Kit Radar on uniting start-ups in a busy cycling industry

Kit Radar is an online retailer with a mission to be the one-stop shop for cyclists looking for exciting new brands. Rebecca Morley speaks to co-founder Dr Bryan Roberts about its origins and the impact it could have on the industry

Every year, some 5,000 new sports brands are launched, driven by innovation, creativity and passion. The challenge they all share is to get noticed and find a foothold in the busy cycling industry. Kit Radar is hoping to change that by uniting them.

The online retailer is a hub where cyclists can discover fantastic new products and where small brands can enjoy the reach of its much greater scale. It’s the missing link between crowd-funding and brands making it big and is also a resource for both early-adopters and journalists to find interesting new products. Through the Ambassador Review Programme, it offers cyclists the chance to receive free product in exchange for an in-depth review. The retailer also has its own warehouse with many brands in stock, including around a dozen (and counting) that are exclusive to Kit Radar. It ships internationally and offers free postage on orders over £50.

Kit Radar was founded by Dr Bryan Roberts and Peter Smith in early 2017, with the mission of gathering start-ups and small innovative brands into one place in order to help them and their potential customers find each other. Previously, both worked as R&D specialists in the sporting goods industry, with clients including Nike, Reebok, Puma, and Lululemon. As ‘futurists’, their work included studies of innovations, often from start-ups, and they became acutely aware of the ‘gulf’ between these brands’ ingenuity and marketing capacity.

“I had quite a unique job in the industry, I worked as a scientist for ten years for many major sporting good brands,” Roberts says. “That was in the development of products, so I had some exciting projects where I worked for Team GB, worked for Nike developing World Cup rugby shirts, lots of really exciting things. While we were doing that, about ten years ago, I noticed that there was a big transition going to happen in sport, where we were going to see a lot of new technologies like electronics, 3D printing and customisation coming.

“What I realised then was a lot of these new innovations were driven by start-ups and new brands. The problem was that when you went to discover them or find them or ask to talk to colleagues about them, no one had really heard of them. I had a bike store at the time in Oxford and realised there was a need for a platform or a retailer to shout about all the interesting new brands that were created every year. And I estimate now, based on Kickstarter campaigns and the rest, that there are at least 5,000 within Europe being launched every year. I wanted to create this new platform that introduced cyclists and other sportspeople to new brands and new technologies. Because of my background, I would say we were perfect to do that.”

Roberts says Kit Radar is contacted by at least 20 new sports brands every week, and it has a growing community of early adopters that are excited to hear about new technologies and what’s coming along next. “We want to be at the forefront and the future of sport and cycling – consumers and bike dealerships that can use us as a resource of what’s coming next.”

Making your voice heard
The challenge for many start-ups is that they struggle to be heard when up against the larger brands. Even those that do get some attention during crowd-funding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo can be forgotten by the time their product is on sale. Kit Radar aims to provide a single destination where the industry can discover these exciting new brands.

“I think there are a few other people doing marketplaces and platforms, and they are a few people that are looking at start-ups, but they definitely don’t have the reach, the community, the network or the audience that we do. I would say we’ve already got about 150 brands that we sell and we’re growing quickly. With the backgrounds that we have, we can help people understand new technologies and what’s coming. It’s more focused on the technology and innovation side rather than just t-shirts or the latest pair of cycling shorts. That’s where we’re heading.”

The cycling industry is certainly seeing a lot of new technologies and innovations entering the market. Products on the Kit Radar site include the Hovding 3.0 Airbag Bike Helmet, which is worn around the neck and inflates at a sign of danger, and the Bike Bin, a pannier bag replacement that was launched on Kickstarter earlier this year. The Hövding 3 has a new patented airbag and its battery life has been extended, meaning it now lasts for around 15 active hours of cycling. It can also use Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone, creating functions and new opportunities for both cyclists and the development of safer cities for cycling.

There is an app compatible with iOS and Android mobile operating systems, which tells users how far they have cycled and the remaining battery time. The cycle data it collects shows where accidents occur frequently and where there are large numbers of cyclists. It also gives insights into how cycling infrastructure should be developed. The smart connection also offers an ICE (In Case of Emergency) function. This permits a text message to be sent to next-of-kin in the event of an accident involving airbag inflation, including the coordinates of the accident site.

Other products include Exosuit Performance Wear, the Rinsten Spring and the Beam Wheel Flash Reflector Set.

So what has the reaction been to the online retailer since entering the market? “It’s been good,” Roberts says. “We don’t talk to many major brands, because it’s not really what we’re focused on. There’s plenty of other people in the market that will sell them and do a great job.

“We are very interested in talking to the new brands and the start-ups and giving them a voice and giving them access to early adopters. New brands love us because we’re becoming experts now on marketing and launching new brands in the UK and have helped Kickstarter campaigns for those guys. We’ve introduced them to media and PR contacts.

“We’ve had that exclusivity with a few brands that we’re helping and potentially could go into distributor, but it’s not a model that we have at the minute. They love us because we are breaking down the barriers for them for getting into the cycling community because our audience and our community are already interested in technology. They already buy from Kickstarter for example and are willing to leap into the unknown with new brands. We make sure we vet them and have a process beforehand.”

Previously, Roberts was a product developer, researcher and designer for major sporting good brands. He is a professional bike fitter and started up a bike and running store in Oxford, which he ran for three to four years, before realising it was difficult to compete with the major brands. Roberts explains how he saw this opportunity to work with new brands, and because of his background, contacts and network, he was able to start the online store Kit Radar.

But how much can this benefit the industry, given the modern retail environment? How much are bike shops struggling to adapt and what can be done to help them? “I think all the shops have their own expertise, but for me personally, we had a thriving bike fitting business which is still going today,” Roberts says. “We had a great servicing but in terms of selling physical goods, there was always a customer that came in and checked out the prices online and we didn’t have enough marketing spend to drive the audience to our store. We’ve taken a new opportunity and are exploring a new channel with the internet, but I think it’s always difficult to compete online unless you have new products or interesting content, and that’s what we’re doing now. When you have such a passion for this industry, you can’t leave it.”

In terms of expanding in the future, Roberts says Kit Radar is currently going for investments to put some ‘fuel in the fire’, because of how much it’s grown. “We are getting 10,000 customers visiting the new brand pages, so we want to put some fuel in the fire and go for investments, and with that investment, we’ll be growing our content side – making sure that the founders’ stories and the brands’ stories are told by the founders to the customer.

“We’ll be growing our ambassador programme where we give away a free product in exchange for a blog review, and any customer can apply to be in that. There are currently about 3,500 people in that programme. That part of that programme is to ensure that the products are great and the technology makes a difference before it gets onto the platform. Then we hope to create new events where we can introduce all these new brands to the consumer physically, so they can have a play and have a good look at the products. That will be what our future investment will be.”

Roberts also says that he hopes to work with independent bike dealers in the future, as when he owned a bike store he found that it only got introduced to new brands from the major distributors. “I feel like Kit Radar can be a great resource to see what’s coming in the future and what new brands are coming. We can definitely be a part of that, as inspiration. We’re updating our blog and the content around that weekly on new brands, innovation and new technology, so independent bike dealers could use us to get more exciting articles to inspire their cyclists as well. In terms of the new brands themselves, we have a fantastic reach which is growing, so introducing new brands is definitely our bread and butter.”

In other news...

Pennine Cycles: Standing the test of time

Rebecca Bland visits one of Yorkshire’s most iconic bike shops  This piece first appeared in …