Inspiration case: How has Rapha succeeded in creating a strong community?
Written by Benedicte Larsen
Rapha and Harley-Davidson. Two companies – each from different eras of time and industries. However, they still have something very special in common. Both companies have managed to create a club (or community) of dedicated and loyal members, who pay a relatively high annual fee to become a part of these communities. Creating a community with a membership-fee is an interesting and different way of thinking ’The Network Model’, which is one of the nine subscription models, we work with at Subscrybe. In this subscription model, the value increases as the number of members increase. You can compare this to LinkedIn, who also use ’The Network Model’ – it’s no fun to be on this platform, if no other members were using it, right?
In the following article, we dive into exactly what these companies have done to create their communities, focusing on one of the latest and most hyped communities, Rapha Cycling Club.
For a long time, Harley-Davidson has been the brand to look up to regarding creating a successful community. The Harley Owners Group (HOG Members) was established in 1983, where the company was threatened by the economic recession. As a consequence, Harley-Davidson chose to focus on their core business – their group of loyal motorcyclists, who they wanted to build a solid and long-term relationship with. Members pay 75 dollars for an annual membership, while others go all-in and buy a lifetime membership. Their community has been extremely successful with around 1 million members and has paved the way for new communities.
The world’s biggest cycling community – Rapha Cycling Club
The ‘new’ Harley-Davidson community, just for cyclists instead of motorcyclists, is Rapha Cycling Club (RCC). Rapha has its base in London, England. Rapha’s founder, Simon Mottram, views Rapha as a global high-end lifestyle brand, which has been relatively unheard of in the world of bicycles. Rapha now produces content, arranges events and has 24 Clubhouses around the world, which are used as physical ’hubs’ for RCC members.
In 2017, Rapha experienced 24% growth in their global Clubhouses and has, therefore, passed 13.000 members. But the founder, Mottram, does not focus on the economy, but instead on the members. The company’s mantra is ”putting the customer at the centre of everything we do”. Mottram explains that in practice, they build long-term relations with their customers (or members) over time. They want customers to return again and again Rapha has succeeded because of their direct-to-consumer business model, which is shaping the RCC-community. If you work in a subscription or membership-based business, this is something you’ve heard about before, right?
To become a part of RCC, members need to pay around 1.300 DKK annually. In return, members get access to several benefits, e.g.:
- A welcome package
- Access to special RCC cycling clothing and merchandise
- Weekly ’Rides’ with other RCC members
- Free coffee and bicycle rent at RCC hubs around the world
- RCC App
- Exclusive events and facilities
But not everyone can become a member of RCC. In fact, Rapha has set a minimum limit for all of their Rides, which means that only “true” cycling enthusiasts can join the club. Moreover, there is a set of rules for RCC members – you need to (preferably) wear RCC cycling clothes and there is a special etiquette concerning greeting other riders on the road, waiting for those who are trailing behind, and helping those in need. They have a Latin motto; ”Ex Duris Gloria” – ”Honor through suffering”. It almost feels like a religion that members must devote themself to. And it works!
“We have seen exceptional growth to date, with thousands of club members now cycling and socialising together, connecting with the sport through Rapha. This membership model is profitable and extremely successful for us, contributing to our growth and providing a strong community platform for the future of the brand and business.” — Rapha CEO, Simon Mottram.
Why and how do these communities create loyalty?
But why does this community – which is a paid membership and loyalty club – work well for Rapha? We have concluded that Rapha (and Harley-Davidson) have especially succeeded with three different things;
Rapha has managed to create a community where the members are the centre of attention, not Rapha. In this way, they have created loyalty, won the members’ trust and support. The brand has a major role in facilitating RCC Rides, but it is the members and their community that create engagement. Thus, the members are both loyal to the brand and RCC, but in particular also to each other in their local community. High engagement creates high loyalty!
Also, Rapha has managed to create a community that speaks to the human need for ’belongingness’. All people want – and are motivated – to become a part of a community. From nature, we human beings are “social animals”. With RCC, Rapha has created a highly exclusive club, which is only limited to some, because of the club’s price and minimum speed. As such, you must be a certain type of person to join RCC. They cultivate the membership feeling, the social and the pride of being something special – and exclusive. The members also have the opportunity of joining this community on their terms as there are physical venues – their hubs – but also digital venues through the app, ZWIFT. This app allows RCC members to create their own avatars with special RCC bike rides and then compete in digital RCC-races.
Rapha has become a lifestyle brand as members not only wear Rapha clothes when they bike but daily. Thus, Rapha has created special collections with everyday clothing. The clothes and all of their merchandise has a special look with the brand’s iconic pink stripe. Rapha has also created local collections in some big cities, e.g. New York, where the NYC hub has a special shirt marked ’CCNY’. Rapha is brilliant at spotting trends and tendencies, which they manage to incorporate in their brand, thus creating visually inviting items.
How can your company be inspired by Rapha’s strategic use of ’The Network Model’ to activate your members and create a strong community of loyal and engaged members?