mini-review of the VO model 3 saddle. I especially like the photography. Thanks Alan.
I've been thinking about the VO saddles and a few of our other products lately, specifically about their branding. Let me explain.
Our saddles have been getting better with every shipment. The attachment problems of the first run have been completely solved, the rail-to-frame junction is being strengthened; the setting of the rivets is getting better; the leather quality is more consistent. And we may get titanium rails soon. In short, I think they are now about the equal of any saddle. And as we continue to improve them I hope they will be the best available. But I worry that the perception is still that they are a step below that big leather saddle brand. I am concerned that they appear to be just a "house brand".
Now it's true, as most of you know, that VO saddles are made in a factory in Taiwan, one that I've just visited. The factory specializes in high-end leather furniture, mostly modern-style chairs, that are sold in some very fine European stores. But it's owned by a cyclist who decided his knowledge of leather and metal work could be put to good use in making a better, and less expensive, leather saddle. Not having a brand name or distribution channel, he decided to build saddles for other companies. VO and Merry Sales (Cardiff) are the two main US companies he works with. We each spec the saddles the way we think they should be made. On some models we stick with the factory's basic design while on others we make changes. Soon we will have some completely new models exclusive to VO.
VO decided to use our own name on the saddles while Merry Sales made up a new name and a company story, Cardiff. In retrospect I wonder if we should not also be paying more attention to branding. Maybe our saddles should be called "Invernnes", or "Edinburgh", or "Smythe & Biddington". I could write some stuff about saddles inspired by the single malts of the Scottish highlands; or maybe not. But the point is that many companies do just that, Rivendell with their bags, several classic Italian companies with frames made in Taiwan (you would be amazed), and good old J. Peterman with just about everything. Of course car companies are masters at this; a VW Phaeton and a Bentley are very much the same car. We all love a good story. And it's human nature to see more value in a product with a unique name and story.
So I plan to follow their example and break out "Grand Cru" as a separate brand and company. Grand Cru means "great growth" a term applied to some fantastic French wines. It's the top tier of classification in some regions. So Grand Cru Components will strive to make great components which are often based on classic designs. My hope is that eventually GC components will be as good as those from companies such as Chris King, Phil Wood, Paul Components, and White Industries. Of course it will take time. Meanwhile we have a brand that cyclists may come to associate with great components, if we do a good job on those components that is. Yeah, that logo still needs work.