Movers & Shakers Q&A – Jon Owen, CEO of Ribble Cycles

Movers and Shakers 2015-Cover

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Jon Owen, CEO, Ribble Cycles

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

At Ribble Cycles, we want to make it easy and enjoyable to build and buy a fantastic, customised bike online; avoiding the costs and hassle of the traditional store retail model, while delivering personalisation that stores can only dream of. The next iteration of our Bike Builder will make it much simpler for customers to do just that – we’re really excited about it.


2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

For some customers, there’s still work to be done to overcome some of the real and psychological barriers to purchasing a bike online. However, there are huge benefits to buying online – when the offering is rolled out properly.

At Ribble we’ve found that by combining innovative tech solutions (the right imagery and video of the bikes; the right information in the purchase funnel; a simple configuration of options and choices), plus some ‘real world’ reassurance (long term frame guarantees, direct-to-door delivery and a 30-day test-and-return policy) as well as first-class service and support, will reduce – and possibly eliminate – these barriers.

3.With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

Founded an algorithm-driven internet search business in 1995 when I left university! Other than that, there’s not much I would change – you learn from everything, and I’ve enjoyed my time at each of the businesses I’ve worked for.

4.What is the future of the physical store and the high street?

Rumours of the demise of the physical store are greatly exaggerated. Clearly the high street is changing, but high impact stores that offer a compelling experience will prosper. We’re a digital business and our focus is to continually use technology to bring a fantastic product offering and shopping experience to customers. Yet I can see the role physical retail will continue to play in customers’ lives – particularly in the form of showcase pop-ups or showrooms to create a touch-point with customers in real life.

5.What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?

The primary focus for Ribble is on building a class-leading online bike building and buying experience, which mixes the best digital experience through tech improvements with better content, to break down any barriers perceived about online purchasing. The industry still has some way to go to break some of these down, but we’re pretty excited about the potential.

As mentioned, our first iteration of Bikebuilder is just one step in placing the choice into the hands of the customer. Cycling is such a personal sport and customisation is going to be the key to making sure that every single one of our customers not only gets first-class experience every time they come into contact with Ribble, but also have the best experience every time they ride their Ribble bike. The way we ensure this is maintained is through the technology we invest in for the site and the coming months will see some really exciting developments.

6.With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control your growing digital landscape?

There’s definitely a set of risks that come with the new digital landscape. We ensure that our plans and processes are robust, and that we’ve got the right tech in place to give us early visibility of any issues. You can’t get hung up on the risks, though; the point businesses need to remember is that the opportunities from digital far outweigh the risks.

7.What other retail business do you admire?

There are so many businesses doing really interesting things. I personally admire the businesses that find and crack a genuinely new twist on a commercial model, such as Airbnb. I like the innovative use of data, at significant scale, to drive a better customer experience. Some of the gambling companies, such as SkyBet, are also doing this very well, as well as pure play retailers like my former home, Shop Direct. But I also like really well-run, curated businesses led by passionate individuals, which are building an entire community around a retail experience. A good example of this in the cycling trade is Prologue in Harrogate.

8.If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

I love sport, but given that my sporting standard wasn’t high enough to earn money as a participant, being involved in the business or administration side of sport would have been really interesting.

9.What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

At Ribble, we’ve hardly started, so too early to say. But we have a great team behind us in the form of True Capital. The next few months are going to see a continued step change in the way the business engages with – and delivers – the best experience to our customers. When it comes to life, I’m happy and my family are happy – I’d take that.

10.Who would you place in the Top 50 Movers & Shakers in Retail?

If I had to name just one, it would be an ex-colleague of mine, Jonathan Wall. He’s well known in the industry but has earned that profile and reputation, and has driven a lot of the progress Shop Direct has made. He’s also a very nice guy, if you ignore his footballing affiliation.

I don’t know him personally, but Nick Robertson at Asos has built a fantastic success story in fashion e-com generally, but within that has driven a class-leading approach in using social media to build, grow and engage a customer community.