SOLA have been busy doing up to 30 Fox suspension service jobs per day that are sent in from bike shops around Australia.
Bicycling Trade recently visited SOLA Sport at their headquarters in the western suburbs of Sydney NSW. The interview below is one of three stories that we’ll be publishing. You’ll also find an update about Netti in this issue and a wide ranging interview with CEO George Nisbet will appear in our Mar/Apr/May 2015 print edition.
As the Australian agent for Fox Racing a big part of SOLA’s role is to provide an expert service centre to which dealers can mail in repair and warranty jobs.
Business has been brisk with three technicians at work. We spoke to both George Nisbet and the National Product Manager for Fox, Simon Glanville both about the challenges they face and plans for expansion for Fox in Australia.
Bicycling Trade: Is it difficult to be an Australian agent for a suspension brand such as Fox, when most of the product would come in as OEM rather than aftermarket sales?
Simon Glanville: It’s only a challenge through the warranty side of things. The product’s already here so from our point of view there’s no stress. There’s a lot of product and potential for a lot of warranties, but then that’s also reflected in the servicing, so it evens itself out.
Our workshop is now quite profitable, which is good.
We wouldn’t sell as much aftermarket product as we would like because there’s a lot coming in on bikes. But a lot of the stuff coming in on the bikes is the low end. It is the Evolution series and we realistically only sell large volumes of the Factory series, which is Kashima coated, with fit cartridges and all the bells and whistles.
BT: Do you only service Fox or are you servicing other brands?
SG: Yes, we only service Fox. From our service point of view we’re very busy with just Fox.
BT: How many guys have you got on deck now?
SG: Three full time, just technicians and then admin people upstairs who help out also.
BT: What we be a typical day? What comes in the mail from dealers around Australia?
SG: It could be any number of forks or shocks. Our big days we’d probably see 30 jobs come in the mail. We try and limit the number of jobs sitting on the shelf to a maximum of 30. Obviously that fluctuates. Sometimes you have a couple of days with not much mail and then sometimes you have a couple of days where you get 25 each day for three or four days and it adds to the time of unpacking so the guys can’t do as many jobs to get them out.
But that’s the goal, about 30 jobs on the shelf, which means that we can keep it within our targets of a couple of days for warranty and three or so days for a service.
George Nisbet: We’d like to move the model next year to try and get the service in an out in two days and the warranty in under two days, aiming for one day. We’ve made quite a big investment in terms of training our workshop team, in terms of the layout and getting Fox to help us with the most efficient way to lay out the workshop. Just continuous training and reinforcement and making sure our admin and technician work is separate so we get the best outcome from our team.
BT: Is your Fox service a way of attracting more IBD accounts for SOLA?
GN: A big portion of the Fox service still comes in under a cash sale account where we don’t actually have the dealers having an account with us. We’re trying to work on that and get them onto an account. With Fox we deal with everybody in the industry.
BT: Do you only deal through dealers, or will you service the public as well?
SG: At the moment it’s only through dealers.
BT: Any chance of that changing?
GN: We’ve developed a new ‘Ride Fox Australia’ website. One of the big reasons behind having the website is to offer the dealer base an online tracking system for service and warranty work.
Part of that is also going to be to give consumers the option to do servicing direct with us. The retail pricing of what you’ll pay for servicing will be consistent between the dealers and the consumers. There won’t be any preferential pricing offered to the directs.
But for the mountain bike consumer that is savvy enough to be able to take the product off their bicycle and send it in, that’s a valuable thing. The idea is not to compete with our customer base but more to compliment the dealers, because there are a lot of dealers who don’t want to be involved in servicing.
There is a bit of a lag in the lead time from a consumer putting a bike in for a service and the IBD actually getting the Fox part into SOLA for a service.
SG: It works overseas. If you took Mojo for instance which is the UK Fox service centre, which is one of the most professional ones around the world. They do direct and they also service shops and it seems to work really well.
We just feel it’s important to offer quicker turnaround times and that’s the major way we see we can do it.
GN: After sales service is paramount to the consumer’s expectation in purchasing Fox.
BT: I see there’s a wall of Fox clothing on display in your showroom.
SG: With it being 40 years of Fox, we thought it was a good opportunity to launch the clothing. Fox has always done some types of apparel, clothing or workshop gear, but we took it as a good time in Fox’s lifespan with us to actually start promoting
We get a lot of inquiries from shops about promotional gear, so in the past we may have done hats or jerseys or t-shirts or something like that, but now we’re actually offering it as a category. We’re pushing hard from our end to Fox to make it a proper category and not just used as promotional gear, but actually develop standalone unique products that we can offer.
BT: I see that Fox Racing is now doing clothing in-store.
GN: Yes, it’s part of the Fox 40th Anniversary and it’s great to create an in-store prescience for Fox together with the After Market Test ride Program.
It comes back to the question you asked earlier about OEM product coming into the market. One of the things we had a challenge with is that Fox is traditionally in store as part of an OEM spec on a bike. After-market is quite a difficult category. This (clothing) gives us the opportunity to create an in store presence and really give the brand some credibility in store.
BT: What does your new test ride program entail?
SG: We went out to shops to see if they were interested in carrying a small range of forks, available to them at a heavily reduced price so it’s very easy for them to have some presence in shop. The compromise is that they have to loan those forks out to customers.
It’s ‘store appropriate’, so if you’re a downhill store you might carry the 36 and the 40. If you’re a cross country store you might carry the 32 and the 34.
If you want to have your own test ride bikes, let’s say you’re a Santa Cruz dealer, you can actually put it on a Santa Cruz bike and have it there and then if they come in and ride a Santa Cruz then they get to ride the fork and vice versa, if they come in to ride the fork they get to ride the Santa Cruz so it helps everybody.
Maybe their fork is getting serviced or getting sent away for a warranty problem an issue, any brand. That is a viable replacement to keep them up and going. So it’s convenient for stores I guess otherwise they’d be paying full wack.
The shop keeps to forks for as long as they want. At the end of it they’re free to move the forks on at a reduced price so a consumer’s also going to get a deal on a Fox fork that they mightn’t have been able to afford, so we just see it as being positive.
The thing about Fox is it’s fairly well policed on the internet so you should only be able to buy Fox from an Australian dealer or an Australian website and we’re happy with that. You shouldn’t be able to go to the US or Canada and buy it in. If we do see that, we generally try and put a stop to it.