My very good friend, and sometimes “boss”, Patrick Brady has recently penned a pair of posts at his wonderful website, Red Kite Prayer. He’s a smart guy, with an incredible talent for finding words that get to the heart of the topic, and in the case of the two pieces recently, they are uncomfortable topics within the broad scope of the cycling “industry.” I say “industry” because these issues impact manufacturers, media, consumers, athletes … every aspect of the business, sport, and activity of cycling.
Patrick calls out the fact that bringing these topics up is akin to touching the third rail of the subway, and he’s right. But it needs to be done. Again and again. One of my favorite musicians is Colin Newman, front man of 70/80’s punk/techno band Wire. In 1986, he released a solo album called Commercial Suicide. It’s one of my favorites. Maybe I’m playing with professional suicide (again), but it’s worth the effort to save us from ourselves.
It’s a very uncomfortable truth that sexism is alive and well in our “industry.” We’re no different than any other industry, agreed. Sexism is still rampant throughout every facet of our culture and society. Humanity has a problem with sexism. That said, that does not mean we should continue to institutionalize it or not fight against it within our little world. It’s also true that the overwhelmingly white, and male demographic of the “industry” is not unique to us. And it’s also true that as you migrate down price range, the demographic is much more diverse. But, the marketing of the sport/ lifestyle, the demographic of the industry itself, and the leadership of the sport is largely white, male, and getting older.
Let’s say we bring in new and diverse consumers to cycling. Many join our party all on their own, not because our marketing or outreach was effective. A hispanic woman buys a bike at Target, or even Wal Mart. She rides and decides she likes cycling. She then visits an IBD to see what her next step up might be. The IBD world is largely male- regardless of skin color. Maybe she picks up a magazine in the shop, and thumbs through the pages. As a woman, especially a woman of color, she is very unlikely to see anybody who resembles her. Let’s swap “hispanic female” for “black male” and the story is nearly identical. There are a few excellent examples of black men in the sport and business, but they don’t exactly make it into print ads that might help to paint a more diverse image. These examples are grossly oversimplified, but they’re still real.
We have a problem. “We”, meaning the cycling business (and especially in North America), have made a (bad) habit for decades of mostly trying to sell more bikes to an existing consumer base, especially at the upper end where nearly all of our marketing dollars are spent. The obvious problem is that those consumers are getting older, their garages are getting full, and their numbers are dwindling. If we simply look at sustainability and commercial viability- profit- it makes lots and lots of sense to do a better job of trying to grow that consumer base, while at the same time working harder to retain the ones who wander in on their own. Target and Wal Mart, as examples, get badmouthed by the IBD for many reasons (some of them accurate), but we should really be thanking them for creating new consumer opportunities for the rest of us. They are helping those of us who work in/ with the IBD network. And, you can also spread that to online retail as well. Many consumers who do not prefer IBD shopping, still wander in with boxes of parts and questions. We need to embrace each of them because they represent potential and hope.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If I did, I’d be making lots more money. I am passionate about cycling, at all levels. I love this “industry” to my very bones. And I feel blessed to have been a part of it for so many years, and to have made the innumerable friends that I have. All of us are lucky.
We can do better. We can be better. We can be more creative. Selfishly, we have to … or “we” will be more irrelevant than we are already in danger of becoming. A less sexist, more diverse cycling world is good for us all.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
My good friend, and contributor here- Sarai Snyder– recently wrote an excellent Guest Editorial in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRaIN) in the February 1st issue. I liked it so much, and felt it valuable enough, that I reached out to both Sarai and BRaIN for permission to run the full editorial here. There are many great points in the piece, many things I have felt and said for years, but I lack the genuine credibility on the topic that Sarai has.
We, the cycling industry, have done so little to really grow and support women in cycling- historically speaking. It IS getting better, and more women are holding important roles within the industry (which is a long overdue trend), but there is so much more to be done… and Sarai’s piece does a lot to help explain how easy some of those steps can be. It’s not just about the products, which we’ve done a reasonably good job of creating. There’s more to it, as Sarai points out.
With the industry in desperate need of growth and “new” consumers, women are an important part of our collective futures… so if you didn’t read the editorial in BRaIN, please give it a read now.
How to create a female following… and why you should care.
Women are the fastest-growing segment in the cycling market. More and more are hopping on bikes everyday, but retailers sometimes find it difficult to connect with female customers. By creating a comfortable environment for women to shop, learn and advance as cyclists, your business can become a natural hub for women who ride bikes. Surprisingly, that might not be as hard as you think.
Here are a few tips on how to create, develop and maintain a loyal female following:
1. Get to know the female cyclist. Much more than just another rider, women are a huge asset in building a strong cycling community. Women are more socially and locally aware. As natural communicators, we like to build communities focused around our passions in personal networks and online, sharing stories and empowering one another toward our greatest goals. For these reasons, female cyclists are rarely created individually, but in groups of two or more. One new female customer can mean several, making us an extremely valuable market to reach. Women are motivated to have a positive community impact and therefore likely to get involved in local events and advocacy—another great reason to encourage more female ridership.
2. Make a connection. A good relationship with a female customer starts by making a connection. Recognize that women are not the opposite of men. As cyclists, we want the same things: great bikes, gear, places to ride and people to ride with. Women who ride bikes are just as diverse as their male counterparts in bike needs and interests. Finding that commonality is the first opportunity to turn a casual female shopper into a loyal customer. It starts with having a conversation and asking questions. As with each person that walks in the door, getting to know what sort of rider they are, their goals and challenges, you can meet them where they are and take them where they want to go.
3. Build community. Since women are socially motivated, having a healthy community in and around your shop is essential. Women’s nights have been hugely successful at many shops. These events provide an exclusive opportunity to get women in the door, introduce products and provide education. Lessons on flat repair and drivetrain cleaning are basic, necessary skills that all cyclists need to know. Many women have had less exposure to tools and often are not expected to be as mechanically adept as men. So offering education in a non-threatening environment is highly productive. Once women learn some basic skills they will feel more comfortable at more inclusive cycling events and rides. Women’s nights also provide the opportunity to meet and find riding partners. Following it up with a regular group ride is an excellent way to keep the momentum going, making your shop a gathering place for female cyclists. As friendships develop, so will your community.
4. Have at least one female on staff. Seeing another female in the shop will make a woman more at ease the moment she walks in the door. A female employee is also invaluable in bringing balance and diversity to your business. Additionally, her observations can lead to candid conversations on improving shop etiquette, especially when dealing with female customers. If you find it challenging to hire a female employee, consider searching out a woman to be your ambassador in the community, assist with events, lead group rides and be a sounding board for effectively reaching out locally. These women are usually thrilled to assist in making purchasing decisions for women’s-specific gear and bikes.
5. Lastly, have women’s gear on the sales floor. For many shops this is a chicken or egg scenario. Which comes first, stocking women’s gear or having more women ready to buy? This can be a fine balancing act, but taking care to grow the community and the gear offerings equally over time is a winning combination. Loyal customers who feel well supported and respected are often willing to wait for special orders. Reaching female customers is only marginally related to the products you carry.
As mothers, teachers and caregivers, women have the greatest influence on future generations. Attracting and developing more female riders is our opportunity to push cycling into the mainstream, thus leading to safer, stronger cycling communities. Improving the bicycle retail experience for women is essential for causing this shift and ensuring the sustainability of the industry we all know and love.
The cycling industry, like nearly every other industry known to man, struggles to come to terms with the growth of online retail and how to adapt to it/ with it. The cycling industry- especially at the retail level- has been fighting to survive the battle against online retailers ever since the earlier catalog mail order days. The vast majority of retail IBDs have been unable or unwilling to compete with the buying power and discount pricing of many online retailers. For several years nows, the manufacturers in the industry have also struggled to come to terms with the growth of online retail. Many brands have tried to cultivate twin distribution channels, attempting to remain strong in both IBD and online worlds. For some brands and product categories, it has worked with relatively few issues. The main category, but certainly not the only one, to receive the greatest amount if scrutiny and angst has been bikes- complete or framesets.
There are many arguments why a brand would want to partner with online retailers, the biggest and most obvious being the sheer number of consumers doing their research about brands/ products online, and then hunting for that ever popular and hated “buy now” button. For traditional IBDs, there are plenty of reasons to fear online retailers- many online retailers offer prices that can be cheaper than what an IBD can buy a similar product for, thanks to their massive buying power and lower overhead. Online retailers, often referred to as evildoers attempting to undermine the health of the industry and put shops out of business, are far from The Evil Empire®. Is it fair to paint all online retailers as being ruthless bloodsuckers for simply being often more efficient and existing in the space where so many consumers spend vast amounts of time?
For brands, especially for smaller bike brands fighting for dollars in an increasingly competitive market with dominant incumbents increasing their control over retailers in the traditional IBD world, choosing to ignore online distribution- either through consumer-direct sales or with an online retailer- could spell death. With retailers often seeking to streamline their businesses, to keep things easier in a tough market or because of pressure from their major brands, smaller/ newer brands are left with very few options if they want to survive. Ignoring online distribution means saying “no” to consumers interested in their products. In my previous role as Brand Manager at Masi Bicycles, I had to frequently tell a consumer that I couldn’t directly sell them a bike, and that there were no online retailers who could sell them a bike… I had to say “no” to a sale. And I did it a lot. Masi had very large geographic areas without any retailers, and consumers in those areas who wanted to buy bikes… but we had to say no to selling direct and there were no retailers who could help them out. And things haven’t changed much in the industry in the few years since I was at Masi. It’s not entirely about small/ new brands either, because there are plenty of consumers who can’t get easy access to established brands too- or they simply choose not to deal with the local IBDs available to them. What are brands to do? Continue to say “no” and allow the brands who say “yes” to steal their sales?
For the IBD, there are numerous issues at play. If they attempt to compete on price, they may end up selling products- just to capture the sale- for less than they paid for the product, or at such a small profit that it becomes hardly worth stocking the product. Many retailers have had the experience of being “shopped” by consumers who use the retailer and their expertise to determine the proper product/ size/ fit that they need, only to have the consumer go home and buy online (or even within the store on their smart phones). Sometimes, it isn’t enough to explain the added value of personal service, good relationships, and proper product knowledge that the consumer misses by shopping online. Many consumers are addicted to the thrill of getting the ultimate “deal”, even if the shipping and/ or labor to install/ set up the new widget brings the IBD and online source to pricing parity. There is an increasing number of consumers who just flat-out prefer to shop online, for everything they purchase. This coming Christmas season is expected to be another record-breaking year for online sales. In fact, just this past week, UPS shares went up significantly in value based on reports by the company of the anticipated increase in business due to online sales. Even if an IBD is able to entice consumers into their shop, there is always the chance that they will not have the item in stock and need to order it themselves, increasing the desire of the consumer to go home and order it… and possibly get free freight, unlike the IBD!
Online retailers, have struggled for years to develop a better buying experience than walking into the local trusted retailer. Sometimes it’s easy, and other times it’s not. Online retailers without knowledgable staff, or with high turnaround, can struggle to survive as well. It takes a lot of volume of low margin closeouts to keep the lights on and the computer server humming. Having the right mix of product and inventory is an equal challenge for online as well. There has to be a balance of closeout inventory pulling in the low-price consumer, as well as new and currently hot products (at full margin) to keep “the geeks” coming back. Logistics is its own nightmare too, especially for larger companies doing their own private label products.
With brands, the answer will likely settle into a hybrid model of traditional IBD retailers and some sort of online presence. Either consumer-direct sales or some version of a “buy now/ buy local” option on brand websites, even if it directs the consumer to a nearby retailer- similar to Shopatron. For the retailer, the answer is likely going to require developing both an online presence, and learning how to offer a buying experience that trumps the convenience of buying online and potentially saving tons of money. And online retailers are increasingly attempting to develop IBD footprints, as well as learning how to increase profitability without just selling an increased volume of closeout products at low margins.
Overall, the answer is going to be uncomfortable at times, and is going to require a lot of dialog between all parties. There are many more pieces to the puzzle, and nobody seems to have the lid to the box so we can all look at the picture and figure it out. Consumers are online. A lot. They’re comfortable buying everything from watches to clothing to food to cars… and bikes. Brands need to reach more consumers- the industry has not had enough growth beyond its regular customers in over 10 years. Retailers have to make money and reach consumers- whether online or off the sidewalk. With the market’s hyper-competitive environment, the answer is likely going to get muddier before it gets much clearer.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
I love my “job” here as the Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser! I get to “work” with some of my favorite people on the planet, some of the sharpest minds I know, and just genuinely good people. A perfect example of that is our newest contributor, who happens to also be a good friend of mine (though she can be a troublemaker- “she started it”)- Sarai Snyder. Sarai is one of the most genuinely passionate advocates I have ever encountered in cycling, but when it comes to women in cycling, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody more passionate, or knowledgeable. That’s high praise indeed, given the exemplary women I know in this world of cycling. And, I’d be willing to bet that all the other women I know, would agree with my assessment.
Sarai is genuinely one of my favorite people in the world of cycling, and on that same precious list outside of the context of cycling. She’s kinda the ginger-haired, freckled little sister I never had. And if she doesn’t stop touching my stuff and get out of my room, I’m gonna yank her pigtails!
As is the tradition here, I’ll let Sarai cover her own intro… if for no other reason than the fact I absolutely LOVE making all of my contributors talk about themselves in the third person voice.
Growing up in the hills of Kentucky, rolling around on bicycles meant riding on anything other than paved roads and cement sidewalks. At the age of 10, with her younger sister Tamar by her side, Sarai would bomb down steep hillsides and launch off homemade jumps.
Several years later, on her new-to-her Barracuda, she found that mountain biking was what she was born to do. Some say, in 1994, when she went out for her first mountain bike ride, she never really came back.
In 2005, Sarai became intimately involved with one of her local bike shops and soon took on the role of manager. The shop noticed an immediate shift. The number of women showing up for group rides and making purchases grew substantially.
Seeing the importance of community involvement in building the local cycling culture, Sarai started working with local advocacy organizations and later co-founded Queen City Bike, now Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s non-profit cycling advocacy organization. With an education in fine art, Sarai felt she had finally found a practical application for her creative skills, bringing a fresh perspective to actively encouraging more cyclists.
Taking the knowledge and experience she gained in Kentucky, Sarai moved to Boulder, Colorado where she founded Girl Bike Love. Recognizing the need for a larger women’s cycling community, the mission of Girl Bike Love is “to educate and empower women in cycling”. With such a simple mission, the online community has grown beautifully, connecting women all around the world.
With the support of this passionate group of followers, in the spring of 2012, CycloFemme – A Global Women’s Cycling Day was launched. In just 9 short weeks, 163 rides were registered in 14 countries. In 2013 those numbers grew to 229 rides in 31 countries.
Sarai loves every aspect of cycling and is constantly challenged to decide which discipline she loves most. Outside of running Girl Bike Love and CycloFemme, Sarai spends most of her time consulting for cycling companies, writing, and riding.
Perfect! Third person… I love it.
Now it’s time to prove just how damn smart she is.
We, as an industry, need to read these words and really chew on them and digest them. There IS a Revolution, and it IS here now; how are WE going to be a part of it? If you’re on the outside looking in and trying to “figure this out”, you could learn a lot by getting involved and listening. LISTENING. Small word, big concept.
While most of the cycling industry spent their time at Interbike ogling fresh lines and paint schemes, fumbling new gadgets, trading stories with old friends, searching out the next best happy hour, and hand counting the number of consumers they personally witnessed on day three, a notable revolution was taking place in a cozy little corner of the showroom floor with comfy couches, pillows, velvet stools and gasp – WOMEN.
Throughout the three day show the Women’s Lounge hosted by the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition (OIWC) was abuzz with momentum.
Women from all over the industry came together in quiet little game changing meetings while most others quietly strolled on by.
As the cycling industry continues it’s pursuit of “What Women Want” they largely fail to ask, listen, watch and learn from the very demographic they are trying to reach. Most will read this article, snicker and point fingers.
We all know it’s true. Many will say “We are being innovative, we listen, we like women, look here, we have an entire line of amazing women’s products”.
And while amazing products are much appreciated, this is exactly when it becomes clear who is missing the boat.
The answer to attracting the female consumer is only marginally related to product. Women are not the opposite of men. Women are riders, cyclists, mountain bikers, roadies, commuters, huckers, bmxers, fixies, pros, messengers, bike tourers, and track racers just as men are. Our gender does not change the fact that as such we want bikes and gear that fit well, function flawlessly, look good and make us feel even better. We want great places to ride, great bike shops and mechanics to care for our bikes, and great events and races to participate in.
Above all, as women, we want to be supported and acknowledged as equals, not physically the same, but as riders, racers, consumers and leaders. In turn, we use our buying power and our social influence to vote for the companies that are doing just that.
There is an emerging core of women in cycling that are creating strong partnerships, with great ethics, professionalism and powerful leadership. We are being innovative in our relationships, aligning with non endemic partners. We are working together to actively, strategically, and effectively attract more women to cycling.
So why does this matter to you, to your brand, to the cycling industry as a whole?
Because we have the women’s cycling market at our fingertips. And contrary to traditional marketing set forth in the industrial or marketing economies of the past, as Seth Godin suggests, “we are living in a connection economy”. Today, branding and marketing strategy hinges on the emotional connection.
By proudly supporting and investing in women’s cycling organizations, initiatives, and individuals that are directly cultivating the women’s cycling community there is a special opportunity to create lasting, authentic, emotional connections with female consumers.
The question is no longer “how do we attract more women to cycling?” but “how do we support those who are?”
Next time the opportunity arises to engage with the leaders of the women’s cycling revolution, take the time to create that emotional connection, to listen, to ask how you can show your support, and above all to say ‘thank you’.
The revolution is not about quicker shifting, cleaner cable routing, lighter, stronger, faster bikes, wheels, shoes or helmets. The revolution is not a product, the revolution is women in cycling.
Short and sweet… a lot like Sarai herself.
Are YOU… are WE… a part of the Revolution, or watching on the sidelines worrying about the restless masses? As you evaluate your marketing dollars (as I look at my own), consider the possibility that you might effect actual sales of your products/ services by supporting a growing customer base that is clamoring for your simple acknowledgement of their existence.
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
The best thing about this blog, in some ways, is the fact I get to introduce and/ or work with some really incredible people. Like the recent introduction of Steve Parke, this new member of the Kool-Aid Krew is somebody I have a great deal of respect for, as well as consider a friend. Jeff, like myself, is a former Marketing Manager for BH Bikes and Pivot Cycles. Though Jeff is a great marketing mind and obviously great with words, he can also design and build websites/ web stores and then create the content. He’s more than just a utility player… he’s a one man team. From being a journalist, to a Marketing wanker, to being able to write html in his sleep… he’s kind of a rock star.
(Photo stolen from Facebook, via Daniel Limburg.)
Not only is he an avid cyclist, he’s also a connoisseur of the punk genre, and the occasional beer. Possibly his only flaw is the fact that he’s living my dream of living in Belgium with his family and is fully emerged in all things Belgium and cycling. The jerk.
As part of the fun, for me, I get to make the contributors write their own brief bios… forcing them to speak in 3rd person, if at all possible. With that in mind, meet Jeff Lockwod;
Jeff Lockwood was born, raised and educated in the mountains of Pennsylvania. From an early age, he started making jobs out of his hobbies. He graduated from waxing and tuning skis in grade school to becoming a ski lift attendant in high school. In college, he realized he could meet more girls as a ski instructor. Soon after college graduation, he was officially indoctrinated into the bicycle industry by taking a job with Dirt Rag magazine. With the exception of two years when he experimented with work in the general population, he’s worked in various capacities in the bike world: writer, editor, marketing director, online manager, web designer and more. Lockwood is currently a hired gun, writing articles for various magazines and web sites, and providing marketing services and copywriting for brands within the bike industry. Jeff, his wife and their two daughters currently split their time between Antwerp, Belgium and the spare bedrooms and couches of relatives and friends in Pennsylvania.
I want to envision him in a dark room in a small belgian cottage, nice ale on his desk, wearing a sweater with leather patches on the elbows, and possibly some Descendents playing softly/ loudly in the background.
Jeff’s first post is an excellently written introduction to the use of Twitter in brand building. This simple set of guidelines should be read and printed out by marketing Managers/ Brand Managers at companies big and small… trust me. Give it a thorough read… I’m gonna read it a few more times and make a nice checklist to remind myself with.
Branding Through Twitter
Twitter is an extremely useful and effective tool when it comes to helping define and galvanize your brand. On its own*, Twitter allows your brand to post messages in a lightning-fast and concise manner, which makes it very easy to reach a qualified audience.
Using the “conduit” metaphor, I will explain how Twitter postings can have an impact on your brand, organization, company and products…as well as define and strengthen your message. Brief and limited examples as well as possible success metrics are listed within each Conduit in an effort to get some ideas rolling for you.
*Note: Twitter can and should be used in combination with other social media campaigns as well as on- and off-line initiatives to completely capitalize on its robust reach. For the sake of simplicity we’ll keep the focus on basic concepts for this post.
At the very basic level, Twitter can be used to dispense information about your brand. Postings within the Information Conduit metaphor are “selfish” in the sense that they directly relate to, promote and come from the brand and don’t really reach from farther within than that.
- Company news
- Athlete/Team news, info and results
- Photos and videos
Success Metrics: Aside from retweets, passive information such as this is difficult to quantify. However the branding impressions and informational nature are important.
Very closely related to the Information Conduit metaphor is the Promotion Conduit. The key difference between the two is that postings within the Promotion Conduit do the hard sell rather than passive information from the Information Conduit. Think: Liberal use of “calls to action.”
- Product push
- Special sales
- Special promotions
- Special events
- Explain how a product can be of benefit to a consumer, etc.
- Directly correlated increased sales
Twitter offers the general public a very direct, very public conduit to air grievances, ask questions and raise issues with your products and brand. Twitter as a Support Conduit allows your brand a two-way channel to support and resolve issues with customers.
- Passively offer followers opportunity to express feelings and experiences with products.
- Promptly respond to posts describing problems or complaints to solve their problems.
- Publicly display and promote resolutions to customer concerns. (when applicable)
- Gain user/customer product use details to advance product development and customer service education.
- Increased posting of queries for help
- Public thanks or praise of brand
In an effort the give people the opportunity to claim any sort of connection with the your brand, Twitter can be used to interact with people. Thus, people will have a higher degree of identity with the brand, as well as a personal and tangible connection.
- Ask questions of followers.
- When @YourBrand is mentioned, comment on it. (when applicable)
- Provide a certain level of commentary on discussions.
- Create and participate in organic conversations on any variety of topics.
- Coordinate with other social, online and offline initiatives to increase visibility and engagement across channels. (when applicable)
- Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are increasing.
- You’re engaging in ongoing conversation with followers.
Through creative posting, Twitter can be used to inspire people to want to ride more, be active and trust your brand as a wise and experienced voice in cycling.
- Quotes on/about cycling, strength, determination, etc.
- Stories and images of winning in or around cycling.
- Educate customers and potential customers on how your products, company or brand can inspire confidence in performance, reliability and more.
- Retweets of articles and postings about fitness, mechanical and nutritional tips.
- Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are increasing.
It doesn’t have to be all business…or at least appear as all business. People come to Twitter to gather information and to take a quick break from work, studying, training, etc. Lighten things up and keep it interesting.
The best bet to entertain your audience is to offer some light commentary, interesting news and wise use of wit. Keep it light, keep it honest and don’t offend. Audiences will appreciate this more informal voice of your brand.
- Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are increasing.
Don’t Clog the Conduit
It’s easy to get carried away with Twitter by posting too much too often. Over-posting on Twitter will result in your message and brand becoming diluted. Worse is the fact that your postings will start to annoy followers if they see too much information coming through. Exercise some moderation when it comes to posting frequency.
- Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are NOT decreasing.
To Whom are You Aiming the Conduit?
We’ll assume you know your audience and how to speak to them. Don’t forget that. In addition to those people, here’s who else is listening:
- Potential customers
- Other divisions within your organization
- Your boss
- Partnering companies/organizations/brands
- Other brand champions
- Competing brands/organizations/companies
Ok, so, I realize that our “rebirth” hasn’t exactly been supersonic. All of us were very excited to relaunch this thing and then life, work, holidays, illness, etc stepped into the way. For me personally, this all coincided with starting a new job and developing one of the most significantly paralyzing bouts of Writer’s Block® I’ve ever endured. (I’ve been able to pride myself in working through blocks like this before- even creating entire catalogs while fighting this ailment… but not this time.)
That said, it still sucks that the excitement kinda came and went…
However, that will hopefully change very soon. I am proud to announce the first post from a new contributor has recently landed in my inbox and will be landing in this space within a day or two. I’m supremely proud to be able to introduce this contributor to this audience and the first post is a good one… so you’ll wanna come back and read it.
Stay tuned… I promise, it’ll be worth it.
Thank YOU all for your support and patience. Here’s to an incredible 2013.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
Alright, it’s really gonna happen. We’re going to be back bigger, better, and stronger than ever with new and old contributors, and a renewed commitment to providing compelling commentary, insight, analysis… and hopefully a few laughs along the way.
Please allow us (by “us” I mean “me”) a little time to migrate everything over from Blogger to WordPress, refresh links, dump the old spam comments, and generally clean up.
As the host of this party, my real job is to make sure the guests have a good time, and make sure there are enough snacks for everybody. I’ll be contributing as well, but I’m excited that the Kool-Aid Krew is going to be collectively providing great content here… which is terribly exciting for me. I can’t wait to introduce/ reintroduce all the contributors. The best part is making them write bios in third person; Tim likes that a lot, yes he does!
I’ll be back and forth here a lot as I work on things… even with a little content along the way…
Please stay tuned because things are going to get very interesting and entertaining. Promise.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
The current rise and fall of the Global Economy is enough to make you reach for some Dramamine. With all the volatility surrounding pricing/ costs and ever-increasing leadtimes, it is enough to make many in the cycling industry wonder about their profession. But even though nearly all indicators look really bad, things might actually prove to be better than many of us have feared.
In a slumping world economy, it is certainly very easy to fear for the worst. After all, our potential consumers have less and less money to spend- if any at all. So why should we remain optimistic for even a second? Well, the economic squeeze has begun to cause a shift in the way people think of bicycles. I thought for sure that gas prices would have to climb much higher before people began to drive less and ride bikes more, but I am pleasantly being proven wrong there. I continue to hear from retailers and read about how repair business is increasing for many shops because people are pulling old bikes down from the rafters and out of tool sheds so they can drive less. Many retailers are even having a hard time finding replacement parts for older bikes because the demand has gotten so high for them, due to repairs. Those same retailers are also reporting that some of those consumers are coming back after a short while to upgrade the old clunker for something newer, lighter, better designed for their commuting needs. This is something that I personally did not expect to happen this soon. We still don’t possess the proper infrastructure to support proper commuting, but people are braving the rough streets to save a little money, improve their health or help the environment.
Consumers, who many of us feared would no longer buy bikes when the pricing increases went into effect, do not seem to be as sticker shocked as expected. Let’s face it, they are seeing prices go up on all of the things they buy and they have seen the dollar drop value against nearly every other currency, so they have come to expect the prices for everything to go up. It doesn’t mean they are happily accepting it, nor does it mean they are making the same planned purchases… but they aren’t all storming out the door without making a purchase. On top of it, many new consumers are walking in for the first time. Commuters and city cyclists are sprouting up all over the place. I’ve heard from retailers who have seen this shift taking place in their shops, seeing many new faces for the first time. Sure, some of these new or returning cyclists need a little more educating but they are walking in on their own and without us (the industry) having to drag them in kicking and screaming.
Cycling has also become much more fashionable, with plenty of celebrity bicycle sightings and an ever-growing urban hipster bike culture, it is becoming “cool” to ride a bike for the first time in decades in the US. I’m not trying to pass judgment on whether any segment or niche in the market is some sort of passing fancy or not, people riding bikes for any reason at all is a good thing in my mind (and in the minds of many of us in the industry). I mean, when you have bikes like this one showing up in the world- you know you’ve reached a certain tipping point. Many of these consumers will come in and spend a lot of money to look cool and then vanish from the market when they hop on the “next thing”, but there will be at least a small amount of retention of these new cyclists- especially if we embrace them and share our love of cycling with them and let them develop their own… even if we don’t “get it”.
As many of us have been screaming for years, cycling is also fun and enjoyable. Remember, in a bad economy, folks still need to have fun and others want/ need to escape their fears and worries. Riding a bike is incredibly good for that. Some of those new consumers might have been planning to buy a bigger car this year and might opt to save some money and buy a bike instead. Or, maybe, they want to escape the worry of their stock portfolio suddenly being worth less than a politician’s promises and riding a bike has popped into their heads. It has been seen in the gym/ health club world in the past; when things get tense, people want to work off their frustrations or fears by trying to get into better physical condition. For millennia, humankind has worked out frustrations, fears and anxieties by working up a sweat or taking the time to enjoy the outside world in some fashion. Cycling is an excellent vehicle for that.
When you take all the above into account and then toss in a growing global consciousness, things don’t look quite so bleak. Many people are thinking very much about the environment and fears of global warming, as well as the impacts of oil demand on sociopolitical issues across the globe. Cycling provides an excellent way to combat these concerns as well as local concerns about traffic congestion, etc. It’s an altruism, certainly, that many people say they believe in and don’t really- but altruism has also become fashionable… as it has been for countless decades.
So what does it all mean? Well, on the very surface it all means that things aren’t necessarily as bad as feared. More significantly though, I’m trying to point out that the bike industry sits poised to see growth that is actually sustainable and maintainable. I can not tell you how many conversations I had during Interbike this year about the hope many retailers felt about the future. Sure, there were many concerns about the economy, but overall the atmosphere was full of hope- much more so than recent years, by a huge amount. The cycling industry is paying better attention to the birth and growth of niche markets as well as the development of the commuting market. Nearly every bike manufacturer had a fixed gear bike and/ or a commuter bike in their line. And almost all of the clothing and accessory manufacturers had gear aimed at urban cyclists and commuters. I’ve never personally seen so much energy aimed at these segments of the market and the consumers who use the products. Hell, Interbike even put on the Urban Legend Fashion Show with the help of my friends in Canada at Momentum Magazine. When was the last time you saw or felt so much energy in this segment of the industry? I never have and I’ve been in the industry in one way or another for 26 years now.
It might not look or feel like it, as you watch the news and listen to the politicians painting a picture of doom and gloom, but the cycling industry stands on the precipice of fantastic potential if we just listen to our customers and friends. As long as we are aware of what is happening and what they are asking for- even if they don’t yet know what it is- we can bring them into our club and they will hopefully bring their friends along for the ride as well. I’m not advocating false hope or idiotic optimism beyond reality, but I do see great potential for cycling in general. The race scene will have its usual ebb and flow and I’ll be right there watching it, but the other categories of the cycling market and cycling culture are looking really primed for growth and expansion… and fun.
Let’s not lose hope too soon, even as worldwide money markets look very frightening. Things look better than expected. Even pricing concerns seem to be diminishing slightly as oil prices come down to match dropping demand and shrinking economies. Strap on your helmets; it’s an open road ahead.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
I know what you’re thinking, my social surplus? What the heck is that? And what does it have to do with cycling? Well bear with me for a moment as I give you, my fellow humble bicycle retailer, something to think about.
In my private time I’m deeply involved in social media, you probably know these things as MySpace, Facebook and other media like it – I’m involved in none of those, preferring blogs and of late mobile micro blogging services and networks like Twitter and Utterz for my social media creation/interaction kicks.
Now when I try to explain to folks in the bike industry why social media is important and why they should use it in their businesses, they look at me like I’m nuts and always ask “where do I find the time” or alternatively, “I don’t have the time” and to be honest I didn’t really had a ready answer for them even though I’ve often thought long and hard about it.
The reason I was always struck dumb by this response is that I didn’t stop to look hard enough at my own media creation efforts and what it had replaced, but the answer was always there, I had stopped watching television, preferring the stimulation and interactivity of the web. In that I’m like a lot of people today.
What I have been unwittingly doing over the past five years is finally putting to use the social surplus created by the time saving tools of modern life, dishwashers, microwaves, fast food, the automobile, urbanism, an efficient roads network, good dentistry, etc, to create something, time I’d used in the past numbly watching Gilligans Island or Seinfeld.
Now don’t go thinking I thought this up all by myself, it’s true that I have been thinking about this, but it took a smart social thinker to contextualise it in terms we can all understand.
Here comes everybody! Or more accurately here is Clay Shirky in a piece that generated a lot of buzz among social thinkers and which put a bit more flesh on the skeleton of that thinking. It’s a really clarifying read that makes you realise that you do have the time to create, not only for yourself but for your bicycle business.
If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would’ve come off the whole enterprise, I’d say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened–rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before–free time.
And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.
We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan’s Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.
And it’s only now, as we’re waking up from that collective bender, that we’re starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We’re seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody’s basement.
The best part of the piece is the punchline by the way, because it more than anything else tells you why you should be on the web creating now, your future customers will expect it, in fact I’m betting that you already know this intuitively because you see this behaviour in your kids every day.
Now as Shirky says, this takes a bit of re-training if you’re not a Gen Y digital native. It is something that’s taken me five years to embed, and something Masi Guy is a natural at, but eventually the process of creating becomes a second skin, something you do naturally and without self consciousness, it’s fun and addictive and it will rapidly replace your television viewing once you get into it.
So, what better way is there to spend the time you never thought you had than in helping your business to communicate more directly and creatively with your customers?
And yes, Maryanne was cuter than Ginger, the pony tails always did it for me.