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Sydney bike clothing company Cycology has made an art of sitting on the radical fringe and luring a growing legion of adventurous cyclists to its wild fashion frontiers.
For the past 10 years, husband and wife duo Michael and Sarina Tomchin have delivered a unique and steadily expanding range of hand-crafted designs that set their jerseys, t-shirt and accessories apart from virtually anything else on the market.
Cycology’s designs are a visual rebellion that is the very essence of the brand’s success, providing an alternative to the sea of conservative styles catering for the mainstream.
All the designs are drawn or painted by Sarina, a commercial artist who had already earned an international following for her tropical, beachy artworks before she turned her talents to cyclewear. An elite cyclist and multisport athlete for almost four decades, Sarina began collaborating with a fellow cyclist and fashion apparel manufacturer and saw the potential of combining her two passions.
“Our customers are very rusted on. They keep coming back to our brand because they like the point of difference.”
The result – as the brand name suggests – are edgy and extremely bold designs that play with the mind and tap into the psyche of people looking to express their individuality.
“Cycology designs are highly distinctive and really stand for something. They aren’t designed for everyone. They either strongly resonate with people or they just don’t,” Michael says.
However, they certainly resonate with a lot of people. Since the company’s establishment 10- years ago, Cycology has enjoyed steady growth in Australia – as an almost exclusively online business – and around the world.
“We’re the classic Australian brand working quite nicely on the world stage,” Michael said.
“Our customers are very rusted on. They keep coming back to our brand because they like the point of difference.
“We don’t offer any incentives for return purchases but when we look back at our back orders, we can see we have customers who have ordered from us 50 or 60 times.”
The company has contracted warehouses in the US, UK and Europe – as well as Australia – to meet overseas demand and is amassing loyal customers in other countries, particularly Japan.
Ready for Greater Presence in Stores
Now Cycology is making a concerted effort to boost its presence among Australian retailers.
Its garments and accessories are already stocked by a handful of retailers around the country, offering a strong point of difference and seizing the attention of customers seeking something out of the ordinary.
“As a brand matures, you always have to look at new avenues and new touch points for your business.”
“Our progression in the Australia market is at a point where our future growth can really benefit from more partnerships with stores,” Michael said.
“We’re doing a lot of work to improve brand awareness but it’s such a noisy marketplace out there. It’s a tough gig online, with so many brands competing for eyeballs.”
“As a brand matures, you always have to look at new avenues and new touch points for your business. The best retailers tend to be omni channel these days.
“There’s still a significant number of people who aren’t comfortable purchasing online. We consistently get enquiries from people wanting to know where they can try our garments on and we haven’t been able to give them many options.”
In return, Cycology offers retailers a high level of supply flexibility, a good understanding of the brand’s enduring customer favourites and an array of accessories to ease customers into the brand – not to mention an attention-grabbing addition to their clothing racks.
“We work with them to identify our evergreen best sellers, particularly among customers in their area, and the accessories most likely to be grabbed on impulse from their shelves,” he said.
“When I talk to any retailer who’s interested in our products, I don’t want them to be investing excessively in our range. I want them to be able to start conservatively and sensibly in terms of their product offerings and being able to respond to what their own customer tastes dictate.
“Because we can supply quickly and we already hold large inventories to support our online business, we can offer retailers a supply line that not only offers terrific flexibility, but also very low risk.
“We sell huge volumes from our accessories collection these days and that’s our recommended starting point. The investment required is much less than committing to an apparel range. We have several one-size accessory options, such as cycling socks, handlebar tape, saddle bags and cycling caps, so the stock required to put a range together is not big and these items tend to be easy, impulse sales.
“Once established, stores can expand their range into any of the other categories we offer.
“We’re always comfortable with sharing our best-seller stats with prospective retailers to help with design selection. Across our ranges, we have ‘evergreen’ designs that just keep on giving in terms of generating high sales.
“Usually, three or four designs in any collection will generate the bulk of our sales, so we can guide retailers toward these to maximise their sales.”
Michael said his company’s own supply lines were good, courtesy of working with the same factories for quite a few years, and he was constantly ordering stock.
“Retailers can be confident we won’t be running end-of-season clearance sales while they’re sitting on stock.”
“We can normally replenish stock in six to eight weeks with most of our supply lines,” he said. “We hold good stocks of evergreen products and can react quickly to any deviations in demand for each of our ranges.
“It also means we don’t require retailers to order and pay for stock well in advance,” Michael added. “They can just contact us whenever they like through our B2B portal and they will receive their stock within a few days.”
He said his company’s adherence to small but frequent orders with the factories avoided the risk of excessive, slow-to-clear stockpiles, removing the need for sales and develop trust and good relationships between Cycology and retailers.
“Retailers can be confident we won’t be running end-of-season clearance sales while they’re sitting on stock. We’re not going to be competing with them.”
Michael said those favourable supply lines were compounded by the company’s tried and tested approach to introducing new products and its high strike rate for delivering popular designs – despite remaining on a radical fringe with its designs.
About five years ago, Michael and Sarina amicably parted ways with a business associate who had been invaluable in getting Cycology on track towards its current success, but had a strong focus on analysing buyer behaviour and was increasingly convinced of the need for Sarina to tailor her designs to feed the market accordingly.
“He wanted to see our artistic energies directed more and more towards designs that were in keeping with our existing proven designs … in essence, to become more mainstream,” Michael said.
“That wasn’t the way Sarina wanted to design. Creative people often don’t like being in a box and she preferred to rely on her artistic intuition.
“This parting enabled us to get a bit more adventurous and creative with the brand again, and stay true to the company’s DNA. We’re an innovative brand that doesn’t follow trends and simply wants people to feel good in their kit.
“When we strike gold with a particular jersey design, we’ll add that design to our cycling socks, caps, gloves and bar tape.”
“Fortunately, we’ve developed a very good feel for what’s going to work, However, it’s never perfect. We’ve done over 200 jersey designs since we started and while we never know if the next release will be another golden-haired child, we have a good understanding that it will do really well or quite well at the very least.
“There’s a chemistry you can never put your finger on, like what makes a particular rock song a greatest hit.
“For that reason, we start each new release with a relatively small order, so we are confident we’ll sell all that stock. We might miss out on a few sales if it sells out really quickly. But at least then we know we’ve got another hit and we can restock quickly, then look at how we can adapt that design across our other products.
“For example, when we strike gold with a particular jersey design, we’ll add that design to our cycling socks, caps, gloves and bar tape. The degree of coordination people want on a bike these days is huge. Probably more so with women – they often want the complete story and that can equate to a huge purchase – but it’s also very prevalent with men.”
Cycology’s most enduring evergreen designs are Frida, Secret Garden and See Me for women, and Rock n Roll, Velo Tattoo and 8 Days for men.
“8 Days, modelled on the Beatles song, was introduced about three years ago. When Sarina designed it, I thought it was a little too edgy but we decided to give it a go.
“We launched it on the Sunday and by Monday morning it was gone … everywhere in the world. It’s consistently been one of our top sellers ever since, probably because it appeals to all generations and makes people feel good when they put it on and hit the road.
“For older generations, it brings them in touch with a part of their youth.”
Cycology has also enjoyed rapid success with its recently introduced gravel shirts.
“The market for gravel garments is really unclear because there’s no particular style. Everyone has a different take on it,” Michael said.
“We went with a collared shirt, like a resort shirt, made with beautiful technical fabrics and concealed pockets at the back, and they’ve been red hot.
“It’s one of the styles I would recommend retailers stock because it’s got really broad appeal to a number of genres, from gravel riders to commuters and people on e-bikes.”
Punching Above its Price Point
Michael says Cycology’s prices have always been mid-range – and below its more comparable rival brands – because its business model enabled it to remain lean in terms of overheads.
“That means we can invest in product quality to ensure we punch above our weight in the quality stakes,” he said.
“When you’re an online B2C brand, customers don’t have the benefit of experiencing the quality of your product. We always felt our unique designs gave us a real point of difference but we also wanted to ensure our product backed it up in terms of quality and value for money.
“We’ve always sourced our garments from the very small number of factories that can effectively work with hand-drawn designs, because digitising them for production removes much of the colour gradients and that hand-drawn look that gives our designs their special point of difference.
“And we don’t push them on price. We want them to be able to charge the right price to give us the product we’re going to be happy with. That includes using technical fabrics that rival the best available from Europe.
“However, when online customers can’t touch and physically experience that quality, your products have to be a price point that isn’t a barrier to them giving your garments a go. Our jerseys are around the $130 mark in Australia, while a comparable product typically retails for $160 to $180.
“But the proof of the pudding for us – the evidence that people like our value for money and individualistic designs – is our exceptional rate of repeat ordering.
“We have very young, really fashion-conscious people wearing our kit, through to older people returning to cycling to help lose weight – and they’re all feeling good in it.
“People like our jerseys because they feel individual and different.”
To find out more about Cycology , email Michael directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.