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The Solé Way: How Solé Bicycles Battled Back From The Brink and Used Unique Partnerships to Build a Booming Business

Talking partnership hardships, and the unique opportunities to market with UGC and differentiated content

via https://www.solebicycles.com/pages/corporate

Let’s get this out of the way now: most companies will not have someone go from intern to CEO in a matter of just a few months. That’s a situation unique to James Standley and his company, Solé Bicycles. What isn’t unique, though, are the many challenges and hurdles that Standley and his team had to deal with when scaling Solé into the success it is today.

One of the first things that Standley says the company needed to do was sort out its manufacturing process. In the early days, Solé was placed with a manufacturer/distributor through a grant it won in a business competition. Very quickly, though, Standley says that they learned that it’s critical to do your homework to find the fit that really works for you and your company.

“Do your diligence and find the supplier that makes the most sense for you, and not just use the first one that you end up getting placed with or you end up meeting with,” he says, “You have to go over there and develop a relationship with them — it’s so important. They have this saying [In China], ‘First, you drink tea, then you drink Maotai and then talk business.’ What I mean by that is, they want to meet you, the different suppliers and the different people over there want to meet you. They want to build a personal relationship, and then they want to talk business because it’s so important there to have a personal relationship, as well as a business relationship.”

Relationships are a key part of business overall, Standley explains. From the relationship with your manufacturer to the one you have with your customers and partners, having a personal connection will take you far. For Solé, the relationships that have meant the most are the ones they have cultivated with folks outside of the bicycle industry — people like artists and musicians, with whom Standley says Solé has partnered with to create content that has nothing to do with selling bikes.

Through mixtapes, events and collaborations, Solé has put out content and experiences that consumers connect to whether they are in the market for a bicycle or not. According to Standley, how a customer finds Solé matters a lot less than whether or not they are getting something from the company that is unique and makes them smile.

“You wouldn’t think of us as a music business or a bike business, but there are people out there in the world that only know us as the Fixed Tape company,” Standley says, “There are people who’ll find out and they’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, you guys sell bikes.’…It’s about [finding] organic unique way to reach new customers and relate with our customers.”

Customers have fallen in love with what Solé offers — whether it’s music or a bicycle — and that has translated into success to the tune of 15,000 bikes sold in 2020.

And none of that would have been possible if Standley and his team hadn’t battled through all of the tough times they faced in the early days of the business.

“There’s a reason nine out of 10 businesses fail,” Standley says. “There are so many things that can go wrong with building a business, but you have to learn to embrace those challenges and know that you just have to fight through it. There’s not always a way to figure it out, but oftentimes, if you keep working at it and keep fighting, you can find ways to get through these things. If you do get through them, these are like business cards, or things that’ll stick with you and you could grow and build on them as you continue to build your business. …We’ve now learned to embrace the challenge and just know there’s going to be some new challenge, every year there’s going to be some new we’re going to get hit with, and you just have to learn to embrace it and take it head-on and not let it beat you up.”

To hear the full story, tune into Up Next in Commerce, here.

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