RevZilla looks to bring Zappos-style service to powersports e-tailing

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When they were looking to launch a powersports e-commerce site, the three friends behind RevZilla Motorsports hit on something that’s been suggested for years among brick-and-mortar dealers — don’t just look at the guy down the street who’s doing well, it’s also a good idea to take a peak outside the tent.

Successful retailers such as Apple, Best Buy, Banana Republic and other store have already established some pretty decent retailing standards. Why not look to them for inspiration?

With that Nick Auger, Anthony Bucci and Matthew Kull took a look at the established leaders in the motorcycle PG&A e-tailing world and then aimed their focus on the one company that’s arguably done more to shape online shopping than any store that’s dropped anchor on the Internet. Coupling a diverse background in e-commerce, web development and a love for motorcycles, the three opened Revzilla.com in 2007 and have since watched their business grow like gangbusters.

“We want to be the Zappos of the motorcycle world,” Bucci, 29, says. “And not because of how big they are, but because of their reputation. We aspire to be a category leader. When we started the business we looked at [Motorcycle] Superstore. We looked at Bike Bandit. We looked at what a lot of our current competition had done well and wanted to put out an offering that raises the bar for both shopping and the customer experience.”

The RevZilla headquarters is located in South Philadelphia where the trio also operate a 4,000 sq. ft. retail store.

For those of you who’ve been without electricity or under a rock the past few years, Zappos is the online shoe and clothing store that grossed more than $1 billion in sales in 2009. The site is well-known for its hassle-free, 365-day return policy, fast and often free shipping, and a diehard commitment to customer service — a mission around which the company says it focuses its entire organization.

It’s this focus on the customer that Bucci says he, Auger, 25, and Kull, 26, zeroed in on when developing the business. The three also built the site around the idea of offering niche products that customers might not be able to access in their local stores. Bucci uses their location in the Northeast as an example of a region where a lot of stores carry only a middle-of-the-road selection because the riding is typically not year round.

This isn’t to say that Bucci is looking to exacerbate the contentious debate whether online retailers are siphoning off customers from traditional in-store dealerships or undercutting them with lowball prices and discounts. In fact, the affable Pennsylvania native says he believes there is room in the market for everybody, especially when stores like RevZilla aren’t competing on price and store-based franchised dealers also have service, parts and bikes to draw in customers. Bucci adds that RevZilla lands on the right side of the line when it comes to adhering to vendor’s and distributor’s MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) policies.

“The customer who is on my site, who has a brick-and-mortar nearby, but still chooses to shop online is probably having a hard time finding the product that he wants or needs in his area,” he says. “I feel like a very well-run brick-and-mortar store will keep its customers. The reason someone may end up on my siteRevZilla.com is if they’re doing research or there’s something that we have that is unique, hard to find or potentially out of stock everywhere else. Many times that is the moment when that customer ends up shopping online.”

The origins of RevZilla go back to when the three friends were all living together looking to launch a business venture in the motorcycle industry. The three developed the e-commerce platform themselves, did not bring in any outside developers or investors, chose to keep the product focus tight and aimed at providing an excellent online shopping experience.

“We launched in 2007 and it was very much a soft launch. For us it wasn’t flipping a switch at all. I remember when we finally turned the shopping cart on, it was three and half days before we got our first order,” Bucci says. “Nobody knew about us. It was us, our little Philly store, credit cards and a willingness to eat crappy instant food you can cook in a microwave.”

The latest version of the site (version 2.0) offers consumers a segmented approach — street, adventure/touring, off-road — to product selection. Individual product pages include detailed descriptions, photos, customer reviews, video links if relevant, product numbers and availability in addition to ordering information.

The site is also extremely video heavy, and even has a YouTube channel called RevZillaTV where you can see Bucci working his charm while showing off the benefits and features of the selected gear. The videos are embedded into the individual pages for each particular product. Many of the videos feature footage of Bucci explaining the products mixed with a healthy dose of goofy camp. (For an example, head to YouTube channel and watch the Cinco de Moto video.)

The company also heavily employs social media such as Twitter, Facebook and a blog to connect with customers. For return customers and as an incentive to become one, RevZilla has the TeamZilla rewards club that offers for every $100 spent a $5 credit toward a future purchase.

Perhaps surprisingly the store’s demographics skew toward older customers, but include a broad mix of market segments — all of whom fall into the growing category of consumers who are comfortable about with shopping online, Bucci explains.

But what of traditional dealers looking to get into the online game? The way Bucci sees it, a regular dealer can start selling online by throwing a couple products up on eBay and probably get by, but should be prepared to make a significant investment and effort if he wants to do more. In fact, dealers who want to do any kind of business online can’t treat it like a side-operation to their franchised store. It takes a dedicated team of people who know a bit about marketing and a bit of technology to get things going.

“I think that the ones who are more niche focused will have an easier time penetrating into the market,” he says. “A brick-and-mortar dealer leading with [commodity products] will find that they just get lost in the sea. But, if you’re a BMW dealer and you carry specific products for BMWs or a KTM dealer carrying KTM products … will afford you some visibility when people are looking for those particular products.”

For RevZilla, Bucci says the company will be expanding its product lineup and continually improving the website’s technology to offer a better online shopping experience.

“In the brick-and-mortar side of things I see us becoming a growing force in the Northeast for obvious reasons,” he says. “In the e-commerce universe I think that we could grow into the next generation of online dealer.”

To read a quick Q&A with Bucci, click here.