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.
Posted by Tim Jackson at 9:33 PM