Adam Johnson of Wiggle Australia - interview

Wiggle is coming to Australia – what does that mean for customers?

Following the recent announcement that Wiggle Australia was to open an office in Sydney, we met with general manager Adam Johnson, to discuss the plans for the online retail giant's new Australian base.

Johnson has a long history in online business, including his recent role as CEO for lastminute.com Australia and travel.com.au. He was headhunted for this new role, and his background in competitive cycling makes it clear that there’s plenty of passion and knowledge behind this setup.

BikeRadar: Why is Wiggle opening an office in Australia?

Adam Johnson: It’s really customer demand. Wiggle is a UK retailer and Australians started buying from it. Wiggle didn’t set out to sell to Australia, it happened on its own. However, now [Australia] has grown into a very important market for us.

To take the business to the next level, it’s all about customer engagement. We’ve got the range, pricing, logistics, delivery and service all right, but you really need to get amongst it, in order to engage. We’ve put sponsorships in place with the Amy Gillett Foundation and Bicycle Network, and while these are great, there are more practical things we can do with the traffic to our websites, subscribers, and so on.

The other side is to understand the nuances in the market. Beyond the obvious seasonal things, there are also the facts that some brands are bigger here than others and it’s a great market for high-end cycling equipment. Every bike brand in the world would say there’s something special about the Australian market – we just have amazing and high-end bikes here. So it is about understanding these things too.

But in the end, if you want a successful business, you need to get closer to your customers. And it’s hard to do that from 12,000 miles away.

To what extent are you planning to be local?

We already have a local returns address, which has proven successful. We’re now looking at customer service opportunities. But we don’t want to just do things for the sake of it, we’ll only do it if it has a positive impact for our customers. We think we can be a better organisation by listening to what our customers want, and being close enough to offer that.

In terms of what the future holds, we’ll find out over time. It’s still early days and we have an open mind for this. My job was to come on board, create and then execute a plan. Which is what we’re doing, but it’s certainly going faster than I thought it would!

Do you plan to keep distribution coming from the UK?

Before my time, Wiggle looked at the options quite closely, and it’s rather well known in the industry. But for us now, it’s all about how can we do it better. By having all the products in the UK, we can offer the range and with a sizable scale too.

With that being said, there are definitely challenges in regards to bulkier items such as bikes and trainers – it’s harder and more expensive to ship these. While we do sell a lot of bikes currently, to sell many more it’s going to be a matter of offering bike fitting, trials and so on. These are the things that we can’t really offer right now, and unless we know we can give our customers a great experience, we don’t want to do it. Buying a bike online is fantastic for many, but it isn’t what a lot of people want.

Looking at retail outlets, you have partnered service centres in place already – is this something that is working for you?

It has worked well for us because it has worked well for our customers. The proposition is that if you buy a bike from us, there’s likely to be someone local to you who can build it and welcome you for a first service and warranty. Additionally, if you buy components from us and need them fitted, then there’s a welcoming place that will do you a deal.

A handful of these businesses have done really well and grown their own business on the back of it. Of course there’s resistance in the marketplace – it’s entirely understandable – but the service points that have come on board have done really well. It’s certainly something we’ll look to expand.

How is your local team looking?

It’s a team of three currently working from Bondi in Sydney, however we’ll be looking at local customer service roles in the near future.

Can you give us indication of the size of Wiggle in Australia?

There has been figures published in the past but it’s not something I’ll get into – however I can say it’s a great market for us and we are certainly continuing to grow. The tri-sports market is great here and it’s something we want to get more behind.

Lastly, what message do you want to give the Australian marketplace?

As a customer before an employee, there’s certainly something in the DNA of Wiggle, that is kind of fun. That comes from the founders and the people that work within – many of the employees have been there since day one. If you can’t have fun working with cycling or tri-sport stuff, what can you have fun with?

That’s something I want to do with the events we’re doing – I just want it to be fun for our customers.

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