Category: Tradeshows

Interbike 2013; the Sorta Move®/ Sorta Change™

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

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Tradeshows and the cycling industry…

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;
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.

Manufacturers;
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;
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.

***


As you can see, it’s a complicated picture out there. Retailers have less use for traditional shows, Manufacturers have less use for traditional shows and the OE Suppliers have less use for tradtional shows. Demo events are gaining strength and popularity, so many have suggested that the tradeshows be shortened and the demo days expanded. There are others who say the floor show is a dinosaur and is fading out of relevance. But that really only addresses the shows for retailers. What about the other shows? Taipei is really getting the squeeze on both ends of its calendar and the smaller shows are forcing them to really change how they do what they do and there is much talk still about moving the Taipei dates to January… though that may still prove to be too late for most Product Managers.

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?

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

We’re not dead yet…

Things here have been quite quiet over the past few months- almost totally dead actually. Please don’t think that we’re gone for good… because we aren’t.

As is often the case, things get pretty nuts in the business as we get anywhere near the major tradeshows, with Interbike being the biggest for most of us who play in this sandbox of a blog. The weeks (even months) before Interbike can be an absolute hell and then the following weeks (or even months) can be just as bad as you scramble to follow-up on conversations and promises. Seeing as how a fair chunk of the readers here are from the industry in some way or another, you are already painfully aware of this situation- which probably explains why readership here has not vanished entirely.

As the Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser here, I wanted to announce that this blog ain’t dead yet and that more content will be coming in the coming weeks and on. So, thank you for your readership and patience as we all unearth and regain some semblance of sanity. Hopefully we’ll be back more often than we have recently. Hopefully.

I’m looking forward to attending the Japanese tradeshow, Cycle Mode, for the first time in a few more weeks. I’m looking forward to having another show to add to the comparisons of Interbike, Eurobike, Taipei’s International Cycle Show and Canada’s ExpoCycle. I hope to do a comprehensive analysis of the season’s shows afterwards… hoping.

Anyway, long story short- please don’t write us off and mark us off as dead just yet. We’re coming back and we’ll be providing more content in the very near future.

Thank you for your continued readership,

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser