Just When You Least Expect It- The Onewheel

I just saw what I guess passes for a hover board in action. But it had a single wheel, rather than the two I’ve seen before. It seemed like more of a kind of skateboard, but let’s not call it that. Let’s call it a rideable, which is the term the company uses in this video. It happens I’m on Maui up in Hana and I’d just walked out my front door to see what the waves looked like as this woman came by riding down the hill on her Onewheel. If you look at the video or web site, you’ll see why it caught my attention.

I can’t quite figure out if I’ve seen it before or not. Not up close and in action for sure. According to the video, it’s a year old but the prototype that came out a year ago didn’t work too well. I have over the years seen various “new skateboards,” some of which were motorized.

Anyway, I couldn’t get out the door and down the steps to stop this woman and ask her about it. But five or so minutes later, she comes back up the hill going just as fast.

She didn’t stop. Must have had something to do with the crazy guy chasing her up the hill and yelling at her. But I shouted, “What is that called!” She said “Onewheel- it’s new.” She was pulling away, but I did manage to ask her if there was a website and she said yes.

Somewhat spent by my exertions, I went back to our cottage to think about what I’d just seen. I was struck by a couple of things.

The first was the concept of a category called “rideables.” Over the year’s we’ve all seen accessories become categories. I guess the first I remember is bags (Clive). It’s moved through watches, socks, underwear, sunglasses as well as others. Each of those started out with a single kind of product and then had to find growth by taking the brand name they’d established in one specific product area into other products based on the strength of the brand name.

Brand extensions are a tricky business. Even maintaining your position in the category you pioneer isn’t easy because as soon as you validate the category, you attract lots and lots of competitors. Whatever happened to Clive anyway?

But if you start with a larger concept like rideables, you don‘t have the problem of getting a consumer to understand why the hell brand x, known for product y, is offering product z, aside from the fact that they need to figure out a way to grow.

I don’t know if “rideable” is the right term, or if a consumer group would have an intuitive comfort with what that means. Certainly there are enough products to create a retail concept based on it. Perhaps it’s a logical industry evolution as traditional skateboards have been joined by long boards, plastic boards, hover boards, scooters and now one wheel powered boards. What products am I missing here? I would not include bikes.

The next thing I noticed on the web site was the price. It’s $1,499.00. I’ll give that a moment to sink in. Plus $50 bucks shipping and tax. I ran into some people who had a couple of them and asked one of them what he thought. He told it me it belonged to his friends, but he was sold the first time he got on it. I objected that it was $1,500 but he said, “Who cares! I want one.” Does that translate into actual purchasing behavior? Who knows.

There are those of you reading this that have had me tell you, “If you’re saying you’re got a specialty product, price it and treat it like one.” If you can’t do that, stop deluding yourself.” In a certain segment of the market- the segment that everybody wants to be in of course- pricing is often less of a barrier than you believe. It may even be a distinguishing feature.

And finally, maybe the reason I didn’t know about this product (other than I need to get out more often) is that it was exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show. I know that because my research department sent me this article describing a little problem this company has with a Chinese competitor. Apparently they managed to get that company thrown out of CES and the displaced company didn’t take it well.

At some level, is this a competitor to a skateboard? Maybe. That will be more of an issue when/if the price comes down.

I thought the product was cool and it certainly seems functional as I saw it and as it’s described. But the strategic takeaway is that being a skateboard company doesn’t necessarily mean you’re just competing against other skateboard companies. Maybe you’ve made a decision that what you are is a traditional skate company, and that’s where you compete. That’s fine. But I’m going to have to give the concept of rideables as a category some more thought and maybe you should too.

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