Rapha: a true passion brand

Rapha is a super-cool cycling gear brand, worn by many of the "mamils"* you see cycling in Richmond park near where I live in London. I read an interesting interview with the founder and CEO, Simon Mottram, here in The Times (subscription needed). He clearly pours passion into the brand, and in turn creates passion amongst the brand's users. Its a true lifestyle brand, where you are buying into the whole brand world, not just the clothing.

* Middle Aged Men In Lycra

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Here are some of the insights about how Simon and his team have built Rapha into a fast growing £28million business.

1. BE the consumer

Rapha is another example of a brand where the founder didn't do consumer research. He WAS the consumer and was able to use his own insight to inspire the creation of the the brand's first jerseys. As the article explains, "The key features  — a waterproof valuables pocket, a ring-pull zip you could still use wearing gloves, a fleece chin-guard to prevent collar chafing — were Mottram’s ideas, problems encountered and mulled over during his regular long rides."

And, like Nike, Rapha recruits people active in the category so its employees can go beyond consumer understanding to consumer empathy, without the need for lots of research. The article describes this approach as follows: "Rapha recruits are presented with a welcome box of essential cycling kit and literature, all 100 staff at his London HQ are given Wednesday mornings off to go out on their bikes."

2. Success needs stamina

Rapha is now a successful business. But the start was as tough as one of the road races portrayed in a Rapha photo exhibition, "The Kings of Pain". As the article reports, "His firm took five years to turn a profit". And this when Simon had a wife and three young kids to look after. To help keep the faith he would drag the family round Richmond Park looking for Rapha users: “It cheered me up and I always found it useful. I’d stop and ask them what they liked about our kit and what they didn’t.”

3. Super sausage

Rapha is a great example of a brand buillt on "product sausage". The products are well designed, use the highest quality materials. Mottram calls this “precision and beauty”, with the article describing how "Everything is well cut and well made, entirely practical, over-engineered like Range Rovers to cope with conditions to which most owners will never subject them." The gear also has discreet finishing, a contrast to typical garish, dayglo cycling gear seen before: "The elegantly restrained merino-mix jerseys offered the classier, wealthier “Mamils” an appropriate weekend wardrobe."

4. Extra sizzle

There is also plenty of emotional sizzle flowing from and reinforcing the product sausage; The Times call this "Mottram’s marketing alchemy", describing how "the name was bought from a fabled French team of the 1960s and the logo given a cursive, vintage look. The brand is further brought to life via the brand's flagship stores, called "cycle clubs". These have TVs showing, continental bike races, copies ofL’Équipe "laid artfully across counters", an old Citroën van as changing room and a café.

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In conclusion, Rapha is a great example of a brand that combines sausage and sizzle, under-pinned by consumer insight and empathy that comes from personal passion rather than research.