Had you told Jack Ku in 2008 that his brick-and-mortar bike shop would someday be a hugely inspiring e-commerce success story, he might have believed you. Back then he was still relatively new to retail and unsure where the journey would lead. City Grounds was just a small family business born out of a personal passion for cycling. Together with his recently graduated brother and newly retired father, Ku had opened a tiny 500-square-foot boutique as a way to combine two things they all loved: bikes and family.
Buyers loved it, too.
It wasn’t long before an initial collection of fixed-gear commuter bikes gave way to a robust selection of BMX, road and kids bikes — and the flagship store grew into a multi-location retail business. By the time the company decided to start selling online, City Grounds had established itself as a premier online BMX retailer with a very loyal following.
Then came the global pandemic that no one saw coming. That’s when the retailer’s story transitioned from relatively interesting to downright inspiring.
When efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 led to closure mandates, City Grounds was among the millions of retailers forced to close shop. It could have been a hardship. But instead of scrambling to find a new way to stay profitable, the company simply put its e-commerce business into high gear. After all, it wasn’t just toilet paper and cleaning products that people began to panic buy. A wave of stay-home orders meant many consumers were looking for new ways to get outside, too. Since City Grounds had already been working to optimize online sales, the team saw an opportunity to try out new strategies.
“We were uniquely positioned because we were already an established online retailer,” says Ku, who now serves as the company’s chief operating officer. “We had this opportunity to serve a lot of customers. There was a demand; an appetite to buy bikes online.”
To make the most of the opportunities in this new landscape, the company would need to first address some important challenges.
“We were still at a point where we felt we needed to scale up a bit to get the business where we wanted it to be,” Ku says. “We were still having problems with profitability and margin in general. So it was really important for us to track our return goals and cost of sales.”
That’s not all. Without the right processes in place to manage the influx of new orders, there was also the chance that City Grounds could disappoint its customers. And that’s a risk the team simply wasn’t willing to take.
“It’s definitely a balancing act,” Ku explains. “We wanted to seize the moment and strike while the iron’s hot. We knew we could build on this momentum and get a lot of market share. But at the same time, we needed to do it where it’s really serving the customer.”
These were issues, City Grounds explains, that the team wouldn’t be able to handle on its own. So they turned to the company’s trusted e-commerce solution.
When it came to managing the company’s online presence in times of uncertainty, there was one partner City Grounds says they knew they could trust: ChannelAdvisor.
“Without ChannelAdvisor, I don’t know how we would’ve handled a surge in demand,” Ku says. “Maybe without ChannelAdvisor, we wouldn’t have even had the demand. Without ChannelAdvisor, I think we would be lost.”
Since ChannelAdvisor Managed Services had already been building Google and Bing strategies, promoting products in the midst of pandemic buying was simply the next step in City Grounds’ e-commerce evolution. Ku and his colleagues had come to rely on the team of ChannelAdvisor specialists, who made it remarkably easy to extract the right data and make important decisions fast.
Thanks to this relationship, Ku says his company was “really well” positioned to respond and scale quickly.
“We were really surprised at how well just structurally and quickly the team was able to respond,” he says. “The campaign, and the structure they had in place, was just built for it.”
“We’re constantly evaluating performance, all the way down to a specific SKU,” adds their ChannelAdvisor Account Manager Clay Sinclair. “Being able to have that insight allowed Zach Swann, their digital marketing client strategy manager, to rebuild their entire Adwords shopping campaign, allowing them to scale up and respond to this level of demand during this time.”
Within a matter of weeks, City Grounds’ online business ballooned — big time. Between the months of March and April, the company reports that it brought in 53.65% of total revenue achieved over the course of the entire previous year.
Before COVID-19 impacted buying behaviors, the retailer’s highest revenue-generating day had been Cyber Monday. The company says it was easily able to surpass that record — for 35 consecutive days — with help from ChannelAdvisor.
City Grounds reports it also experienced its first-ever six-figure day, and then held on to it for seven more ensuing days.
“The thing that sticks out to me is how quickly ChannelAdvisor was able to respond,” Ku says. “And that they had the right structure in place to scale up. It’s stunning each time I’m looking at the numbers and we’re seeing record-breaking days…day after day after day. We feel fortunate to have this opportunity, especially in such an extraordinary period.”
His advice for other online merchants? Always be prepared to navigate sharp shifts in e-commerce.
“With a little bit of preparation and planning, plus a clear business model and goals, you can realize real gains and success.”