Tuesday, January 10, 2006

KHS Bicycles; potential untapped?

KHS Bicycles has always been a brand that has appealed to me personally. They have always produced a bike that is reasonably well spec'ed and priced. I've always had a soft spot for brands that provide value-based performance. The bikes, in my opinion, have not always been all that "pretty", but who cares what they look like when the parts mix is great and the price is one of the better prices on the market? For the rider/ racer on a budget, the bikes are a great deal. Plus, they have always done a pretty good job of supporting grassroots sponsorships- another topic near and dear to me.

My only real gripe with KHS has been with the magazine ads they have run, especially the past year or so. Unfortunately, I do not have an example to post with this, so you'll have to just work with me for a minute on this. The ads have taken the "low brow" approach of using scantily clad women in provocative poses/ situations to sell the bikes. For example, there is one ad that has a rider on a bike, stopped on the side of the road talking to two women in a convertible. The two women are sitting on the back of the car, fleshy chests in the sun, and the guy's bike is barely visible at all. Now, I am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I opposed to seeing attractive women in advertising- far from it. However, the cycling industry is in need of breaking out of the "boy's club" mold. More and more women are coming into the sport and the industry, so the old way of appealing to an all male audience is just out of place now.

I spoke to one retailer who said, "the girls in revealing clothing work in Lowrider magazine. I'd even say they work well selling mountain/freeride bikes and other more man-centric products. But it doesn't work so well for road bikes, and obviously also means they're ignoring how many new bikes are bought by women.." He also said, "I totally agree, that if KHS could cultivate a better image, the sales would increase, because there's nothing wrong with the product." I very much agree with that assessment.

The company has good products that they could better exploit to sell bikes. Though, as they are competitors of mine, maybe I should be applauding them for what they have been doing so that they don't do even better.

All of this falls into the themes I have been discussing here and elsewhere in public and private conversations for years now. If the cycling industry really wants to expand and grow, in this very competitive market, then it needs to begin to think differently. Many more women are coming into the sport and industry now and even the ones who aren't have influence over many buying decisions. Alienating this segment of the buying population doesn't make good business sense. Plus, in the case of KHS, upgrading and updating their image would allow them better growth and increase the perceived credibility of the bikes.

Maybe you think I'm totally off the mark here. If so, let us know.

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Posted by Tim Jackson at 9:16 AM


  1. Blogger Yokota Fritz posted at 12:50 PM  
    I've seen some pretty neanderthalic ads from Felt, Gios and a few others also.
  2. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 1:32 PM  
    Can't say I disagree with your sentiments here Tim. We need to grow the womens market, so dropping that kind of advertising is a start, wonderful images of women having fun cycling in a variety of situations would be a good mix and would do wonders for sales.

    London Analytics (http://www.londonanalytics.info/) has done a bit of research on why the womens market is so important to cycling, and what it means when the uptake is high. In short more women cyclists point to a healthy sport.

    It's time to take a more sophisticated approach.

    By the way, one of my bikes is a KHS, no longer sold here in Oz a Solo One SS. It's sweet.
  3. Blogger Guitar Ted posted at 2:21 PM  
    Tim, I have a knowledge of KHS bikes that goes back to my early shop days in the early '90's. They have always had that "bang for your buck" appeal, and were/ are great bikes.

    Too bad they went that route with their advertising. Perhaps the ad agency they use convinced them that that is where the young American male market is these days. If you have picked up any ski/ snowboarding magazines lately, you'd see even more of that sort of advertising.

    Last years Raliegh catalog and print ads featured women in slinky 60's era, go-go style outfits. When I cracked open the catalog, I groaned, "Well, we can't hand these out to our female customers!" Thankfully, the '06 catalog is much better. You are right in saying that the female market is important to cater to. I would say it is vastly under-tapped, and misunderstood. What a huge potential for sales, and upside for cycling in general. KHS can hardly afford to continue their current trend in advertising. Well, actually they CAN"T afford to, and niether can any other company that seeks to grow it's market share. I think Trek, and now Giant, can be applauded in their efforts here.

    Of course, none of what Trek and Giant do will mean anything until the shop owners and their employees shift their attitudes, as well. It's time we all took a look at what we can do to cultivate and grow this woefully neglected segment of the market.
  4. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 7:55 PM  
    You wouldn't beleive how timely that post is, or was KHS in mind for a reason?
    Alright - I stopped beleiving in coincidences when I stopped beleiving in the Easter Bunny. And downtube shifters.
    I can assure you that the sentiment you've expressed has made it to the top in KHS USA, where standards are admirably high.

    Ted rightly brings into question last year's Raleigh catlogue, but the real problem there (for only one reader)was not the blatant sexuality but the age/context of the models.
  5. Blogger Alex posted at 1:20 AM  
    KHS has always been a bit stop-start in the UK but they have always been good value when they have been available (but I am still not sure about the blue / pink "team" colours they used!)

    As for womens marketing I think the one thing worse than using semi-naked women to sell to the guys is to make girls bikes and accessoried to flowery and pink. I think SCOTT have got it spot on with the Contessa range and their clothing. They are marketing more towards the woman who buys a Prada handbag over a Quicksilver backpack...IMHO*


    *which could well be completly wrong, ask my girlfriend!
  6. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 3:48 PM  
    Funny, my first reaction to the ads was that the photoshoot looked low budget, and that the women were obviously not models with a particularly high day rate. Not that it was in any way offensive to me.

    I don't think that as many women are turned off by the ad because of the cheesecake factor as they are by the general low quality of the women's clothing, the unfashionable jersey the rider is wearing and the lazy concept. I do think that women as a group are better at seeing the details, and that you can't miss those details if you want to recruit their buying power.

    It IS ok to be cliche in advertising, however, you must do it very well to avoid looking like an also-ran.

    BTW - this topic has been covered to death in the MTBr forums - for a wide range of opinions, do a search on advertising in the Women's Lounge.
  7. Blogger Tim Jackson posted at 4:17 PM  
    Thank you all for the comments;

    Fritz- Yes, it is a common thread in the industry and not at all a KHS-only issue.

    Philip- I agree completely with you. Why not have ads with the woman dropping some flabby guy's ass on a climb? Women are just as interested in performance features as men are.

    GT- I agree with you too. Raleigh was trying to recreate ads from the past that were succesful for them, but I wonder if it worked for them this time? It's a different market now. You are also correct in pointing out that cycling is far from the only industry to employ these tactics. We all see it every day all over the place. I just believe that this industry is at such a disadvantage that we really need to take those extra steps to capture more of the audience (women).

    Jeff- You can believe in downtube shifters, buddy, they still exist. KHS was on my mind for this post from the very beginning of this site because I have always seen them as a better bike than their image would have people think.

    Alex- Thank you so much for offering a perspective from across the pond. Women, my wife included, don't like to be condescended to (nobody does, regardless of gender). Pink and flowers doesn't make it a woman's product if it is designed wrong especially. Working for a clothing company in the past, we ran into that all the time. Features were in many cases more important than look or price. That's hard to ignore.

    Carla- You're right. It doesn't come across as a well done ad. It's such a shame too because they do make a good bike. They are just missing the opportunity to "be more". Thanks for the tip on the Women's Lounge, I will be checking that out.

    Thank you all. I smell a follow-up post coming.
  8. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 5:37 PM  
    One more question: What if the ad had featured 2 women in obvious great condition with extreme bike-racer tans? Would you still find it offensive if the ad implied that the KHS attracts the attention of bike-racer women?
  9. Blogger Tim Jackson posted at 7:59 PM  

    Don't get me wrong, it's not that I am offended by the ads, I just happen to think they can do better. I believe the type of ads they have run have not been doing them any favors. Do I find them a bit too sexist? Maybe a little, but I wouldn't go so far as to say they offend me- this is about image helping or hurting a brand.

    However, to your specific question- I'd be thrilled if they had real female athletes in the ads. That'd be mighty cool. It's something sorely missing. Again, put a really fit woman on the bike and show her dusting some guy on a climb or in a sprint. Show the guys checking out her bike, shining in the sun at the coffee shop, instead of staring at her ass or chest. That is something I'd like to see. Work a different angle for a change.
  10. Blogger Bernie posted at 9:06 PM  
    Yeah! Let's see a Masi ad with a hardwoman pulling away from a couple of poser middle-age-crisis types in full Discovery Team kit!
  11. Blogger gwadzilla posted at 7:41 PM  
    sex sells
    be it hot guys or hot girls
    I have not seen the ads
    but if it involves the hilton sisters I am going to sell all my bikes and get as many KHS bicycles I can fit in my basement

    nothing wrong with a good looking woman with a bicycle
    marla streb has played that card to her advantage

    and most certainly
    I have known situations where two equal snowboarders went to sponsors
    the one with more of "a look" got the deal
    of course is a subjective outside analysis
    it makes the point....
  12. Blogger gwadzilla posted at 7:45 PM  
    and please
    lets not forget that splendid ad campaign from Marzocchi headlined by none other than Jenna Jameson


    you have to be a member to get on the marzocchi site
  13. Blogger Tim Jackson posted at 7:59 PM  

    Like I said, I'm not opposed to attractive women in advertising, but let's class it up a little. (Don't get me started on Marla... I knew her in San Diego years ago and have always been a big fan of hers. She's one of the coolest people on wheels- period.)

    I think that the type of advertising I was talking about does not build a brand image that will sustain the company. Not like that anyway. Again, this isn't an attack on KHS by any means, they were just the best example I could come up with that people might recognize.

    A good example of the "sex sells" approach, that actually does work is the Limar helmet ads. The woman they use is incredibly attractive and very fit looking, but the ads are done more tastefully.... in my opinion.

    Overall, I think we have to move away from the quick and easy low-brow approach if we want to see the industry grow and sustain growth.
  14. Blogger Ashwin Amanna posted at 9:50 AM  
    I had a KHS Montana XT with full XT thumbshifters, lugged steel frame. KHS makes good stuff, though they need to bring back their True Temper OX Gold steel team frame.

    From a marketing perspective, all they need to do is bring back their dayglow yellow/hot pink team jersey's from the late 80s and they will be back on the map.
  15. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 11:15 AM  
    What about something like.....
    2 guys on the trail taking a break. One sayes to the other, "Did you see the hot blonde at option B?" The other guys sayes, "No, but I saw a girl on a way trick new KHS."
    .....Just an ad idea.....
  16. Blogger hucktunes posted at 2:45 PM  
    I have a KHS that I bought in 1990 after sitting on the sales floor unsold for two years because of it's color. Fuschia and Blueberry. Got a good deal on it. All CroMo frames, top of the line components, nary a clunk after all these years.
  17. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 7:53 PM  
    Get use to it. Sex sells. If they took sex out of advertising there would be no advertising. Then again maybe that is not such a bad idea.

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