Interbike Rant

Time to throw open the doors.

I am fortunate to work in the bicycle industry.  I do something I love and have met many people from varying backgrounds while on my bicycle.  One of the things I like about riding is that it isn't all about the bicycle....... BUT...... It kind of is.  We couldn't make the bonds we have or travel the miles without the bicycle.  The bicycle has kept a roof over my head, clothed my children and allowed me to travel the world.

People have told me many times "You are so lucky" in regards to my work.  I can only agree.  It is a job and has it's struggles. Those struggles pale in comparison to the benefits.

One of the things that I do for work is go to the annual trade show Interbike.  This is one of those things that people outside of the industry often are jealous of.  The crush of Interbike coverage from all of my favorite websites and publications is evidence that people are interested in the "Next big thing"

In my opinion it is time to throw open the doors and allow access to Interbike by the public.  They tried it this year with a bandaid approach.  This toe in the water was not enough.  The show is three days long (not counting dirt demo)  The third day is always slow.  It amounts to a bunch of industry people seeking out the friends they only see once a year and exchanging high fives.  For the exhibitors it is an enormous outlay of cash and time.  The middle of the day people start breaking down and rushing to wait for the containers to show up.

Having the last day of the show open to consumers would be a huge benefit to the industry if we approached it correctly.  The consumers are the intended end user of the products we make, but ironically we barely ever speak to them.

We use a whisper down the lane method of collecting information.  Consumers speak to shop owners, shop owners speak to sales reps, sales reps speak to sales managers, sales managers, speak to marketing, marketing speaks to product managers.   The chain of conversation can vary but its very similar.

In 17 years of being an outside sales representative I have never had a product manager take me up on my offer of having them travel with me.  Occasionally someone from management will travel with me.  Usually they only see the top performing stores and are gone.  With most of the industry in California the people working in it get a skewed view of the industry as a whole.  12 months of riding and 50 degrees being considered cold does not represent the United States.

When I started going to Interbike it was a sales show.  The new line was introduced. Pre-seasons were written.  It wasn't uncommon to book thousand's of bicycles and several hundred thousand dollars worth of business.  Now the major brands have their own shows, and the next model year's bicycles are introduced in June or July.  Whether that is good or bad is a completely different discussion.  This shift has many skipping the show and questioning why to attend.

If Interbike were to open up its doors to consumers on the last day it could breathe some life and relevancy back to the event.  Manufacturers could get some much needed input on products if they would listen with an open mind.  The insight as to how people are truly using their bicycles could shape the next big thing, not the next big thing we as an industry would like to sell.

The feedback on the current offerings could be invaluable as well.  For instance.... Mrs. Bicycle Shop Owner may be only buying the black color of the new super bike.  Every consumer coming through the booth is drawn to the green one.  When asked which would they purchase 80% say the green one.  Now I can go back to Mrs. Bicycle Shop Owner and give her some real insight into the product mix she is carrying.

The revenue stream this provides for Interbike as a company could help make for a better show for all of us.  Eurobike opened its doors a few years ago and it has been a rousing success.  They have overcome a difficult location and had 20,000 people pay to see the new bicycles. This excerpt is from the Eurobike Final Report.

"The 22nd Eurobike: 45,200 trade visitors from 111 countries - An additional 20,400 bike fans on public day - 1,883 journalists from 45 countries - 300 world premieres"

Las Vegas is a destination that is easily accessible and affordable (in the grand scheme of things) to get to.  If Interbike made a travel package for hotel and admission I believe people would utilize it.

At this time it would be difficult to include people in the Dirt Demo portion of the show.  I would walk before running and only make the trade show portion available right now.  People flock to car shows to look at the new models and can't drive them.

Let's evolve as an industry.  Stretch our boundaries and embrace the change.  After all, the only constant in life is change.


Harlan Price said...

But Gary, if you start letting the "people" talk directly to the company, how is a shop gonna keep making it easy to transfer blame to the wizard behind the curtain when they forget to place a special order? ;)

Tim Jackson said...

I've clearly been known to have an opinion or twelve... and attempted to cover a bit of this as well.

It's clear that the Interbike model has to further change and meet the needs of the industry better. It's still the biggest game in town. It still draws the most eyeballs in North America. It's still the 800lb gorilla.

But it's also way too expensive for exhibiting brands and the return on the investment gets smaller every year. There's no unifying answer to it all- obviously- or we'd already be doing whatever it is.

The approach to consumer day this year- Interbike by Invite- was a pretty convincing flop. The idea needs to be refined further and more exhibitors need to embrace it and foster its growth. This year, it was poorly planned, communicated, promoted, and supported all around. But it can be better...

As much as we, the industry/ exhibitors hate to admit it, the show dates and days need to shift. For the show to regain relevance as a sales event, it needs to be much earlier in the year (but nobody really wants to admit it or make that move). As a consumer event, and the even bigger Third Rail issue in the industry, the show needs to either extend into the weekend or simply shift to a mid-week start and weekend finish. If the Consume Day was on a Saturday or (even better) Saturday AND Sunday, it would be a much better success.

Adding just one day of OutDoor Demo for consumers would be great- but the risk of injury at Bootleg and the area roads is one of the scariest things I can imagine from a liability standpoint. Until we move the show to somewhere safer, Consumer Demo is probably unlikely, and certainly risky.

If the show wrapped up on a weekend, consumers would be far more likely to actually make the trip to the show and spend the day walking around the brands they love or want to learn about. If they had a full weekend to do it, even better... but try selling that concept to the overall industry. Yep... like a fart in church.

It'll be interesting to see where things head going forward. One thing is clear to me, without further change, Interbike is headed (even faster) into the realm of irrelevance and permanently eclipsed by the much more successful Eurobike.

Velorambling said...

Thank you for the insight Tim. Interesting to hear the perspective. Glad I am not the only one who wants to see the consumers welcomed with open arms.

Justin Gottlieb said...

Great post and thanks to you and everyone who attended IB this year. We agree that consumers can bring an important new aspect to the show, and increased value to the exhibitors – and retailers. I’ll start by referencing your comment regarding consumers at ODD towards the bottom of your post.

Walk before you run.

Call it dipping your toes in the water, a Band-Aid approach or whatever you want – walk before you run is the exact description of what we did with regard to consumer access at the show. Remember, IB is first and foremost a trade show – and with that, we felt it was the best strategy to consult with exhibitors and retailers on the consumer addition to our show, and facilitating the program through the retailers (whether it worked or not) was the best method based on those conversations.

While I appreciate and respect Tim J’s overall opinion & response, I don’t agree regarding the planning, promotion, etc of the program. We created numerous tools for retailers and exhibitors on how to benefit from the program, advertised in numerous online and print (regional and national) media outlets, ran nationally televised TV commercials on Universal Sports Network, and more. In fact, we even went as far as helping retailers by creating some customized messaging that they could send to their databases (some even sent their database to us and we did it for them).

Now that the dust has settled, and we learned that the retailer approach didn’t work, we’re looking at a new strategy to bring consumers to the show. I can’t tell you today what that strategy is specifically, but I can tell you that we won’t be walking. It may be a jog, or a run – but there will be changes to the consumer strategy, and we will continue to strive for a successful consumer event on the Friday of IB. More on this in the coming months.

BTW – if any bike industry folks from So Cal are reading this blog and would like to participate in IB’s 1st annual food drive and bike ride on November 16th, please search for the article on Bicycle Retailer & Industry News for details. The “Turkey Pedal” will benefit Miracles for Kids, a local non-profit that supports hundreds of local families with critically ill children during the Thanksgiving Season.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on IB.

Will Mahler said...

Yes, what Mr. Jackson said up above, is true.

Consumer day was a flop and we need to embrace it as well as execute it properly.

I found a bit of humor in this year's Interbike from the consumer end of things. The announcment was that the show would be letting in consumers but in a way it was already doing just that.

The past two years I pinned a number over my kidney on the weekends more that the old NORBA days. And with that, got to know some of the weekend racers who race for the shops whom I prospected. The guys that are racing for the shops are NOT employees yet they are showing up at Interbike because someone at the store hooked them up with a fake paycheck stub and business card. I'm not against this and know not reveal and dealer pricing to these individuals. So basically, non-bike shop employeed people have been getting in to the show for years I'll assume.

The consumers I saw at the show back in September, were easy to identify with their odd color badges and the flimsy mylar tote bags stuffed with swag from the remaining show booths. They had a different look in their eyes. One of amazement by all the pretty, shiney stuff on display and the other of a dog that's been bred too much; confusion, excitement, bewilderment. Many I approached in a friendly manner; like I would in my bike shop days- Hello there! Are they any questions I can help you with? No, replied the consumer and walked away. Damn, I felt like I should have a blue shirt on and working at Best Buy. At least the IBD who I engage with have more banter than a cold, firm, NO.

The consumer is our last hope. Reaching them directly has worked well for me and the company I work for. We take our act on the road along with a demo trailer of bikes and follow the party of RAGBRAI each summer. Reaching out to riders with test rides and expo booths that week have yielded many sales for the surrounding dealers.

But here's what we're faced with getting dealers to Interbike--

The shop's have a rainy spring. Boom, behind in sales and can't' send employees in September to Interbike. The shop has one of the big 4 on the floor. Boom. Dealer camp. Can't go to Interbike because all the IBD travel dollars are blown traveling to CA for brand training, bicycle pro-fit training, merchandising training, shoe and helmet training, really? It seems the big dogs want to get more butts on the bikes, get people riding but at the end of the day, their feuding amoungst themselves, battling for floor space, 70% or more floor space, that little niche' brands are forced into a corner in the shop, then forced into big box chain stores just to satisfy manufacturing quantities. I have about 10% of my dealers come to Interbike due to the above mentioned reasons. The ROI is shrinking. Soap box over-sorry for that train derailment.

The industry needs to go after the consumer directly and Interbike Consumer day is a good start. Interbike needs to be more centralized in the US for obvious travel reasons to benefit the dealers, not the companies who are mostly based on the left coast. Demo days are great and still needed.

I could go on for awhile but much of this can be found on the Spokesmen Podcast. Check their Sept/Oct episodes for good POV in this topic as well.

Velorambling said...

Thank you for your insight and thoughts. It is good to hear that there will be an increased presence of consumers. It is my opinion that it is healthy for the industry. I look forward to seeing what you, Pat and the Interbike team have in store for 2014.

Velorambling said...

Thanks Will, Regardless of where the trade show is held a majority of the people will get on a plane to do it. The flights to vegas are among the cheapest and the city can absorb them. As much as I don't like Las Vegas it is actually "central" because of that. Having attended OR, Salt Lake cant handle the amount of people. Also have attended the Motorcycle show in Indianappolis a few times. It is not equipped to handle that amount of people and is very broken up and confusing. I don't know of another area that can handle the people.

If the show was only a consumer day and all of the manufacturers knew to put away there pricing sheets and the consumers weren't mixed in among a bunch of tired industry folks looking to pack up I believe the vibe would be much more inviting. Than the show would be about them and not about us. I will check out the podcast. Tahnks for the tip.