Small to Big: RevZilla

The online retailer turns employees into motorcycle “gear geeks.”
Anthony Bucci

Anthony Bucci

Photographer: Erin Patrice O'Brien for Bloomberg Businessweek

Anthony Bucci, Matt Kull, and Nick Auger all worked in tech before they decided to turn their shared obsession with motorcycles into a business. They started RevZilla Motorsports in 2007 to create a new kind of biker parts and gear retailer: one that, in Bucci’s description, combines the experience of shopping at a high-end store such as Barneys with the Web-enabled efficiencies of Zappos.com. Here he discusses how the Philadelphia-based company turns its employees into “gear geeks” who can expertly guide shoppers toward a purchase. —As told to Lee Wilson
 
• When we started, a customer would call us and say, “My name is Bob. I live in Seattle. I ride 200 days a year, I’m on a BMW RT, I have a big belly, I need a yellow jacket, I have $300 to $500 to spend, and it needs to have great venting.” And Matt, or Nick, or I would have a conversation with Bob that would last an hour to 90 minutes, and we would talk him through all of the options. At the end, he’d say, “I can’t believe you did that! I’m going to tell all of my friends about you.”
 
• So I started to think, How do you scale that? Videos started as a way for us to get 90 percent of that information to the consumer in a self-serve fashion. But it’s evolved since then. We used to explain products to you. Now we tell you what we think of them—good or bad—and how they could be improved. We just crossed the 200,000-subscriber mark on YouTube—that’s a big audience for this industry.
 
• In the beginning, the brands and the distributors were very wary of us. It was very hard to get some of them to call us back. Back then, the Internet was a place where brands went to be discounted. We said, listen, that’s not going to be our play.
 

Chart: RevZilla Revenue

• We’re in this really neat place right now, where we have a lot of possibilities: the opportunity to open stores, to go outside of the U.S., to develop some products. All of these are things we’ve talked about. But ultimately, it still has to fall under the same umbrella, which is, are the things we’re doing advancing the experience of the motorcycle enthusiast?
 
• At RevZilla, we say we’re a performance culture that passes the beer test. We hire people that share our worldview and life values. No brilliant jerks. We want people who want to hang out with each other. Our typical gear geek probably costs 20 to 30 percent more per year than the call-center staff at an outsourced call-center provider. They are the Sherpa, the concierge for the customer.
 
• It’s a really interesting mixture of people. We have one gentleman who used to be a lawyer, we have another guy who was a custom bike builder, and there’s a guy that was a 30-year veteran of law enforcement. Geeks go through a 60-day boot camp. It’s called Rev U. It’s a mixture of systems, process, people, brand training, culture training, service training. There’s 100-, 101-, 102-level courses. And tests! Our philosophy is that it should become more difficult to get a job at RevZilla over time, because the level of talent for all of our employees should go up and up and up with each new hire.
 
• Our turnover is extremely low. Last year it was something like 12 percent. Voluntary attrition is even lower. Put it this way: We’ve asked more people to leave the company than have left on their own accord.

— With assistance by Lee Wilson

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