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2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Silca. Innovation has always been the brand’s currency. The founder, Felice Sacchi, and his family were the first to put pressure gauges on pumps, the first to use plastic and endeavored to make products that would last a lifetime. They became an indispensable part of professional team service courses and bike shops everywhere.
As production of accessories like floor and frame pumps moved to Asia and low price supplanted quality as the driving force in the category, Silca struggled. The iconic Italian brand’s rebirth came from an unexpected place – America’s heartland and Joshua Poertner.
Poertner spent 14 years working on the cutting edge of cycling technology as Zipp’s Technical Director, but dreamed of his own brand to steward. He left Zipp and in 2013 purchased Silca from the Sacchi family, determined to restore the brand’s luster.
We wanted to delve deeper into the motivation, the philosophy, the process that has helped Poertner deliver products of such quality and beauty they have reinvigorated an entire product category that had been seen as nothing more than a commodity – The SuperPista Ultimate, HX-ONE tool kit, the Seat Roll Premio, the Impero Ultimate Frame Pump.
[PELOTON] What is the mechanism that allows you to redefine such established categories?
[Joshua Poertner] We like to look at commodity type categories and ask not what people want, but what they still need from those products. Pumps for example have only two real suppliers globally, so brands are hesitant to innovate because their products are made three feet from those of their biggest competitor. So the ‘innovation’ based on the consumer ‘want’ is often lower price. When your primary focus is on price, it’s really hard to also look for ways to make something better. I like to take price off of the table and just say, ‘What’s the frustration?’ Often times, you find that the core frustration of the user is quite simple and companies have spent two decades fixing the problems left behind by each prior ‘fix’. So for a pump, it may be that the threads in the aluminum chuck strip out. But when you look at the history, those threads are there because they seemed like a solution to chuck levers that broke, and those levers broke because they were plastic, and they were plastic because metal was too expensive and that decision was made because ‘everybody knows’ that people only buy things like pumps based on price. We like to try and roll back the problem to the beginning and then ask if people would be willing to pay more for something better. So we look at it from a very basic level of ‘how can we ensure that it won’t fail in the parking lot ten minutes before your race?’
The second component to this is education. Why do we have a 1% gauge that costs 20x what a normal gauge costs? Because tire pressure is more responsible for ride quality, traction and rolling resistance than any other single adjustment you can make to your bike, but most people haven’t seen the data to know that, so we have to work to educate in those areas. Same thing with hex keys. The assumption is that hex keys are just generally bad, but in reality it’s more that the ones you have access to are bad, and you can, in fact, get really excellent ones. Then we educate on the how and why. I like to say that, ‘None of what we do makes sense until it does’. Once people have the information, what we are doing suddenly seems sort of obvious to those people.
Read about Silca’s tire pressure studies here.
Look for Part II of our interview with Silca’s owner, Josh Poertner, next week! We learn about how Josh’s time at Zipp has influenced his process and how the ‘Root Need’ guides Silca’s product development.