VANCOUVER, B.C. — If third time’s a charm, perhaps the new line of athletic garb for the boutique spin studio Ride Cycle Club will be it for JJ Wilson.
Wilson, who cut ties with Kit and Ace last year after a hot and heavy expansion for the activewear line and retailer that ultimately led to layoffs and store closures, ended up starting an indoor cycling studio called Ride Cycle Club about three years ago with Ashley Ander. There are now three locations in Vancouver and another in Toronto.
The studios from the start have always had cobranded apparel and accessories with Nike and Lululemon. The launch into private label has 24 pieces — including cropped hoodies and crew necks, along with sports bras and tights — done in neutral colorways to remain seasonless. Distribution is through the Ride Cycle Club web site in addition to the physical locations. The collection retails from 58 Canadian dollars, or $43, to 148 Canadian dollars, $110.
“I don’t know if it just kind of runs in my blood, but technical apparel given my experience growing up with my family starting Lululemon has always been something that I understand and that I very much enjoy,” Wilson said. “The intention at the onset of the business was not necessarily to have our own apparel line. We didn’t have a lot of time to put into that part of the business. Our main focus was and still is the actual product of the experience of Ride. But what we noticed is people were really liking the product that we were putting out.”
They liked it so much, it became 25 to 30 percent of the business, Wilson said.
The collection is 70 percent styles for females, which is about in line with the makeup of riders frequenting the studios.
It’s possible the collection could be distributed elsewhere, although Wilson is cautious about overexpansion and said one or two retailers would make the most sense.
“The challenge to getting to our own apparel line, like with any start-up, is meeting minimums,” he said. “We had to get to four studios and have an online store in order for it to make any economical sense. We have been talking to a few, select strategic partners. I’m not going to have it go and be available everywhere. I kind of like that it’s on ridecycleclub.com and then in our studios and maybe one really, really great partner because we can manage it that way. For me, as a retail guy and a fashion guy, seeing the world evolve into how everything is so accessible everywhere, I would rather have the business and the brand and the product grow slow and steady and be a bit more malleable in what we can do season to season.”
Managing the growth is a lesson learned from Kit and Ace, which Wilson called “first and foremost an experiment.”
“I was able to learn so much from what we were able to do and what we weren’t able to do successfully at Kit and Ace,” he said. “I think for me, from a business perspective, it was to take those learnings and allow the business to grow organically and slowly. The main issue with Kit and Ace is, of course, as a family we had access to a significant pool of capital to drive the business forward.”
Just because a business has access to capital doesn’t mean the money should always be spent. Finding the balance, Wilson went on to say, is answering the question of when the appropriate time is to feed any business capital so that it can make the leap to the next level.
“With Kit and Ace, I think there was a lot of desire to grow the business quickly to get it to economies of scale and with Ride Cycle Club, I’ve taken a slightly different approach of, when’s the right time to grow?” he said. “How can the brand grow enough equity in the market so there’s some brand love? How can we perfect our product so it’s the best in the world?
Wilson’s approach is in some ways working from the opposite end of where most start with an activewear line.
Ride Cycle Club has a built-in network of influencers in some ways with its cycling instructors, who were integral to the design and development of the first rollout of the company’s apparel line. That means, Wilson pointed out, that talent management is an element of the business.
“You’re managing instructors,” he said. “I think that gets missed when people are analyzing these businesses. Your main product is reliant on your talent pool.”
Additionally, what’s different about this business from the previous activewear brands he’s worked at is starting with a fitness studio as opposed to a traditional retail box with product. The former have become breeding grounds for built-in communities to then sell product to. Large fitness chains such as Equinox and boutique fitness studios have figured that out with more attention being spent on the merchandising of product and their assortments for a client base that’s already under their roofs. It’s one reason why more and more malls have brought gyms or wellness-related tenants into their centers.
Ride Cycle presents merchandise on the walls of the lobby or foyer, depending on the location, and sometimes behind the cash wrap. That could expand if demand warrants more space be allocated to product, Wilson said.
“With fitness, you have people coming into the studio to experience something together,” he said. “They’re identifying with that as ‘This is my workout. This is my tribe. This is my environment that I want to be in.’ And people are becoming attached and associated to that.”
Of course, the one challenge is getting people to shift to shopping mode, with most coming in for a class just before work or after work before then jetting off to their next task. Wilson estimates it takes about a week after an item drops before the sales start to pick up.
Ride Cycle Club is mulling its first U.S. location, but Wilson is cautious and also weighing the competition.
“There’s a lot of studios and with Ride Cycle Club I’m trying to find what that balance is going to be and do we really need to have that many studios, or is it better for us to have one or two killer studios with amazing product that we continue to develop,” he said. “So we’re trying to figure out what the best balance of that is and how not to overextend ourselves in terms of locations.”