SmartEtailing Blog

Origin Story Part 3

By Ryan Atkinson


We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the founding of SmartEtailing by reflecting in this blog series on how the bike industry’s original tech startup came to be.

In the previous post we learned how SmartEtailing was funded in large part by bike retailers who had faith in Mark and Barry’s vision, with Randy Clark at Bicycle Garage Indy being the very first owner to support the idea.

The First Website

The first SmartEtailing website went live six months after the meeting at Interbike 1999. Bicycle Garage Indy was planning its annual spring event, and Clark told Brenner and Graff that he needed his new website up and running in time for the fairgrounds sale. Mission accomplished. SmartEtailing met the deadline and was now in the business of providing websites for bike shops.

It took another year for SmartEtailing to gain traction with retailers. Graff and Brenner pitched their services to retailers at trade shows and conferences including the Chicago Area Bicycle Dealers Association show and the Bicycle Leadership Conference.

At Interbike in 2000, they got their first supply-side boost when Specialized asked them to to talk to their Dealer Alliance group. Rick Vosper and Jerry Norquist from Specialized thought SmartEtailing made sense and they made the company an integral part of the Specialized Interbike 2000 sales campaign, including SmartEtailing as a part of the larger Specialized pavilion at the trade show.

Once this rolled out, signups started rolling in and the company started getting the attention of more cycling brands.

“We were up to 50 shops by the time our first official Interbike rolled around and it was a real business at that point,” Graff recalled.

Brands & Suppliers On Board

Trek asked them to attend its annual dealer event, where SmartEtailing signed up more dealers. Later, Trek renewed its connection and was the first company to embrace more advanced integrations including Supplier Sync and Supplier Fulfillment.

QBP also saw value early on as a way to help consumers view online the components, small parts repair products that QBP had available but weren’t necessarily in stock at the local retailers. The companies worked together to create the first “special order catalog”, a predecessor to Supplier Sync that’s now a staple used by the company’s many other supplier partners.

Early Apdopters

SmartEtailing’s early days were tough as many retailers were reluctant to do anything online other than a basic informational site. But the product catalog was a big draw.

“The fact that it included pre-designed templates and a product catalog allowed us to easily and quickly, within a few days, have a website up and running with our logo, our locations, and our products,” remembered Michael Reuter, a longtime client of SmartEtailing and owner of American Cycle & Fitness with seven stores in Michigan. “It allowed us to quickly get into the online space so local customers could find and interact with us.”

As more and more retailers joined the service, the enthusiasm from cycling brands built into a rapid expansion of the cycling catalog and the need for SmartEtailing to hire more staff to support the influx of retailers and brand partners.

One of the reasons SmartEtailing survived the early days was because the company had a bootstrap mentality and they wanted cash flow to fund their growth, so the company’s long-standing tradition of modest financial planning came to be.

Stayed tuned for part 4 in the series about the early basement days of the company.


<< Read Part 1   Read Part 4 >>

Topics: Websites Client Updates


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