Over the past five weeks, I’ve attended three separate week-long (for me) tradeshows. Needless to say, I’m fairly worn down and really tired of the seemingly endless cycle of packing and unpacking and packing and unpacking, etc, etc… but that’s not the point of this.
Over the past few years, the relationship between tradeshows and the industry has been evolving in many different directions. The effectiveness and cost worthiness of tradeshows has been under examination by nearly every person and brand within the cycling industry- from retailer to manufacturer/ distributor to OE supplier and international distributors. The entire cycling goods foodchain has been scrutinizing the changes in the way business is done these days and what the shows all mean or do.
Here’s one bike nerds view from inside the equation…
Retailers have really begun to trim back this year, here in the US, due to the weak economy. However, even before the economic downturn (also known as really terrible economic crash), retailers had been cutting back on their involvement with the main tradeshow- Interbike. The Dirt Demo component of Interbike has continued to grow in popularity, as retailers can ride the bikes they are already buying, thinking of buying, wanting to evaluate or just so they can get some competitive comparison against the brands they already sell. By the time Interbike rolls around, the vast majority of retailers have already placed preseason orders with their main suppliers and if they sell Trek, Specialized, Giant and a few others, they’ve already been out of their shops for regional or private brand tradeshows. All of this leads to a further shrinking of the relevance of Interbike to many retailers and a growing “show fatigue” by the time Interbike rolls around sometime in late September. Unless a retailer is specifically looking to replace a bike brand with another bike brand, there is very little use for Interbike other than to shake hands with suppliers.
However, for smaller ticket items like clothing and other accessories, Interbike still holds some limited power. But… in recent years very few retailers have gone to Interbike with the intention of “putting pen to paper” and placing orders. Again, with the strength of regional brand shows and the larger brands becoming increasingly large business partners for many retailers, Interbike’s floor show is changing into much less of a tradeshow and much more of a social gathering. That said, Interbike has been savvy in beginning to address this and is looking to add more value for all who attend. The seminars held each year are growing in popularity and usefulness, as are things like the recently added Urban Legend Fashion Show. To further cater to the evolving shape of the Interbike audience, there has been a growing acceptance of Social Media and the small but growing importance it now has in the cycling world- giving media credentials to bloggers, Tweeters, podcasters and the like is a big step. Having an impressive media center in the midst of the show floor is an even more impressive step.
Eurobike may not have the same level of non-traditional show gimmics, but the show does continue to evolve and was quicker to develop fashion shows for the cycling world (though admittedly mocked by many folks in the industry at first). Eurobike suffers a bit less from the massive drop-off in order writing, as many European retailers do still place orders during the show. More importantly, however, Eurobike has become more of a distributor show- especially since it is now often the first introduction of many new products- a roll once prized by Interbike. Thanks to this explosion of early product introductions, Eurobike also benefits from a growing presence from the media looking to wet the appetites of product crazy cycling enthusiasts around the globe.
If you are a bike brand or a consumer product manufacturer and are trying to reach retailers, tradeshows are becoming harder and harder to justify. The cost of doing tradeshows is astronomical and prohibitive for smaller brands more likely to benefit the most from the extra exposure. Larger brands are shrinking their show presence, if not abandoning altogether, and are focusing the attention on regional private shows- you get the retailer all to yourself with nobody else getting in the way of your sales pitch. It’s an intoxicating cocktail for many retailers when they get such special treatment too, so it is hard to find a reason NOT to do private shows.
For smaller brands who need the exposure, major shows eat up an entire year’s budget and the stress can be nearly suicidal as well. Whether smaller bike brands or an accessory brand, the cost is high and the return is arguably low. But… can they risk not being there? Is being conspicuous in your absence something that will hurt you? Will your competition steal your customers if you aren’t there? It’s a big risk, as well as a big cost.
Most brands who have attended the ever-growing Dirt Demo are seeing that as becoming much more effective for them. In recent years, shows like Eurobike and the smaller Canadian show BTAC/ Expo Cycle have added demo days to their shows to address this shift in tradeshow appeal. Again, here in the US, there are many brands who attend Dirt Demo only and skip the floor show, or only show up with a very tiny presence. Brands as important to the industry as Specialized and Trek have been a part of this shift. Will it hurt them for not having a full footprint inside the exhibit hall? Not likely- many of their retailers have already ponied up the dough at regional shows and they still get plenty of press attention by being at demo- if not more attention. Let’s face it, a fleet of very expensive wonder bikes bombing down trails or blazing down the asphalt says a lot… real or not.
Interbike and Expo Cycle both have seen a major drop off in the amount of orders written or new business created. Eurobike has suffered less of a drop off, but still faces the same challenges. The question then becomes “why are we here” for many of the exhibitors at the shows. Well, that all depends on the brands you ask, but it is increasingly becoming about relationships. It’s important to be at the show to thank customers for their business and try to convince them to keep growing their business with you… if they haven’t already placed that big, mythical “preseason order” already. And most of them have. As an exhibitor for a smaller brand, Interbike still presents a chance and a hope that new business will come our way. We attend both Dirt Demo and Interbike with the hope of seeing existing customers and also seeing potential new ones.
Here’s the thing though- as I pointed out in my opening comment, tradeshow burnout is becoming a very real thing. Eurobike was just August 31- September 1st for demo and September 2nd – 5th for the show, Expo Cycle was September 9th for demo and 10th – 12th for the show and Interbike was September 21st – 22nd demo and 23rd – 26th for the show… and I just got back from the second edition of Interbike’s OutDoor Demo East in Providence, Rhode Island held October 8th – 11th. I didn’t attend Eurobike, but I was at the other three of the four events. As a manufacturer, that’s an astronomical financial commitment, not to mention the man hours that have to be used for so many events. At what point do manufacturers say “enough is enough”? For global brands, it’s very difficult to do that. Granted, at Eurobike and Expo Cycle, my presence at the show is to be there to support the efforts of the distributors we have (or my parent company Haro Bicycles has). All of those shows add up quickly- especially when they are nearly back to back.
The addition of the OutDoor Demo East last year “seemed” like a good idea and the initial feedback, minus the grumblings of “not another show”, was that it was a success. This year’s ODD-E was extended to four days, with the last two days being open to the public- something that much of the industry cringed over. How was the demo this year? Well… spotty at best. Day 1 was great because the weather was great. Day 2 had rain so very few retailers who attended actually rode any bikes in the cool and sloppy weather. Day 3 and 4 were open to the public… but there was also a two day stellar cyclo-cross event going on. And cross is huge in New England… with over 2000 racers signed up for the two days, it seemed like we’d all be busy… but the racers and the folks who came to watch and support them barely touched a demo bike over the two days. The racing was awesome and fun to watch, but that’s the problem- I had the time to watch the races because nobody was riding the demo bikes. Nobody. Will we attend next year’s event if it happens? Very hard to say right now. Lots and lots of evaluation is going into that question as we speak…
There are other smaller shows- mainly in Europe- but they play a much less significant role in the industry these days. These other shows were once important, but with the shift of dates and locations, they have fallen by the wayside a bit…
But, as another wrench in the works, there’s the big industry show in Taipei Taiwan for all the OE suppliers, international distributors and bike manufacturers/ distributors. It’s another layer of tradeshow commitment that can not be ignored. Which leads to the next tier…
OE Suppliers are the folks who make the stuff that has a different name on it. The biggest brands in the world nearly all work with a finite number of manufacturers in Taiwan and China and those brands, kept somewhat in the shadows and away from the consumers, attract their customers in Taipei… or did. The Taipei Cycle show now suffers from a spot on the calendar- in mid March the past few years- that is becoming much less relevant to the bike spec’ing process. Many brands- including the one I am the Brand Manager for- complete and turn in their final spec to their factories at the end of December (if not possibly sooner). So by March now, many bike and accessory brands are in Taiwan to thank their vendors, meet with their International Distributors and then go visit their factories south in Taichung or over in China (mainly). For these OE Suppliers, the show is becoming hard to justify, as the spec process for that given year is already done and many production lines are already churning out the “new” products.
Here’s where it gets complicated(er); there is now a growing series of mini-shows now mostly combined into one show in Taichung in December (5-13th) called Taichung Bike Week and Ride-On. The cool thing is that these two semi-competing shows have combined forces to actually altruistically serve the industry better. The December schedule allows product managers one final chance to see anything they need for their bike spec process. The informal format provides for private meetings away from the busier traffic of a full blown tradeshow and the costs are much lower. Plus, being in Taichung where much of the Taiwan bike industry resides, it is very easy to also do factory visits during the week. The growing strength of this new mini-show must be causing the Taipei show organizers to lose a lot of sleep.
On the other end of the Taipei show schedule is the China Cycle show in Shanghai, April 27th – 30th. This show now has a place on the map and calendar of growing importance. The date provides an early glimpse into what will be happening in the next round of product spec and takes place in the world’s largest manufacturing center. Chinese made cycling products have grown in popularity with many prestigious brands now having their products made in China and the strength of home brands like Giant and Merida only lends to that growth. Giant is the world’s largest bicycle maker and Merida is their largest competitor. Giant is a popular global brand of its own and Merida enjoys some strength as a brand in Europe and a few other areas outside of the US.
The shift away from Taipei as a spec show is turning it into much more of a show for International Distributors as well as for companies sourcing private label suppliers. Taipei, like all the other established shows, is learning to cater to new customers as the market has evolved.
Tradeshows are what many consider to be “a necessary evil”- but how long can we keep saying that to ourselves and justifying the crazy amounts of money all of us spend to make them happen?
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
I just returned earlier today from a two week trip to Taiwan. Part of those two weeks was spent visiting the RideOn and Taichung Bike Week mini-tradeshows for the OEM market. If you don’t already know, RideOn began about 4 years ago when a small group of OEM suppliers decided to have a small and very informal gathering to allow product managers a chance to get either a first look at upcoming products or a last look at existing products so they could make their spec decisions with the best and most recent information available. Taichung Bike Week began as something of an offshoot of the early success of RideOn. The plan was to provide another option for visiting product managers to Taichung, since they were already in town. Over the past few years, this has grown into a small, informal meeting for the suppliers to the OEM trade and their customers. It has also proven to be quite successful and valuable for the industry.
The spec process gets more difficult each year as so many options pop up in the marketplace and as the need to finalize spec earlier each year grows. In the “old days” of just a few years ago, spec didn’t need to be finished for bikes until March and you would still get bikes delivered in the late summer time frame- in time for Interbike and the other major tradeshows. However, that is a thing of the past as factory capacities are stretched thin and leadtimes grow and grow. Now, spec is due to factories as early as mid-December if you have any hope of seeing bikes delivered by Interbike. Throw into this mix the fact that many companies like Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo have continued to present new products earlier and earlier ever year as well. All of this combined has made a product manager’s job harder and harder each year- not to mention those of purchasing departments.
So with all of these various challenges and the timing of product cycles, the Taipei International Cycle Show has become decreasingly important to product managers across the cycling industry. The show is now more important to the International Distributor (ID) business and the various retailers from around the world who like to go to the show to see new products before they show up at the larger shows or who have their own private label products made in Taiwan or China. But, for the OEM trade, Taipei has become less important simply due to its place on the calendar.
Because of this and because of the growth of the two Taichung events happening with overlapping schedules in December, many product managers have been making the trip to Taichung. With this growth and activity, the events have caught the attention of the Mayor of Taichung, Jason Hu. Mayor Hu, who happens to be a very funny man with an Oxford education, has created a committee to work with the cycling industry to see how Taichung can better facilitate the work it is already doing on its own. Rumors had been going around the industry for weeks that the Mayor might have plans to create a competing bike tradeshow to rival Taipei International Cycle Show. These rumors were creating quite a bit of buzz among the attendees of the two events. As Taichung is the virtual center of the Taiwan bike industry, some felt that a major tradeshow hosted by the city might shut down the Taipei show altogether- even as the organizers of the Taipei show are now discussing the possibility of moving their own show’s dates closer to the time of December/ January to better meet the needs of the OEM trade. Those rumors were put to rest and the uneasiness settled after a few minutes of discussion with the Mayor’s liaison to the bike industry, Anna Wang.
After asking the representatives of the bike industry for their feedback and a list of their needs, Ms Wang made it clear that Taichung has no intentions to try to put the Taipei show out of business, but truly wants to help the industry go about doing its business. The cycling industry is a major player in the Taichung economy and keeping the industry happy and located in the city and county of Taichung is of vital importance to the Mayor and his team. Ms Wang stated that the city would simply like to help the industry work better and more efficiently and at a reasonable cost for all who attend. As it is now, RideOn happens at one end of the sprawling city and Taichung Bike Week at another. While RideOn offers a demo area to test product, Taichung Bike Week is all centered in the Landis, now renamed Tempus, Hotel. Product Managers are therefore forced to either shuttle back and forth between the two sites or make the choice to select one over the other. Each location has its pluses and minuses, but all seemed to agree that a venue that could handle multiple meeting or presentation areas and still allow a demo would be best. Worst case scenario, having some sort of shuttle service to and from the two sites would be a good starting point.
As it is now, there is no real cooperation between the two events and neither event produces a very accurate list of exhibitors and schedules for the attendees- something nearly all felt would be very useful. Another major point given by nearly all in attendance at the meeting was the need to keep the event/ events very low key and informal. Nobody present in the meeting wanted to see the casual event turn into a more structured and rigid tradeshow, nor did anybody want to see it become a marketing extension for any one brand- ie; Taichung Bike Week, presented by SRAM/ Shimano/ Brand X, etc. All felt that it was the low cost, low key, informal format of the events that has made them so successful and allowed them to grow so organically without any real coordination or effort. Taking all of these comments and concerns into consideration, Ms Wang said that she and her counterparts would take the notes and information to the Mayor and begin the process of finding ways to help the industry continue to use the event as a major tool in the product process.
Personally, I find this to be a very exciting development for the cycling industry. Having this level of cooperation from the city government is amazing and the cycling industry needs to do all it can to help the city of Taichung with this process. The organizers of the Taipei International Cycle Show, TAITRA, should also be excited by this news as it shows that the city of Taichung is not trying to steal away the show or force them out of business. TAITRA still has the chance to improve the show to benefit the customers it has and address the changes that have taken place over the past few years there. With more and more distributors and retailers attending and fewer and fewer product managers using the show for their final spec process, TAITRA could reshape the show to more accurately reflect the needs of those attending.
After the meetings and dinner reception with the mayor that took place in Taichung at the Splendor Hotel on December 9th, many of the attendees felt very optimistic about what the final outcome might look like. Members of both events felt that they had formats they wanted to protect, but both were willing to cooperate to build a better event that served the needs of their intended customers- the product managers and other representatives of bike brands from around the world. I am personally very excited by this time in the history of our industry and I hope that all of my brothers and sisters within the bike industry will work with the Mayor and his office to help them work with us to make the cycling industry an even better one to work in.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser