Aaron Powell From Bunch Bikes
In this episode of Beyond the Inbox, Sam interviews Aaron Powell, the founder of Bunch Bikes, which is North America's largest front-load cargo bike brand. The conversation covers a range of insightful topics related to Bunch Bikes, starting with the buyer's journey for a Bunch Bike. Powell explains that the journey starts with category awareness, where people are not even aware that they can bike with their kids. Then, the journey moves on to overcoming objections such as fitness levels or transportation logistics and finally ends with inspiring customers to see the deeper purpose of biking with their families.
Powell also emphasizes the importance of community and customer service, which are at the core of the Bunch Bikes brand. He explains that customer service is an extension of his own values and personality and that it was difficult for him to delegate that part of the business. Powell also shares how Bunch Bikes focuses on exceeding customer expectations by offering a 14-day trial period, free returns, and white-glove service. The brand's efforts have paid off, as its customer service has received rave reviews, with many customers calling it the best interaction they have ever had with a company.
In addition, Powell shares some unique marketing campaigns that Bunch Bikes has done, such as offering a date night on Valentine's Day with childcare included for customers who purchase a bike. He explains that the campaigns are meant to make a deeper connection with customers beyond just offering discounts or promotions. Powell also discusses the challenges of advertising and how Bunch Bikes is focusing on email marketing campaigns and building a strong website to convert more traffic. He highlights the importance of making a deeper connection with customers and building a sense of community around the brand. Powell underscores that Bunch Bikes' marketing is not just about selling bikes but also about selling a lifestyle and a deeper purpose of family bonding and adventure.
Powell also talks about the impact of appearing on Shark Tank and how it helped increase brand awareness. The episode provides valuable insights into the Bunch Bikes brand, its values, and its marketing strategies. It highlights the importance of community and customer service, as well as the challenges of marketing a unique product. This is a must-listen for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, marketing, or outdoor lifestyle brands. By the end of the episode, you will have a better appreciation for how building a strong community and focusing on customer service can lead to a successful business.
Read the transcript:
So Aaron, one of the things that really struck me when I was researching you and Bunch Bikes is you have this storied background with different businesses. You started before Bunch Bikes. I know you were flipping phones, you were selling under jewelry on Amazon. I'm curious, how did those early entrepreneurial experiences impact how you're marketing Bunch bikes today?
So I would say my entire experience has been iterative, where, like every year, I learned a little bit more in the previous year. And even when I started, like these were all side hustles. They weren't, I never intended to start a business, you know, 10 years ago. But one thing led to another, and you know, I realized that if you continue to, you know, improve yourself in what you're doing, like you just learn more, and you start to get an edge over what other people are doing. So I don't know, something just, I just gravitated towards selling products online. It's a business model that made sense to me. I dabbled in service businesses as well. Something about having a physical product and the scalability behind that of, like, you've got the product now all you have to do is find more customers that want that product, you know, and you can repeat versus a service business, which is tied to your time. And so time was always very important to me. I wanted to have the freedom to travel and spend time with my kids and my family. And so having a scalable business model was really the only path to getting there. And so, you know, yeah, I've tried to have a lot of different businesses, but ultimately I wanted to work on something for the next 10 plus 20 years that has an impact on the world, which is how I ended up in the e cargo bike space.
I know it's very easy to go on your about page and read about how the company was founded, but I think it's so interesting to go back a little bit further and talk about what actually led you to go to Sweden. And if you could talk a little bit about the experiences you had in Sweden and how those experiences led to you starting Bunch Bikes.
Yeah, sure. So early on in my side hustle days, I read The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss and something about this idea of freedom of time and being able to travel and do whatever you want and work from wherever you want. Like this, this idea I was like obsessed with. And so, you know, that first business I had selling jewelry on Amazon, that was, I mean, I could run it from my laptop anywhere in the world. I didn't, you know, we had three pls and logistics all set up to where I didn't need to have a physical location. And so, you know, my wife is a teacher, so we had the whole summer, it's like, Hey, let's go travel somewhere, you know, and let's stay there for two months. Because you know, I can, we, I can work, you know, it's just like living somewhere else for a couple of months.
I can just do my work from here. Sweden chose that because that's where my great-grandfather came from. Distant relatives live over there. And I don't know, just growing up seeing my, you know, my grandfather speaking Swedish to us, and we would do like the Swedish Christmas traditions and stuff with his family. So I always just wanted to go and visit. Also, the temperature is very nice in the summer in Dallas it's miserable, and you can't even go outside. So we wanted somewhere that was gonna be nice and cool for the summer. And so Sweden checked all those boxes, and that's how we ended up over there.
It's interesting. I also read The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, and I found my own way to Sweden. So that was something that I was really fascinated by when I was reading your story and how Tim has had such an impact on so many people, but I don't think he really realizes it. And I actually had the opportunity to meet Tim Ferris in Sweden many years ago, and I told him, you are the reason why I'm here. I met my wife, I started a family because of you. And I could see he was really taken aback by it. And it's so fascinating how one book can create such a different trajectory for different people.
Yeah, I mean, it really kicked off an idea and a movement and people who have taken that concept and done different things with it. But for me, it was like knowing that I, I think maybe even a bigger picture is just knowing that I can design my life with intention and what I want versus just floating through life, allowing it to happen to you. And then 50 years from now, you know, you realize what have I done with my life versus being very goal oriented of like, this is the this is what I want. I want this, you know, I wanna have a minimum amount of work, then I can balance that with all the family time that I want. I wanna travel and see the world. Cause that's very interesting for me. So how do I create a life that allows that to happen? And, you know, he had sips and tricks and that sort of thing, but it was more just the bigger picture of just, oh, like you can do like what you want. Like internet and technology is like, you can leverage that to, you know, have real scale and outsource and automation to, to your processes. It allows you to, you know, design the life that you want. So it's actually a really exciting time to be alive right now.
<Laugh>. Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I think that's a good segue into, I want to dig deep into the marketing for Bench Bikes. It's kind of an elephant in the room, but I'm sure most of our American listeners will recognize bench bikes from Shark Tank. I know you've talked a lot about that in our interviews. I wanted to ask you, how were you marketing Bunch bikes before Shark Tank? And my follow-up question is, how did you leverage all the interest from going on the show after the show actually aired?
Yeah, sure. So, I mean, one thing that gave me the impetus to even start the business in the first place is when I had my first prototype, just writing it around town. I, I couldn't get down the street without people stopping me and wanting to talk about it. I literally would go to our downtown, and people would take pictures and ask if they could post them on Instagram. And so immediately I knew like, okay, this product is very cool. It's very different. It's unique, it's got a certain virality to it where people can't help but talk about it. And it's, I mean, it's large. So intentionally, from the beginning, I put our brand name really big on the side because this thing is gonna catch eyeballs. Even if you look at parked somewhere, people are gonna be googling this thing and checking it out.
So from the very beginning, I knew if we get these bikes out there, they will spread, they will catch on. And so that I wanted a product that would, that would be able to do that. But in the beginning, it was, it was influencers, you know, I'd, I'd find somebody who was influential in the bicycling space. I just let 'em know that we existed because this kind of product didn't exist in the US. So just by the fact that we existed, that was newsworthy, and people were like, oh yeah, sure, I'll tweet, tweet out your website, you know, cost nothing. And all of a sudden we have all these eyeballs on us. So kind of influencers and just getting our product in front of people. Instagram, we did some Instagram stuff at that time too. Facebook advertising was really good for us before iOS 14 and a half, which was kind of right around the time Shark Tank aired, which kind of gave us a boost from there.
But since then, now that we kind of have this larger awareness, we're not a nobody anymore. Now it's, you know, digital advertising's becoming harder and harder. So now we're kind of focused more on community and grassroots, grassroots and word of mouth and actually creating a system around that to where you know, our customers are so excited, and they want people in their neighborhood to be riding these, this bike and having this bike lifestyle with their family as well. And so you can actually go on our website, and you can book what we call “the Bunch Squad.” You can meet up with somebody in in your local area, take 'em, take a bike for a test ride, but these people are like our advocates out there. And that's kind of like a sustainable long-term way that we're growing. But it's also updating our brand messaging and just knowing that, like, look, we're parents too.
We get it. You know, our email campaigns are very like it's, I don't know, it's not dry e-commerce. Like now we're doing a sale, and it's $200 off, and it's, it's not like these impulsive purchases, it's like this long educational sales cycle that sometimes takes years. And so what, what, how are we educating customers? How are we inspiring them? How are we showing lots of user-generated content of, you know, giving people ideas of how the bike can be used because it's, you know, in this country so unusual that somebody sees the bike, they don't necessarily understand right away how it's gonna fit into their lifestyle. They've never seen anybody ride a bike like that. And so it's just like a lot of you know, we're starting to do more short-form video and TikTok and Instagram reels now just trying to, you know, show what, what would your life be like if you had this bike.
There's so much I want to unpack from what you just said. I wanted to ask you more about the Bunch Squads strategy because this is something I'm seeing a lot more now with a lot of e-commerce brands. They are starting paid memberships or communities. And I wanted to ask you, what does community mean to you and Bunch Bikes?
Well, first of all, it's, it is just having a group of people who are, are like you and like-minded so that you don't feel like the weird one. You know, so it can be, riding this bike can feel a little unusual because you're the only person in your city doing this. You know, you, everybody's looking at you, you almost become like this local celebrity. So having this group of people that can connect together and we've got a growing Facebook group of owners, people, and there's probably like a dozen posts a day and that group where people are just sharing like, Hey, we wrote at the grocery store. Hey, we rode to the park. Or Hey, some friends jumped in, or Here's how we decorated the bike for Halloween. And like, just having that community of people who can just share their experience with others, but also people who are thinking about getting a bike, they jump in, and they see that, you know, the interaction between people, and it bleeds outside of the group as well. You know, I'll browse Reddit, or I'll browse other Facebook groups and stuff like that, and people will ask questions about various bikes, and without any prompting from us, our customers are jumping in there and almost selling on our behalf during their experience. And so it's kind of cool just to see how it's kind of growing a life of its own and, you know, to seeing what our customers are doing for us just because they believe in the product and believe in the mission of, of what we're doing.
I know that what we would call a cargo bike didn't really exist in the US before. And I'm curious, do you think this is a case of when people are seeing Bunch Bikes now they're saying, oh, that's a bunch Bike because they don't really have another word for that type of bike. Do you think that's something that has almost subliminally snuck into your marketing where people have labeled the noun the brand at this point?
I've seen it happen. It's not quite there. There's cuz there's like our type type of bike, but there's several other types of cargo bikes, and they're all starting to gain momentum at the same time. And so the mass media's kind of lashed onto the word cargo bike is like the defining thing remains to be seen if, like this front load tricycle style, people will call it a bunch Bike, I don't know. But at least in certain markets where there's like a lot of them like Washington DC, you know, people like, oh, you're a, you're a long tail mom, you need to go get a long tail cause you're an experienced cyclist and you've only got one or two kids or whatever. Oh, you're an urban air mom, you definitely wanna get that. Or you're a Bunch Mom. Like that's how they start to refer to each other in these bicycle family biking groups and circles. So, I don't know, maybe it will,
One thing that really stood out for me when I was researching Bunch Bikes was the number of five-star reviews you have. And I'm assuming community is a big part of that, but you and I were talking a little bit earlier, and you mentioned the refund policy and how powerful that is I was wondering if you could share some light on what is Bunch Bike's refund policy and why do you think it's so powerful in your marketing?
Yeah, sure. Yeah, we have almost exclusively five-star reviews, and it makes me a little nervous actually. Cause I wonder people get on there and they don't actually believe that it's true. Or like, like I, I've never deleted a review. Every single customer gets the same exact template, and they can respond or not respond. I don't incentivize anybody to leave a review. They don't get any discount. It's like you get the email, say what you want, and we don't really get bad ones. And I think part of that is like this bike is different. Not, not everyone's going to love this bike. It's not for everyone, but without being able to test-ride it in person if you don't have a Bunch Squad member near you, you can't try it out. Like, I don't want you to be stuck with a bike that you're not gonna love.
So we have a 14-day trial period where, you know, you get the bike, it's fully assembled, you don't need to put any work into building this thing, ride it around. If it's not for you, you're gonna know it pretty quickly. And just let us know. And we actually have a white glove trucking company that comes and picks it up from you. You don't need to box it up, you don't need to disassemble it, make it really easy, and we'll take it back. We cover the return shipping charge so that, hey, you know what, you tried it out, didn't work out, you know, it didn't cost you anything. We’ll, you know, refurbish that bike and sell it to somebody else who maybe needs a bit of a discount or something. So you know, and so any, even if they didn't like the bike, they're still very, like, ecstatic about how easy the experience was.
And oftentimes, you know, you can see in the reviews now people say it's like the best interaction I've ever had with a company. So it's like we actually answered the phone, we're gonna help you out. We're not gonna try to guilt you into keeping the biker any, any shenanigans. It's like no questions asked. Do you want a refund? Okay, we'll take it back. You know, no problem. And I think that's helped us increase our overall sales cause we're reducing that risk for the customer, but that's also increasing the positive experiences that people have.
I noticed so much praise for your customer service. And is that something that's happened organically, or is that something from day one where you said we wanna have five-star customer service where every customer feels like they've had the best service they've ever had? Is that something that happened organically?
It's, well, I think initially it just, it was me doing the customer service, and that's, it's just an extension of who I am. You know, I, I just, I care deeply about our customers, and as a dad like myself, I, I get what it's like to be a parent and, you know, and all this. And so, like, that's just how I always took care of people. You know, I, I couldn't, I, I couldn't stand for people to have a bad experience. I take it so personally, you know, if somebody has a bad experience with us. And so that naturally has led to me having our customer service people do that. But actually our, our main customer service person now, she was a customer of ours. She was one of our most ecstatic customers for like three years. And I, like, you know, basically begged her on her doorstep like, please will you just, will you come to do this for us?
Cuz you're so incredible, and you're such a good ambassador for us. And, you know, you understand the language, and you know why people are buying these bikes. And it was so funny, she even, like, ordered the bike, canceled her order cuz she thought she was making a mistake and had buyer, you know, like, I, I can't do this, I can't ride this bike. And six months later, she comes back, and she buys the bike again. And so she's gone through, like, she's gone through this whole purchase journey for this thing. So she like understands that, like a deep core level of these customers what they need. And so it, it was very hard, it was very hard to hand off the customer service. Like, as we grow, it's like, I gotta delegate. But that was one piece I was always, it was always difficult for me to delegate that piece because how, how do you get somebody who cares as much as you do? And I think she cares even more than I do. So, in this case, it's, it's worked out well.
That's so fascinating. And you touched on something that I wanted to ask you about, which was you've got so many marketing channels working for you can you talk me through what is the buyer's journey for someone buying a Bunch Bike? I'm assuming some people are seeing it, they're going on the website, and some people are singing it on social. Can you talk more about the process that someone goes through from prospect to customer to advocate?
Yeah, so at the very highest level, you know, let's say the coldest person, they don't even know there's a way that you can bike with your kids. Maybe they've seen the bike trailer or something, but you know, a lot of our customers have three or four kids like, oh, that'll never work for me. So they're in the spot of, like, there's no possible way I could ever bike. It's not even a thought. And then they see a bike, and then this kind of awareness of, oh, this exists. So it's like number one category awareness. Are people even aware that this category of product is a thing that exists? And that's like the biggest challenge right there. And then two, the biggest hurdle right there is, well, that mom, she can do it. She's fit or whatever, I can't do that. You know that looks too hard.
I can never, I haven't biked since I was in college. I can't do that. So there's like this immediate resistance, like that looks too hard. So then we have to overcome that with, like, well, first of all, it's electric, and still today, most people maybe know what an electric bike is, haven't ridden one before. They don't really get what that means. But you see the bike, you don't necessarily realize right away that it's an electric bike. So electric bike, anybody can ride it. You're, it's fun. You're not gonna sweat where you don't need to have, you know, athletic clothes on or anything like that. It's easy, it's fun. Okay. And then at that point then, it's like, oh, okay, well, maybe I could bike with my kids. And then, they start comparing all the options that are out there. Not just our bike but the various, various styles of bikes.
Do I want something on two wheels? Do I want the kids behind me? Do I want 'em in front of me? What's the deal with the three-wheel thing? So then they start being aware of the different types of products within the vertical. But once they've settled, you know what the, I've got a bunch of kids, I want 'em in front where I can see 'em, you know, then it's like, okay, it's a big purchase, how do I justify that? And then that, that point, it's like selling the deeper purpose of what this is. This is an investment in your family and quality time with them. It's replacing, you know, boring, stressful car rides with like these ma magical moments in this bike. You know, it's turning like these everyday errands and likes fun family adventures and making memories. So then you, so it's an inspiration at that point. And then, you know, then it's that after that, it's just logistics. Oh, do I have a place I can store this? How do I charge it? Like, then it's like all the little logistical questions of how do I, how do I get it? How long does it take to get it? Do I have to build it? Like all these little logistical questions. And then you break down all those barriers, and it's like, no-brainer, you gotta get the bike. So that's the big funnel right there.
That's fascinating. I never considered some of the objections, like the level of fitness and logistics. That's a really interesting angle that I haven't considered.
Yeah. Or how do I transport? I want to take it to the beach. How do I get it there? Well, if you can't ride it well, you can put in a van, you can be like you, there's, we have answers to all these questions. You have answered all these questions, but we hear the same things over and over again. So, you know, it's just, we're trying to work into how do we design a website that, like, you know, goes through this whole funnel, which is something we're working on right now with redoing the website, but how do we work it into our email marketing campaigns and like we sign up for our list. You know, we're trying to build out like these long campaign flows and stuff where you, you know, how do we identify when custom someone's at a different point in the journey and how do we give 'em custom messaging at that point?
These are the kinds of things we're trying to figure out going forwards. Kind of, cuz I think part of where we failed with digital advertising after iOS 14 and a half came out is we weren't capturing enough of the leads, or we had a very leaky funnel where we'd get all these people on the top, but not enough of them would convert. And so, you know, when advertising was cheap, and targeting was great, it it was fine, it worked out. But now I think we're in a world where your content has to be on point. You have to really be testing content to make your advertising work, but then you have to convert a lot more of that traffic. And so I stepped back on the advertising, we're not doing any advertising anymore. It's how can we make our website better, our email marketing better, our social media better so that when we do turn the advertising back on, you know, we're gonna convert a lot more of those people because they have everything that they need, all their questions answered, you know, before. So just making more of the advertising dollars that we spend.
I opted into your site via a form, and I wanted to ask you, are you using website popups or are you doing any kind of lead capture other than form having forms on your site?
We do, we're, we're testing a couple of different things right now, but we generally do have a website popup. Sometimes we're actually split testing right now with like email capture, kind of just basic normal email capture and then like getting 'em to join like a link to join our Facebook group instead. We're kind of just testing how do different people opt into those. So I don't know. We've got, we've got one in the footer. We've got various places on the website where we can capture not part, part of the problem too is like our, you know, our sales, we d is pretty low volume traffic is probably a lot less than people at a similar level of revenue or whatever. And so it's kind of ab tests take a long time to like work or give us any information. A lot of what we do is just by like gut feel because it takes so long, like, you know, to get, get enough transactions or conversions or signups to like have any sort of meaningful impact on a, like a test result. So I dunno, we're trying, we're trying it, trying a lot of different things. Right now
On this subject of email marketing, I really wanted to discuss with you an email I receive from Bunch Bikes recently. It was a promotion for Valentine's Day. And one thing that really stood out for me, which I loved, and I'll read an excerpt from the email, purchase your Bunch bike between now and February 14th, and we'll treat you to a date night on us childcare included. Can you tell me more about that?
Yeah. First of all, I had nothing to do with that. That was my my customer service person. That was all her idea, right? But it comes from a kind of the deeper way that we approach marketing, which is like we, we want to communicate to our customers at a level that says we're authentic, we're real, we're parents, we get it. We know what you need. We're not just like trying to, you know, sell you on something, we're, we're like one of you. Right? And so, like the campaigns that we do, it's, it's, we tried to think a little bit, you know, what would get people talking, what would get them excited? What's different than just like a, oh, here's a coupon co for $200 off. So yeah, we, yeah, we'll pay for your date night. You know, another thing that we did for customers all last week is because we can't, we can't really deliver a bike faster than like seven to 10 days.
So anyone who bought a bike leading up to Valentine's Day, you know, we overnighted them. We had these custom Valentine's key chains attached to the key for their bike. And we actually mailed it to them overnight so that they could at least, you know, gift something to their, to their sweetie at that time. So like these like a little card and custom messaging, so like for the people who were shopping last minute, how can we make that a special experience for them and make them, you know, con deeper connection with the brand and what we're doing? And you know, you were like, you were impressed when you read that, the number of people responding to that email saying, oh my God, that's so cool. Like, I'm not buying a bike right now, but that's just, I just wanna let you know, it was so awesome. Like, so many people responded to that. So that was really kind of cool. So we're always trying to think of ways that we can, you know, just get people excited and do something a little unique or special or different or exceed the customer's expectations. Like what would a customer normally expect from a company in customer service, sales, and marketing, or whatever? How do we exceed their expectations all the time? How do we go a little bit further? So that's where those little details come in.
I love that. And I assume as you are doing that more and more over time, the more top of mind you're staying, and like you say, there is this long life cycle, and maybe someone is on your list for one to two years, and then they finally get that email campaign where they say, okay, now's the time to buy one of these.
Yeah, no, totally. And it's, you know, Google Analytics doesn't go back two years. There's a limit to how far 90 days or something. I mean, so it's, it's all anecdotal as far as how long is the sales cycle for some people. But I do know there have been people on the list for three or four years that eventually buy a bike, you know, like, oh, I've been following you guys since 2018. It's like, oh my gosh, that's like, that's amazing. You know? So yeah, obviously. So even though it's like, yeah, we're not advertising our top of funnels not growing super fast right now, there are still so many people in the ecosystem who are at least somewhat aware of bunch bikes. I mean, part of the reason I went on the show Shark Tank was I wanted some like massive top-of-funnel, just like base-level awareness, you know?
So 5 million people see that episode, and most of them are not even thinking about buying a bike. Most of 'em will never buy a bike, we have 5 million people who are now at least aware that this category exists, you know? And so there's a lot of people out there who eventually could, you know, buy a bike one day. And so just, you know, all these little touch points over time on social media. And I think while we're focusing on video now and starting to put more video stuff out there, is that I think that makes a connection much, much deeper than you could in a, in an email or something like that. And so, you know, we're testing out content with, like, customer content, but also content with me just talking, knowing like, Hey, there's a face behind the brand, and there's like people, actual, real people here who care about you and what we're doing. So I don't know, we're trying to make it, you know, make it as easy as possible for p people to connect with us and feel a sense of community around what we're doing.
I'm not even gonna try and touch that. I think that's an amazing place to start wrapping up, Aaron, where can people loom more about Bunch Bikes?
Our website, bunchbike.com, and all social channels. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok at Bunch Bikes.
Perfect. Well, I really appreciate the time today, Aaron. Many thanks. And I look forward to seeing what happens with Bunch Bikes in 2023 and beyond.
Yeah. Thanks so much.