Innovative Retailer – Wheelys

Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS Group

Name: Wheelys

The Place: Any street corner, anywhere on the globe! Now that’s what I call a marketplace.

That’s what I call “not possible”: Nonsense. You can go anywhere on a bike. And Wheelys combines all those hot retail trends right now.

Like: Like sustainability, eco-friendliness, organic produce, franchising, elements of the gig economy even, as well as mobile convenience stores. Honestly, you name it.

Righto. Well, we’d better get back to The Story: Nordic coffee culture – it’s different to other places. There’s no decaffeinated option and they drink lots and lots of it. Plus they like independent operators more than Starbucks and the big boys. And interestingly Wheelys now has more cafes than Starbucks allegedly (albeit mobile ones).

Get on with it: Yes, so in 2014 three Swedish advertising types were casting around for gainful employment after their left-field agency had to close down when one of them, Maria de la Croix hit upon the idea of a mobile coffee shop.

What – just like that? No, earlier in her life she had lots of friends who sold coffee from a backpack…

I’m not even going to ask how that works: Probably best. Anyway she saw that they were making proper amounts of money from just a few hours trading after school and the idea stayed with her.

And it just scaled up to a push bike: Correct. After a round of crowd-funding raised $150,000, the first prototypes of the Wheely bike (fully branded by these advertising types, of course) came on stream, having been designed and constructed in Malmo. There were 20 bikes and they were franchised out quicker than you can say “Barista on a Bike”.

Maria de la Croix, founder of Wheelys

Seamless: Not quite. Management quickly realised they had sold them too cheaply. However, despite that, in the same year, they had already begun Wheelys Chile and Wheelys Jordan.

Blimey: Now it’s in more than 70 countries and stands at over 900 Wheely units busy pedalling round the world serving any type of coffee that each particular locality wants and other stuff besides, whatever the vendor feels like pretty much.

And all that growth is just organic word of mouth: Hell no, in 2015 they came to the attention of the massively influential Y Combinator in Silicon Valley who have invested in Airbnb and other things so it’s like, investing royalty.

Tell me the twiddly bits now: OK, this is how it works. You decide you want to cash in on the whole ‘café on a bike scenario’. You then beat off stiff competition to obtain one of their next release of specially modified bikes either a mini (cheaper but flatpack – yikes) or the full fandango which you can pretty much add all sorts onto yourself. You pay a fairly substantial sum for said bike (around $6,500) and then you are off, amigo!

Is that it? Kind of. You also pay a monthly subscription fee which is fairly modest. Then Wheelys give you lots of advice about maximising revenue, how to sell the coffee, where to sell it, how to run more than one Wheely bike and so on but I think that it is on the technology side of things that they are really hot.

Hit me: The app for example. The vendor side of the app enables the Wheelers to buy all their coffee bike supplies through Wheelys to ensure consistency of quality for the brand. This in turn lets the company keep tabs on stock levels on every bike and to automatically re-order when it is running low (people have freedom to sell what they want along with the coffee but cakes etc… must be organic). You can also sell different coffees but must also always have the ‘house’ coffee available.

Wheelys247 in operation in Shanghai

And for the customers: Well, what doesn’t it do. First you can find the Wheelys café closest to you right at that very moment, then you can order a coffee to be ready and waiting for you in the café bike, and you pay for it through the app. And then you can save your favourite orders easy as pie and re-order with a tap.

Now this all sounds very super and smart but I just know that there will be a fly in the ointment somewhere. So where is it? Oh, I don’t know about there being any flies exactly…

Where is it? I couldn’t really comment on that side of things to be honest.

Where is it? Oh be quiet already. It’s the street trading licenses ok. Jeez.

Ha! There are obviously a minefield of different regulations around selling food on the street across the globe – and it’s a lot more complicated that the Wheelys website makes out when it advises Wheelers to keep moving so that it looks like they are just delivering coffee. However, the company does say that it is trying to work out a training system to help vendors with this issue.

So once in – are you in to the death? Absolutely not. The company reckons most franchisees are making around $300- 400 a day so probably don’t even want to leave. However, after a year you are free from your contract if you wish and provided you un-brand the bike café you can carry on doing the same thing if you wish.

Well, as always I must ask about the future. Can we read the coffee grinds? Not sure that is actually a thing. Anyway, the technology that Wheelys uses for its vendor app to do with stock taking are currently being leveraged as we speak in Shanghai where the company is trialling an un-manned, self driving 24-hour convenience store, Wheelys247, where customers do not queue to pay, no staff exist, and the public simply enter via smart-phone codes and scan their items on these devices, which are linked to bank accounts, before leaving.

Woah! Spooky. Does it make coffee? No comment.


PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe