Independent Viewpoint: Bruce Sandell, Gruppo Media (Rouleur)
Revered by the road cycling community, Rouleur has expanded well beyond its magazine roots to encompass e-commerce and an award-winning live event. Bruce Sandell, Managing Director of publisher Gruppo Media, talks here about marrying his personal and professional passions, the lessons he learned from the late, great Felix Dennis, and areas he is targeting for new growth.
What does winning Event of the Year at the PPA Independent Publisher Awards mean to Gruppo Media and to you?
The award was our second for the inaugural Rouleur Classic, following an AEO award. The show had been an idea that I had been developing for four years, so it was gratifying to get it launched so successfully and to be recognised for this. The show is going from strength to strength and we hope to announce some international editions soon.
What other achievements have you been particularly proud of over the past 12-18 months?
Other than the Rouleur Classic, growing our online retail business by 25% – it now accounts for over 17% of our turnover and is growing rapidly. Our range is growing significantly: the own brand, collaborations, and exclusives.
We are successfully joining up the carefully-developed relationships with our key brand partners into our retail business. I am managing to pair my love of clothes and cycling through our online retail business, working with iconic brands like John Smedley, which I’ve always coveted.
|The Rouleur + John Smedley clothing collection has helped Gruppo Media's e-commerce revenues grow to account for 17% of turnover.
What are the main areas of focus for Gruppo Media?
Brand, data, and international development. We have re-branded this year around a new positioning statement – Cycling Excellence – and around three core areas of our business: Emporium (online retail), Journal (print and digital content), and Experience (events).
The printed publication will always sit at the heart of what we do, but we need to change perception of the brand towards a cycling lifestyle brand. This will be a big focus for 2017.
We have employed our first data analyst and will become more sophisticated on how we increase our data and use what we have from the different parts of our business.
As mentioned, we are looking to take the Rouleur Classic to key cycling territories overseas that have seen similar growth to us (Australia, Germany, and USA).
How do you see Gruppo Media changing over the next few years?
The magazine will always be at the centre of what we do. Whilst other print brands in our category are losing sales and advertising, Rouleur is growing and that is down to a very strong brand and focussed market position. We will use this to turbo-charge growth in other areas, like online retail and further expansion into cycling experiences and events. We will continue to focus 100% on the top end of the road cycling market.
Is there anything in particular that keeps you awake at night?
Like any independent business, cashflow and getting paid keeps me up at night. Coming from a big company background, I did not pay enough attention to this area when I started running my own business, thinking it would take care of itself – BIG MISTAKE. Never again…
What gives you a kick about working in this industry?
Media is fast moving, ever changing and that keeps it fresh and exciting, and I really enjoy working with creatives and the more edgy end of content creation. I still get the buzz when the new edition of Rouleur arrives on my desk and hope I never lose that. I am immensely proud of what our talented team create.
I genuinely love working in the cycle industry and have found a market that really feels like home. It feels like the buzz I got from working in music magazines and with the music industry in the heady days of the ‘90s, but without the late nights, so it is much better for my health!
Our part of the cycle industry (the top end of the road market) is in rude health and has plenty of room for growth. The brands we work with and the partnerships we have created make for a great place to work
What piece of advice has stuck with you throughout your career?
I was fortunate enough to work for Dennis Publishing for around eight years. Felix Dennis was one of the greatest media entrepreneurs and I was very fortunate to have worked with him (although at the time, I often did not realise it). I would not be running my own business had I not worked at Dennis. I can be found often quoting him or just thinking ‘What would Felix do?’ in certain situations.
Some of my favourites are: always employ people more clever than you, and never be afraid to do this; believing your own bullshit is always a perilous activity, but never more fatal than for the owner of a start-up venture; if you are in a hole, stop digging; and many managers attempt to reach their targets simply by cutting costs. This can be fatal. Any fool can cut costs anywhere at any time.
I could go on…
"We do not have ‘oil tankers’ to turn around and it is easier for us to change outdated cultures. I'm optimistic about being small and nimble enough to seize the opportunities ahead of us."
What are your top tips for other independent publishers?
Be a ‘focused entrepreneur’. Being independent is great, but the danger is to try and do too much and explore every idea. Stay focused and try not to get distracted.
Stay lean, but ensure cutting corners does not stop you from increasing profit – think about the opportunity cost. I have made that mistake a few times – thinking I am being clever cutting a corner – but it takes me twice as much time as necessary.
How do you judge the mood among independent publishers in 2017? What are you optimistic about?
Cautiously optimistic… We do not have ‘oil tankers’ to turn around and it is easier for us to change outdated cultures. I'm optimistic about being small and nimble enough to seize the opportunities ahead of us.
What does the publisher of the future look like and which channels present the biggest opportunities?
The thing that we do well is build relationships through content with our customers – the publisher of the future recognises that and builds their business around this. We build a relationship through our print magazine or online retail or events and try and move customers up the value chain, encouraging them via their strong connection with our brand.
|The Rouleur Classic was named Event of the Year at the PPA Independent Publisher Awards 2016.
What’s your favourite magazine?
Rouleur (obviously), I run a business in a market (cycling) that I am personally passionate about. Rouleur is the magazine I would buy. In fact, I was a subscriber before I was even involved in the business. Over the 29 years I have worked in media, I have realised I am at my best on a brand I am passionate about and have been fortunate enough to do achieve this many times (NME / Uncut / Melody Maker / MUZIK).
My other favourite magazine and one I could not live without is Mojo – I have read it since launch and look forward to every issue. I am an obsessive music fan and record collector, and Mojo is my magazine. I read most of the album reviews and discover most of what I listen to through it and the wonderful BBC6 Music.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
I’m going to spend some time with Saddleback, a premium distributor in the bicycle industry and a very important partner of my business. It is trade show time in the bicycle industry, so I get to see and spend time with my clients, look at lots of cycling ‘bling’, talk about the sport, my business and maybe sneak in a ride – what’s not to like?
Tell us something about yourself that we might find surprising?
I used to be a club DJ, ran my own record label and my own club night. That is now a thing of the past, but the record decks often get dusted off if friends convince me on a Saturday night.
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