality of the product, the look and feel of your store, your marketing and collateral and your language and tone of voice.

If you sell premium, high quality product such we do, it is important to keep the target audience in mind at all times. Our bikes can range from $3,500 to $8,000 and our typical customer is generally someone that is looking for the highest in quality and up-to-date technology, with an element of luxury as well. Hence, with this in mind our store is purposefully located in the hilly, leafy and typically affluent suburb of Ivanhoe, our store is styled much like that of a luxury car showroom (think plenty of space and clean lines), and all of our campaign imagery depicts stylish, aspirational visuals.

We aim to consistently have this ‘high-end’ aspect come through across all communications. This has worked for us but it may not necessarily work for you. What’s important is that you identify the key messaging for your own business and that you emulate this consistently across everything you do.

5. Invest in your team

Speaking of consistency, this also applies to the execution of the sale. The quality of your service needs to match the quality of the product you provide. We have spent a long time developing a ‘Dolomiti’ way of doing things and we train our staff extensively to manage both quality and consistency across customers.

Of course, it is important to look for the right people in the first place. Take time to find people with the right attitude and understanding, and then continually guide and develop them.

The time you invest in training your staff to know the product and the brand ethos will return tenfold in the outcomes you achieve. Train you people, nurture their skills, see the results.

Giampaolo Zanol is the founder of Dolomiti Electric Bikes

Giampaolo Zanol, founder Dolomiti Electric Bikes

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