The hot, sweaty, dust of Interbike 2013 has now mostly settled… in a sticky mess of spilled, over-priced, “free” beer and delusional dreams. The show’s much anticipated and over-hyped move from the Sands Convention Center at the Venetian, to the Mandalay Bay and it’s convention center, was the biggest topic of discussion… followed closely by the questions, concerns, and curiosity surrounding the “Interbike by Invitation” pseudo consumer day. And, well, as is tradition, the yearly bitch session about “why the hell are we in Vegas AGAIN?”
Interbike, for all its warts and itchy rashes, is still THE North American cycling trade event of the year. The original premise and purpose of the show was to connect brands to retailers, so the brands could sell products/ services to retailers. Over the years, thanks to the ever-shifting product model year and earlier shows like Eurobike, Interbike has morphed into something else… though nobody is quite sure what it IS now… or they’re just not willing to admit what it isn’t. With numerous brands, well, nearly all, asking retailers to commit to “preseason” orders as early as July, September has become a nearly useless date on the calendar for a “sales” event. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some folks still doing business during Interbike, but it’s not at all like it was in years past. Not even close. The days of driving/ flying back from Vegas with a large stack of orders handwritten on paper order forms, then hurriedly entered into the “order system” at the office, with special care given to protect order priority, are LONG dead. Still, Interbike serves a purpose as a sales show, especially for smaller brands that are looking for new retailers. There’s no greater chance within North America to meet and talk with so many potential retailers. Interbike is still, king of the castle in that one regard… but is that enough to justify the incredibly huge expense? There are many CFOs who would emphatically suggest NO. And, with Interbike moving ahead another week earlier in September next year, it will be less than two weeks after Eurobike, meaning some brands will have to make some very hard choices about which of the two shows they will attend.
The opening salvo of Interbike, the OutDoor Demo, is perhaps one of the few things that really matters anymore- in many ways. For smaller brands, again, it proves to be the very best opportunity to showcase your product’s worth. If a retailer has the chance to ride your bike/ test your product and is impressed, it could be “the thing” that changes their minds and opens their wallets. Many brands over the past 5 years have either shrunk their indoor presence, or eliminated it altogether, in favor of larger and better OutDoor Demo presences. Bootleg Canyon, in Henderson, provides some great trails- though potentially very dangerous and challenging (I didn’t see the medevac chopper once this year though)- for evaluating MTB models, and the nearby roads and fantastic bike path network around Lake Mead provide ample road bike (or e-bike) testing options. The desert is hot, dry, and miserably windy sometimes in September, so it’s not the friendliest place to test a bike. But it’s pretty functional. BUT… would somewhere less hot, dry, windy, and dangerous be better and create even more excitement?
The new footprint at Mandalay Bay was equally crappy/ challenging/ wonderful for most brands. Some of the smaller brands with smaller booths got completely hosed by the incredibly crappy overall situation with columns all over the show floor and in booth spaces. Interbike graciously offered a discount (though pennies on the dollar) or other advertising “trades” to compensate for the columns… but for some brands, the columns simply destroyed their booths. Luckily for me and the company I work for, we already had a tower built into our booth design. It provides storage for our sales materials and other booth supplies, so we were able to build the tower around the column… losing nearly all of our booth storage in the process. But we were able to greatly minimize the visual impact on the display… thankfully. Had we not had such an element already built into our design… it is entirely possible my limp body might have been found dangling above the show floor… if I could’ve afforded the GES fees for the crane and harness.
With the move, nobody knew what to expect and the floorplan was almost as anticipated as a new iPhone release. When we first saw our booth placement, we were pretty excited because the map showed us near the front entrance. Only later we learned we were in the back end of Hall D, once Interbike realized that what they thought was the front door was actually the back door. We got lucky again, as we were just a few feet away from the Paddock outdoor demo/ booth/ food/ music stage area. The paddock did seem to create a bit of traffic flow, thanks to the increasing curiosity around e-bikes. With an e-bike test track in the melt-the-soles-of-your-shoes heat of the asphalt paddock area, there was a shocking amount of people venturing outside of the air-conditioned show area. Thanks to the heat, I’m sure Mandalay Bay sold more $6.00 bottles of water than they might have otherwise. Ah, the refreshing taste of Capitalism!
Over the course of the three days, I heard plenty of grumbling about how confusing the show layout was. And it was very confusing. However, before we sharpen our pitchforks further, it would’ve been nearly impossible for Interbike to make any significant changes without grumbling… because we’re lazy creatures of habit and don’t like change. The layout was truly confusing for many, regardless, and I heard numerous apologies for being late to appointments because “I was lost/ couldn’t figure out where to go.” Maybe it’ll prove to just be a first year hiccup… maybe it won’t. But we’ll be there again next year, like it or not.
Then, there was the much anticipated and even greater feared Consumer Day, aka Interbike by Invite. The premise was that retailers would have the ability to invite their best consumers to the show, as the official, invited guests on the final day of the show. In years past, the last day of the show has been pretty dead and most brands began tearing down their booths early to get out of the show as fast as possible. With a Consumer Day, one of the hopes was that there would be a reason for exhibitors to stick around until the end of the day. The passes to the show sold for $50, for a chance to squeeze saddles and sniff spokes… a Bike Nerd’s dream! BUT… turns out that $50 to sniff spokes on Friday, skipping work, didn’t have the appeal some thought. And even less appeal for retail consumers from out of town. One of the many rumors circulating was that only 72 passes pre-sold before the show began. The weekend Gran Fondo riders were given free passes to Interbike. Additionally, passes were given to anybody who attended Wednesday night’s CrossVegas CX races. Another popular rumor was that Interbike allowed passes to be given away at a local 5k running event… just to get some bodies. In the end, the post-show numbers stated that about 750 consumers attended. Less than 1000 consumers to the largest cycling product event in North America. Personally, I saw anywhere from 8- 12 of the special golden name badges. Of those, only a couple of the people appeared to be actual cycling enthusiasts. The others were clearly there either on a bet or out of morbid curiosity- “what do you mean that bikes costs $8,000?” So, it seems pretty safe to assume (for me), that Interbike by Invitation was an underwhelming flop. More than a few of the retail buyers I spoke to on Wednesday and Thursday said they were not going to be at the show on Friday, just to avoid the possible circus of a consumer day. In the end, that particular circus did not arrive and the retail buyers were gone, so it was sadly the quietest final day of the show that I have ever seen. The good news is, for me anyway, none of our products were stolen in a tidal wave of consumers- as many folks had expressed fears of.
Then there’s the venue; Las Vegas. I hate going to Vegas for the show. I’ve been doing it for too many years now and I simply don’t think it’s the right place- the casino environment, not the actual city and people- to showcase our industry. On a lot of levels, Vegas is perfect; cheap hotels (sorta), cheap flights and international access, myriad food options (sorta, and if you’re willing to wait many times), and enough floorspace to have the entire industry under one enormous roof. We, as a North American industry, bitch endlessly about the potential inconvenience of having the show elsewhere. Yet we’ll gleefully hop on a plane, fly to Germany, get a hotel an hour (or more) away from the show venue, and walk from show hall to show hall to show hall to Zeppelin hangar at Eurobike. Kinda begs an enormous WTF? I’d be thrilled to see the show move to Salt Lake City, Boulder/ Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis… anywhere. Sure, I’m willing to accept a few inconveniences, like having to walk a little farther from one hall to the next, or even drive- instead of walk- from my hotel to the show. There just needs to be a much more significant change in venue for Interbike- more than simply moving slightly down the strip in Vegas. One of the amazing ironies is that every year we collectively complain about returning to Vegas for the show, yet when options are offered, Vegas remains the favorite. Again… WTF? In my ever so humble opinion, if this industry is to break out of its flat growth conundrum, we need to grow up, drop the party-boy “WOOHOO VEGAS” mentality and put on our Big Boy Pants© and grow up. The casino world, with the overt sexism and overly abundant booze, helps to hold the industry back from increasing its value and potential. Slowly, but surely, we’re getting more and more very strong women in the industry- which has been LONG overdue- and we’re getting more professional business people exploring the industry. Showing up to the show and seeing an expansive sea of red-eyed, hungover faces, and hearing tales of strip clubs in the booths is just preventing real growth, and overdue change.
So, where do we go from here? How do we “fix Interbike?” Where should we move the show to? What city has the magical unicorn-pegasus-leprechaun ingredients of airport, hotels, restaurants, show space, and demo venue? Will people be willing to step outside of what they have known for several years? How do we add a tangible consumer day? Do we make the show straddle the weekend to attract more consumers? How do we meet the needs of the greatest percentage of the industry without completely alienating the rest of the people? When do we have the show? What IS Interbike now? Is the cost too high for too little return? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie-Roll© Tootsie-Pop©?
I don’t think I have all the answers, but there are a lot of smart people in this industry, surprisingly, and we should be able to come up with an answer if we’re honest. Something needs to change, or Interbike slips further down the rabbit hole of obscurity and irrelevance. And this is coming from somebody who actually believes in and supports Interbike. I don’t want to see it die… but I don’t want to be a part of it limping and lurching ahead the way it seems to be now.
Tim Jackson- Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser