The first issue of Rouleur, dated May 2006, now fetches in the region of £150 on eBay. Not many cycling magazines can claim to be quite as collectable, but then Rouleur (and latterly its sister mag Privateer) did move the proverbial goalposts for the bicycling magazine scene.
Now, 40 issues on, the mag is getting its first redesign and a website worthy of its high-end name, both coming mere months after the management buy out by the newly formed Gruppo Media.
In case you were under a rock (or maybe buried under 40 weighty issues of Rouleur) Gruppo Media – set up by Rouleur MD Bruce Sandell and founder/editor Guy Andrews – bought Rapha’s majority share of Rouleur in Q1 2013. Gruppo is backed by three shareholders: John McNeil, Paul Bolwell and Sir Robin Miller.
Sandell, MD for Gruppo Media Limited, and Andrews, editorial director for the firm, explain that getting the right shareholders on board wasn’t just about the money.
“It was also about getting the right people to help with the business. We both agreed that we needed someone to ask us difficult questions. We’ve got a young creative team full of ideas, but shareholders have that added perspective. They’re focused on the business and the product.”
Paul Bolwell is the most familiar shareholder to the bike business.
“Paul’s got some phenomenal experience with Wiggle. He has been there and experienced it. Even relatively simple, but core learnings, like improving the checkout process on our site – that has been down to him.
“It’s flattering that the shareholders wanted to be involved with us.”
While magazines are at Gruppo’s core, related product has been part of Rouleur’s arsenal virtually from day one – typically high-end, limited edition offerings like Stoke-on-Trent-made bone china mugs, screenprints, annuals, among other goods.
“Open a shop one day? Why not?”
“The mugs and t-shirts have been extraordinarily popular,” Sandell tells BikeBiz. “That’s spun off into lots of other products…the RichMitch Oakley rider illustrations have been great. The Sky tie-ins have been phenomenally popular too. But we’re keeping a lid on it and quite limited. We’re not looking to milk it.”
The collecting cyclist is core to the brand. “Our readers are cyclists who are engaged with what they collect. We’re planning to develop more products, but always in small numbers.”
So, would there be a shop in the offing for Rouleur and Privateer? “Why not? Look at Monocle on Great Portland Street.”
The Monocle brand is one that often crops up in conversation with Sandell and Andrews, and no wonder – Monocle was launched in 2007, produces ten ‘book-ish’ issues a year and has keenly built up its brand to offer a range of products and even a radio station. It provides further proof of the success of the kind of approach that Rouleur and Privateer have taken.
Every issue of Rouleur has a popular supporting podcast, put together with The Bike Show’s Jack Thurston. But it all comes back to the mag and “doing the job the internet can’t”.
IBDs are very much part of the Rouleur framework. “The shops that really go for it do well with selling our magazines and we can help – we’d be happy to support retailers, especially those that want to go the extra yard,” the duo tells BikeBiz. They point to long-term stockist Condor Cycles, also Rouleur’s biggest retailer. The shop has big light box POS showcasing the mag. Other retailers do a window display every time a new Rouleur is published.
In total Rouleur has around 100 to 120 IBD stockists. “We’d like to think we can help IBDs. People will come in for the mag and then buy a few other things too – and vice versa.”
All retailers that stock are high-end, for Rouleur and for Privateer.
Around 20 per cent of the magazines go overseas, with the States and Australia both big markets. Rouleur doesn’t and hasn’t chased those markets, however – it was closer to a 50/50 balance once upon a time, but then “UK subscriptions took off” and all along the focus has been all about the UK.
Followed Gruppo’s MBO, Rouleur is in line for a re-design, which readers will have clapped eyes on before this issue of BikeBiz lands. With a new designer now with feet firmly under the table, the look of Rouleur has shifted and there’s now a clear delineation between subscriber covers and those on the shelf. But a redesign does not equal a change to the winning formula – Rouleur and Privateer will never have a ‘busy’ design and large, high quality photography is central to the look. It’s the first redesign for the mag and it is going to be reflected online in a brand new site, launching in the very near future.
Other post-MBO changes include Rouleur and Privateer’s first appearance at Cycle Show at the NEC. And there are more events on the horizon for Gruppo too, so watch this space.
“When we launched Rouleur we built up our audience slowly,” the duo tell BikeBiz, who add that key learnings came from then partner Rapha, among others: “Rapha targets its customers relentlessly, but effectively. When an email from them lands in a customer’s inbox they want to open it. You want to send them something great.”
That commitment to high quality content isn’t about to change anytime soon either – “if an article takes six months before it is ready then we’re going to wait for it”.
“It’s all about quality readers. We’d rather grow slowly with new quality subscribers. We don’t want to be chasing them – like with ‘money off’ offers, that’s not a good business plan.”
Besides, Rouleur’s target audience is, almost by definition, hard to get hold of, but when it finds them, Rouleur and Privateer turn into a habit, with subscriber retension high for the magazines, Gruppo tells BikeBiz, all of which makes both magazines an attractive draw for those wishing to reach those readers.
Born in a Barn
Digital creative specialist The Barn Agency were charged with putting together the new Rouleur site. Barney Macaulay tells BikeBiz about the project…
“It’s an exciting time for Rouleur. At the end of last year they had a great and growing brand but the online presence just didn’t reflect the magazine.
“The brief for the website was to capture the essence and high premium level of the publication, but online. They had business objectives too of course – the site has to pay for itself – so there is an e-commerce element too and a move to get more content on the site.
“Some articles will be free but subscribers will be get more content from the site. We’ve worked with premium brands but they are usually product focused. Rouleur, however, is all about content – that sells it. They are in a great position as they can provide the story behind the product, like an Eddy Merckx feature, and then that leads to somewhere the reader can buy an Eddy Merckx poster or model. There’s a closer synergy between product and content. They are a content provider with stories to help sell the product.
“We understand premium brands and how to represent them properly – not crowbarring a brand into a template ‘your logo goes here’. This is the first time we’ve worked in the cycle trade, but our premium and high-end expertise links into Rouleur’s knowledge of the cycle trade.
“You learn a lot as you go along and the brief inevitably develops with the project. We try to reduce the time spent by using wire framing blueprint for the site initially, then you build it.”