Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ibis Bicycles could one day rule the world.

I've been a huge fan of the man known as Chuck Ibis, also known more legally as Scot Nicol, since the early 90's when I first really learned about Ibis Bicycles. Ibis Bicycles were the bikes to have for many people, including myself, for a long time... until they went away in 2002. I have a cousin here in San Diego who has 3 or 4 Ibis bikes and I was always hugely jealous of those bikes. I borrowed one of the mountain bikes for a few months, years ago, and I loved every mile on it even though it was too small for me. Ibis made great bicycles, from design to paint.

One of the more amazing things about the brand was the cult following it developed. Scot was, and still is, an incredibly smart and clever marketer. Scot himself has a great sense of humor to back up his incredible intelligence. Chuck Ibis was something of an alter ego and generally something of a wise-cracking funny guy. By using his own personality and the crafted pseudo persona, Scot was able to create a series of personalities that his many growing fans could latch on to and have a relationship with. Over the years, the legions of diehard fans grew and grew, as did the company's reputation for creating great bikes that were lusted after by people around the world. People bought the bikes most often because they were buying into the family and joining the cult of loyal worshipers. Scot and Ibis were smart enough to market themselves as more than just a bike and a bike company, but as a lifestyle of personality. I still have my old Ibis Handjob bottle opener/keychain (the Handjob was a brazed on cable guide on the bike frames that was literally shaped like a hand sticking out of the frame and later adapted to be used as a bottle opener that was one of the most sought after doo-dads of the time) and was majorly bummed out when my old cobalt blue Ibis pint glass shattered in a porcelain sink basin as I was washing the dishes more than 10 years ago. Stickers, t-shirts, thermoses (the Hot Unit), key ring/bottle openers and other widgets helped to propel the brand further and further into the "gotta have it" category.

In 2000, after 20 years of ownership, Scot decided to sell the company and rest a little after scrapping so hard to grow his business. However, in a little less than 2 years, the investment company that purchased the brand drove it into the ground and Ibis was no more. Scot himself was reportedly upset about the disaster and the throngs of Ibisians around the globe were left without an alter to heap their praise upon.

Now jump forward in time to 2005 and a few weeks to a month before the 2005 Interbike trade show. Rumors begin flying about that Ibis is making a comeback. Even more rumors begin to circulate that Scot himself is involved as well. Then, low and behold, just days before the show, the rumors are confirmed on both counts and the news spreads like a virus all over the cycling industry. A website/ blog even pops up with "the man" himself announcing his return and the resurrection of the brand... with a caveat; we're not the same Ibis, but like the old Ibis, being different is exactly what we're about (I paraphrase). When we all get to Vegas for the trade show, Ibis is of course the belle of the ball. Scot is swarmed by fans, press, shops and gawkers seeking a peek at the new Ibis. The bikes sell like proverbial hot cakes and the rave reviews roll in... before a single bike has even been ridden by anybody. Scot is seen grinning like the cat the swallowed the canary and the brand is re-embraced with warm loving arms.

There are actual lessons to be learned from all of my crazy "I love Scot Nicol" ramblings. First and foremost, personality goes a long, long way. Second, exploit the things you do well and tell everybody about it. Ibis did both things very, very well. Before the tradeshow, people were whispering and wondering about what the new Ibis was going to be like. All of the old Ibisians were waiting with feverish glee and all of the folks who never had the chance to get an Ibis before the bankruptcy were itching for a fix. It was one of the best marketing moves the cycling industry in the US has ever seen- if not the best. Here is one of the best examples of the effectiveness of the Ibis model; once the bikes were on display, many of the old guard of loyal fans felt let down because gone were the welded steel, aluminum and titanium beauties of years past. Instead, Ibis was now just a couple of carbon fiber bikes. No more smooth, flawless welds. No more hand mitered tubes. No more custom frames made specifically to your measurements. To them, gone was the soul and heart of what Ibis had always been about. However, the bikes still sold. Dealers still nearly knocked each other down to get into the booth to see Scot and the bikes. Magazines still shot photos of the bikes and hailed the return of Ibis as one of the most significant events in US cycling since Greg LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France. Ibis was back and the world had been served notice.

By creating the mystique, legend, personality and interactive machine of "old Ibis" and blending it into the "new Ibis", Scot Nicol and his new partners have connected to old and new brand evangelists who will be singing the brand's praise all over again. To me, I see the return of Ibis as one of the biggest happenings in our little industry in the past several years. Scot's knowledge and humor have been missing around the industry water cooler. I, for one, will be watching every step he makes and will be trying to learn from him.

Tim

Posted by Tim Jackson at 9:33 PM

8 Comments

  1. Blogger iheartbikes posted at 9:32 AM  
    Another great example of a company with a cult following folding and after a couple years absence making another go at it. I was never really that drawn into the Ibis culture, like I was with Swobo, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

    I find it sort of funny that both Ibis and Swobo have decided to make a go at it again and with in months of each other. Does that possibly say something about the current state of the cycling culture? Maybe cycling is losing some of it's sole and they are trying to bring it back.

    Chris - iheartbikes
  2. Blogger Tim Grahl posted at 10:16 AM  
    It's just so hard to duplicate that pattern, which makes it a beautiful thing.

    The product/owner/service has to genuinly be legit in order to cause the cult following.

    I think Surly also does a good job at this. I'm a huge Surly nut. Yet I don't own one (yet!), I've only seen their bikes a handful of times and I've only thrown a leg over one once.

    But it's not just the bikes. It's the guys running Surly. It's the names and colors of the frames. It's their website. It's their blog. It's their overall transparency and genuineness that makes Surly loved and followed.

    You can't artificially recreate that.
  3. Blogger Tim Jackson- Masi Guy posted at 10:23 AM  
    You nailed it.

    Surly and Ibis are both running very effective blogs. The Surly blog is one of the best out there for delivering the transparency we talk about. If an item is out of stock and they have a delay getting more of them, then they make it known. When the items come in, they make it known.

    As I mention in the post; personality really works. Find one, make one, adopt one- whatever. Once you get one though, stick with it and exploit it.
  4. Anonymous Scot Nicol posted at 10:50 AM  
    Tim,
    Glad to see the wire transfer to your Caymans bank account made it safe and sound. With all the traffic the site is getting I'm sure it'll be money well spent. Too bad about the kids' college fund. Oh wait, I don't have kids. The new BMW fund? Naw, too ugly.

    ...As you've described it, those are some seriously huge shoes to fill. I hope I'm up to the task.

    If we do have even a fraction of the success that we might be capable of, the people who deserve the real back slaps are Hans, Tom and Roxy. They're all the partners in Ibis and the people doing the heavy lifting.
    Hans is the main force behind Ibis, and responsible for assembling this stellar cast. His previous successses you might have heard of before: Santa Cruz and Bontrager. He was a significant part of the success of both of those companies, and if Ibis flies, I'm going to point my finger to Hans first.
    Tom Morgan comes from Giant and Answer and Titec an knows a thing or two about getting stuff made. He'll be the guy spending the long hours on the big aluminum cigar tube, and also the one answering the phone if you dial up Ibis. Multi talented multi tasker that one.
    Roxy Lo designed the shape of the Mojo. He day job is designing toys for Pottery Barn. Which means she's go no pre-conceived notions about how a bike should look. We licensed the suspension geometry from Dave Weagle, then designed the geometry, and then Roxy filled in the dots. Or swoops.
    Focusing on aesthetics was a logical extension for us. DW did the number crunching on the suspension, so we could focus more on the look of the bike. We think lots of bikes work really well now, and we wanted one that looked good in addition to working well.
    We’re kind of going about product development the same way that Ibis V.1 did: make bikes that we’d want to buy if we saw one in a bike store. The bikes definitely do that for me. So will the new stuff we’re working on…
    OK, back to shoe shopping.

    --Scot
  5. Blogger James posted at 5:46 AM  
    Scot said "Roxy Lo designed the shape of the Mojo. Her day job is designing toys for Pottery Barn. Which means she's go no pre-conceived notions about how a bike should look"

    I'm glad you pointed that out. The Mojo really is a great looking bike that, to me, stands out from all the other race inspired mountain bikes on the market in a subtle way. From a design standpoint, most bike companies seem to be too worried about their competitor's products to really focus on creating their own look. I see the same thing happening in the industry that I work in. Sometimes when the same designers move from company to company working on products that they are already very comfortable with, the overall quality of work suffers. Often, it takes an outsider like Roxy to break the pattern of product inbreeding that tends to happen in any industry. Congrats to you and to her on a great looking product.
  6. Blogger Bernie posted at 1:14 PM  
    Funny that you mentioned the handjob bottle opener/keychain. One of the most heartbreaking moments of my short life was when, while using my handjob to open a frosty bottle of my favorite brew, the cast fingers broke off. I was happy they got the bottle open before breaking, but there's been an empty spot in my heart and on my keychain ever since. So you see, the cult following really works.

    I also second the effectiveness of the surly blog. I own a couple of surly's, love 'em, and check their blog regularly. Those guys have the transparency in marketing thing nailed. I personally love the instuctions that come with some of their products:

    "A clean spot on a workbench is best. You're likely to lose small parts if you're working in clutter."

    and "Stuff eventually breaks or wears out if you use it enough. That's beyond our control... If you destroy it, fess up and maybe we can help you with some replacements to keep you riding."
  7. Anonymous Sr. Pedro posted at 12:46 AM  
    Having had the privilege of owning several Sting Rays, I don't quite understand what all the hubub is about. I mean, so what if one of the best frame-builders we've seen in years, one who has lived what he's preached, has started down the bike path again? (No pun intended, really.)

    Isn't it what the bike biz is really all about?

    PASSION

    I'd rather make love to my Hakalugi than my wife, it is always a good ride and never bitches and the hand job is always there when I need it.

    On the topic of hand-jobs, the real gem of a bottle opener is the hand-milled titanium ibis bottle opener; it's light and doesn't weigh down the keychain and is always ready to open a bottle.

    Time will tell if the New Ibis bikes are worthy of the name. For me, I can hardly wait to get my fat ass on one and give it a good long spin.

    Keep it up-Chuck.

    P.
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