Inside Rapha – Sydney and Beyond

I recently visited Rapha’s Sydney ‘Clubhouse’ and was kindly given permission to take the photos that you see accompanying this article.

A Global Brand

We’ll look more closely at the Sydney premises in a moment, but first a global overview.

Rapha was founded in London, UK in 2004 by Simon Mottram. It quickly became well known for its unique marketing and cycle apparel design. Simon was both a chartered accountant and spent 15 years as a director of brand consultancy at Interbrand and a partner at a number of agencies, with a main focus on business relationships with luxury brands.

In 2017 the business was sold to RZC Investments. Because buyer and seller were both privately owned, the exact price and details of the deal were not required to be disclosed, but various reports put the transaction value in the range of A$288 to A$384 million. Simon Mottram stayed on as CEO and remains so until today.

You may already know that the owners of RZC Investments are Steuart and Tom Walton. Their grandfather, Sam Walton, founded Walmart, the world’s largest retail chain. At latest reports, the overall Walton family net wealth is approximately A$400 billion, making them the second richest family in the world (just behind a middle eastern oil dynasty).

The Walton brothers have been keen mountain bikers for quite a while now and in addition to buying the majority of Rapha, have invested heavily in MTB trails plus the USA bicycle manufacturer Allied Cycle Works and a couple of other specialist outdoor brands. They’ve also established the Rapha Foundation that has so far donated over A$8 million to various cycling related charities and projects.

Join the Club!

Rapha heavily promote their club. They don’t have stores, but ‘clubhouses’ – 22 of them around the world including seven in Europe, eight in the USA and seven in the Asia Pacific, of which Melbourne and Sydney are the only two in Australia.

Rapha also sells online plus through ‘Stockists’ – a small number of bicycle shops around Australia including Sticky Bottle that we featured last year.

Rapha Club membership is currently $10 per month in Australia. Their website shows the number of current members in each city, with 1,270 in Melbourne and 1,305 in Sydney, plus much smaller numbers in Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra, where they have ride leaders but no clubhouse. Even at that low monthly membership fee, with those numbers it adds up to a meaningful cashflow of about $350,000 per year.

Members receive the right to buy exclusive Rapha club kit, which features horizontal stripes, plus participation in member-only rides, events and other exclusivities.

For example, on Rapha Sydney’s site there are nine regular weekly group rides, of which six are for members only and three open to non-members.

Welcome to Sydney

Another key selling point of Rapha club membership is that the club houses are ‘your home away from home’ around the world where you can meet like-minded cyclists and go for rides or just hang out.

Rapha Sydney is certainly well placed to serve international visitors. It’s at 325 George Street, just a short ride, walk or light rail ride up from Circular key. If you’re not from Sydney but from one of the other mainland capitals, you could substitute the street name for Hay St, Rundle St, Bourke St, Queen St or Elizabeth St. In other words, this location would cost a fortune to rent. Especially when flagship city stores for Nike, Lululemon and other global brands are all lining the same stretch.

Despite their very ‘civilised’ late opening time of 10am, Rapha Sydney trades for quite long hours, being open seven days per week, not closing until 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays and 6 pm all weekdays except for 8 pm on Thursday. This part of Sydney is very busy on weekends. George Street is closed to cars and even (officially at least) bicycles. But the light rail carries 30 million passengers per year and the footpaths are often crowded.

In addition to having a light rail stop literally at the front door, the store is 50 metres from Wynyard – one of the busiest railway stations in Australia, it’s certainly an accessible location.

Here’s a look inside…

Interior view of bicycle store
For such a high rent area, the store fitout is hardly extravagant with stackable crates and simple metal hangars.
Interior view of bicycle store
Deeper into the store you’re presented with two options, upstairs to most of the merchandise or downstairs to the clubroom.
lounge area in bike shop
There’s barely an item for sale within the club lounge area.
Headshot portraits of cyclists displayed on wall
It’s all about community…
Notice board with notes pinned to it
The left side is all about riding goals. The right side features double sided cards which are also available as hand-outs that feature a staff member on one side and a ‘curated ride’ map on the other side.
Text inscribed in concrete stairs
These famous climbs, some local, some global, are on the stair risers that face the club lounge.
Bicycle shop interior with hanging clothes rack
Upstairs is still extremely sparse. There is more stock to the left, just out of picture.

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