Thursday, February 16, 2006

Is blogging for real?

It's probably no surprise that I'm a blogging evangelist and take nearly every chance I get to promote blogging. I'm a big fan of social media and the spread of blogging to bring more and more new voices out into the world. Yes, some of those voices may be more destructive than productive, but the sheer number of voices out there now means that you will find a lot of goods ones too.

When you stip away the "journal" style of writing and personal blathering of some blogs (yes, I know the irony of that statement since I blather on about personal stuff too), you get down to the very effective nature of blogging. From a business standpoint, whether as a manufacturer, distributor, sales rep or retailer, blogging can get you in touch with your customers quickly and gives them the interactive relationship that they want (whether you know this is what they want or not, it is).

Because it is a convenient example for me to use, let's take a look at some of the things I have done on my Masiguy blog. Most recently, I posted a pseudo poll about a Product Development issue. From this little post, that took me all of a couple of minutes to create, I was able to solicit and receive valuable feedback. This feedback is directly related to what will happen to the development of a product. No expensive study groups or travel to visit with people, just a 5 minute post. I was even able to get the news out that our corporate website had finally been updated (Donna, don't get me started...). Now this seems like a small thing, I know, but the website has actually been an issue with many of our retailers. It would take me forever to reach the number of retailers on the phone who I know actually read the blog. Not only does that post reach the retailers, but it reaches the consumers who have been waiting for the site so they can see the new bikes and hopefully find the product of their dreams. I haven't done it recently and need to, but I have run numerous polls on the blog in the past. I certainly intend to bring them back because they were highly effective and provided some great information.

Blogging can take the place of a company website, though it doesn't have to and isn't my plan. The website is where you can put all of your polished, spit-shined images and build in feature intensive things that are not as easy to do on a blog. Where a website falls short, in most cases, is in being stale and static. Maintaining a dynamic and changing website is difficult to do without spending loads of money. A blog can be done for nothing but the cost of time. This site and the Masiguy site are built on free templates (though they were modified by my gifted friends) and use the free versions of add-ins. My total expense so far has been a lot of thanks to friends who have helped me out, a few pairs of socks to the experts and a beer here and there. Outside of that, time is the only cost. Time is a valuable commodity, I admit, but it doesn't exactly impact the bottom line.

A question I frequently get is "how much time do you spend blogging?" Well, that kind of all depends. I think the longest post I have ever compiled on Masiguy took me about an hour and that was at night, at home. Most posts only take me about 10-15 minutes to compile. So really, the time investment is very minimal for me.

Here's the catch, and I am very aware of this issue, not everybody is a writer. I have written for myself as a poet/ essayist and for magazines, websites and other outlets. Admittedly "whipping something up" is a lot easier for me than it might be for a lot of other people. However, it doesn't need to be initimidating for those who are not professional writers. Here is one of the beautiful things about blogging that I like to frequently point out to those folks who are nervous; blogging allows you to make mistakes. Mistakes and how you deal with them can give you and your blogsite, and then your company, greater credibility. There is a level of respect afforded to those who make a few spelling and grammar errors or other mistakes and then come out and say, "oops". Remember, the blogosphere is built on transparent conversations and dialogs. Being true to your own voice and personality goes a long, long way.

Here is a great article written by a blogging friend of mine, Toby Bloomberg. She mentions many great points- seeing as to how I agree with her so frequently, it is easy for me to point out her genius. The article points out the potential benefits of blogging and how they can significantly outweigh any risks to blogging. One of my favorite comments from the article is;

Peel away the high-tech wrapping and you'll find that a blog is a handshake with the customer.
In a conversation on Toby's blogsite, I made the statement that;
Blogging is a real and legitimate tool for marketing and anybody who disagrees is really misleading themselves. It won't be an immediate success for everybody, but it can be a major tool in developing a brand/ service or in simply connecting with people and evangelizing.

Blogs offer a mass form of communication and connectivity that can not easily be done another way. Donna Tocci, one of the other troublemakers... err... contributors here, and I have had a lot of conversations about the topic of blogging and we don't always agree. She may even come back with some points to argue against blogging here. The one thing I think we do both agree on is that blogs can be very powerful and they have to be taken seriously.
Whether as a small bike shop or as a major manufacturer, blogging can get you in touch with the people who give you the money to keep the lights on. As my good friend Bernie at Panther City Bicycles has done, a retailer can let customers know about new products, new events or simple happenings at the shop without the expense of a mailer or sending unsolicited emails to people. Panther has been able to reach customers and maintain a web presence, since that is where customers are going these days. Which is another reason to blog- your customers are surfing the net and doing their research online. Are you there talking to them? You should be... as if your business depends on it because it does!
Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Posted by Tim Jackson at 8:21 PM 8 comments

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bikemag.com gets a facelift

If you haven't buzzed by there in a couple of days, check out the new BIKE Magazine website. It launched a couple of days ago, but I know this has been in the works for months and months.

We all know that the internet and all the fancy tools we use every day that weren't there a month ago make our jobs more complex and easier at the same time. Sometimes, we expect things right now or even yesterday because of the speed with which we get information now due to these tools. It's that way with websites. Everyone's got one so how hard can they be to put up? Or revamp? Or totally redesign? Should be a snap, right? Just ask Tim or anyone else that has gone through this process recently. It isn't an overnight thing. I wish it were, but it isn't. Sometimes it takes weeks, but more often than not, for a whole refresh it takes months.

If you haven't run into Vernon Felton in your travels throughout the bike industry, you are missing an amazing person. Next time you are at Interbike, hunt him down - ok, not literally to scare him or anything, but find him, say 'hello' and see if he's got time to talk. He's fascinating and he always makes me chuckle. He writes for a few places, but he's also the online editor for bikemag.com - the newly revamped bikemag.com (see, this was all tied together....) He's worked hard for the last 6 months or so on getting the site better. I think he's succeeded.

The site before was way too busy. I had a hard time finding things and, frankly, got frustrated most times and gave up. I hadn't been to the site in probably two months (bad, I know...) until I got an email from BIKE announcing the new site this week. Vernon gives a little tutorial about the site here and then he goes on to tell the reader just who he is. It's an entertaining read, yet only one small snapshot of Vernon.

The site has nice drop down boxes at the top to help guide you through the site. Amazingly, I didn't click on one wrong thing - and that is difficult for me because I usually make a few errors along the way when going through new sites. The gear reviews are great, as always. They have newer stuff, but also have things that were on the old site, just laid out a little nicer. Personally, I like this one, but then again I would.....you'll find your own interesting one, I'm sure.

The only thing I found a little confusing was the list of columns. Now, granted, I've been away from the site for a little bit, but others may have been, too. I don't know who the columnists are by their nicknames. You don't know who they are until you click into the story. A chart on the side saying that the "Web Monkey" is Vernon's column and the "Dixie Drift" is Chris Dannen etc. would be nice.

They have a nice draw to the site right now. If you send in the best mountain bike crash photo you'll win a set of Mavic Deetrak wheels. Nice.

Congratulations to Vernon on the revamped site. It looks great. Now we're all just waiting on Tim's new site.....

Thanks for stopping by.

Posted by Donna Tocci at 3:35 PM 5 comments

Truth is King

This six month old post by Jeff Jarvis hits it... and he ends by saying:

In the end, isn’t the only asset worth owning trust?

Content is not king.

Distribution is not king.

Trust is king in the kingdom of conversation.


So the kingdom is conversation and thanks to the world of blogging and forums anyone can start a conversation and become an expert on a very narrowed niche. This is most exciting in the cycling industry.

We all know this biz runs on passion more then most others. And people reside in this industry because they love it, not to get rich. The hard part is making a viable living.

Question: What the easiest way to make a million dollars in the bike industry?
Answer: Start with two million.

How can joe shmoe frame builder compete in the world of magazine advertising and big budget sponsorship? He'll fail before he starts. You can't out-spend the competition.

But wait, the king is no longer distribution and content. So just cause Trek can buy more ads doesn't mean they'll always win. Now people want to be a part of the conversation and know they can trust what they are hearing.

Sure, the new Cannondale ad may be telling the truth. But it's boring. And corporate. And one sided. And looks just like the ads that lie.

But if I heard straight from an R&D guy on a regular basis and was able to constantly give my feedback... I'd be a lot more willing to drop my cash for his bike. I'd "know" the guy who built it.

The independent frame builder with a long waiting list.

Jimmy Rigsby starts Woodstock out of his garage.

Tim Jackson revitalizes the Masi brand.

One guy, telling one story about what he does and why he loves it. No layers of bureaucracy. No focus groups. No ad agencies. Just truth.

And what industry is better suited for truth tellers then the bike industry? We love a good story.

Posted by Tim Grahl at 12:01 PM 6 comments

Friday, February 03, 2006

Thanks!

Thank you for making us the number one source for cycling-related news and marketing analysis*. It's really an honor for us all.

Our good friend at BikeBiz in the UK has co-opted an article written here by my co-worker and Kool-Aid contributor Jill Hamilton for the upcoming new print version of the magazine. Carlton has graciously offered free subscriptions to US members of the cycling industry. I can't wait to get my hands on my first issue. I'm supremely flattered that Carlton chose to honor us with this little nod and am also exceptionally happy for Jill. Jill quietly goes about being damned good at her job at Haro and it makes me proud as a friend and co-worker to see her get the recognition she deserves. Good work Jill!

New member Chris Lesser (sidebar credit still pending... Chris...) has made quite a splash with his first offering to the Krew site. It seems pretty safe to assume that we'll be seeing more of the same kind of work from him. Well, between his trips down to the beach to work on his tan and find some fresh coconuts for his endless Pina Colada binges. Journalists... they scare me. I hope that you will all enjoy reading his posts as much as I know I will.

Donna Tocci has been dropping little notes here and there, "tidbits", if you will. She's been busier than a one-legged woman in an ass-kickin' contest over at Kryptonite and has a lot of really cool projects and people she's been working with/on. She's capable, any minute now, of uncorking a super post. She keeps warning me that she has "one brewing". I'm giddy with anticipation.

King Karl has been absolutely swamped with stuff. Karl is knee deep in shows and other projects that have him preoccupied, so you'll have to forgive his absence. He's been so swamped in fact, I can't remember the last time I got an email from him at all. (I guess I should send him a quick note...)

Chris Cashbaugh has been equally swamped with his "day job"... between shows and trying to run a marketing department. He's a slacker though, honestly. He's got way more talent than any one person should have. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens when he returns from his work-induced hiatus.

Then there is our new father and friend and contributor Tim Grahl. Seeing as to how his son is only a couple weeks old, I think everybody will excuse his absence from posting for the time being. (Congratulations again Tim and Candace!) We all wish Tim and his family the very best and hope that some sleeping is happening.

Me? Well, my day job has been keeping me busy too. Lots of various things happening; finishing '07 product spec, working on graphics/ colors, working with magazines, working with our new pro team and too many other things to cover in a paragraph.

Since I am the one who was fool enough to start this project, I feel compelled to keep coming here to post little notes here and there. More will be coming and some new things will be happening. Working on more interviews, more feature stories on companies, more thoughts/ ramblings and some changes to the outbound links and things like that (housekeeping basically). Your visits are very much appreciated. I really had no idea that so many people would find this stuff interesting, nor did I expect to see so many people from the bike industry visiting so soon and so often. I guess what I'm getting at is another "thank you" to our readers.

So, thanks!

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
*according to my own opinion*

Posted by Tim Jackson at 9:19 PM 6 comments

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Please welcome our newest contributor; Chris Lesser

I'd like to welcome our newest member of the team, Chris Lesser.

Chris is a pretty smart character and is already pretty good at stirring the pot. Chris spent a good while as a staff writer for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRaIN). He's still got his fingers on the pulse of the industry, though as a freelance writer- more or less- while working from his new home office in St. Kitts. Personally, I think he's just there to work on his tan and learn how to saltwater fly fish. During the big tradeshow in Vegas in September, Chris came by the Masi booth to see how things were going and say hello. We talked to each other a couple times when he was working on various projects for BRaIN, so we became chummy. I asked him how things were going, how the show was shaping up for him and he said, "I'm leaving for St. Kitts tomorrow." I thought, cool a vacation... and then he told me he was going there to LIVE. Needless to say, I hated him instantly. Now we mostly exchange pointed and poisonous emails. Mostly I insult his intelligence and try to undermine his work.

However, from the very beginning of this project, I had Lesser in mind as one of the contributors. After much poking and prodding and threatening to expose him as a fraud, he finally capitulated and came to the almost-dark side of the farce.

I hope that you will all welcome Chris to the Krew (his sidebar is being developed). His maiden post has proven to be an attention getter and shows off his journalistic prowess and ability to string together semi-coherent sentences. Overall, I think he should prove to be a great addition to the Krew. I've been trying to get him involved all along, so I'm pretty happy to have him join us and become a part of the wonderful family we have here at the Kool-Aid Krew.

Welcome to the party Mr. Lesser!

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Posted by Tim Jackson at 8:36 PM 5 comments

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Stumptown Showdown: Specialized ™ Threatens Mountain Cycle with Lawsuit

Portland, OR—Specialized Bicycle Components is threatening legal action against Mountain Cycle, claiming the Portland, Oregon, manufacturer’s Stumptown cyclocross bike, now in it’s third year of production, infringes on the trademark Specialized holds on its Stumpjumper mountain bike.

The Stumpjumper was one of the earliest bona fide production mountain bikes—a fact Specialized is trumpeting as the Stumpjumper turns 25 years old this year. The company even commissioned a coffee table book to commemorate the Stumpjumper’s legacy.

But in the rush to reap the well-earned publicity from its golden child's silver anniversary, Specialized, courtesy of its hyperactive legal department, has come off less like a proud parent and more like a crazed hockey dad.

The saber rattling was first picked up by local bike blog BikePortland.org and has left some denizens of Bicycling Magazine’s recently-named “Best Overall Cycling City” howling in protest.

At stake, after all, is hometown pride. The origins of “Stumptown” as a nickname for Portland go back some-150 years—after most of the old growth trees had been cleared out and before the town was renamed after Portland, Maine, by a transplanted Downeaster.

“It’s kind of beyond us,” said Mark Ontiveros, co-owner of River City Bicycles, Specialized’s biggest dealer in Portland. “You have to protect you name, but maybe this might not be good for them in the long run.”

Ontiveros said he’s carried Mountain Cycle in the past and hopes everything will work itself out amiably.

“Specialized has done a great job. I wish there were more Specializeds out there,” Ontiveros added. “[The bike industry] is just so small compared to the auto industry, we really need to stick together.”

Specialized fired the first shot across Mountain Cycle’s bow on Oct. 24, when its legal dept sent a letter to Mountain Cycle asking them to cease and desist in the use of the Stumptown name.

In an e-mail response dated Dec. 12, Mountain Cycle Director Rob Lindburg tried reasoning with the Big Red S:

“We are in this industry because we love to ride and believe in the sport. America is already the most litigious society in the world and there are plenty of industries, governments and companies rife with legal bickering. We believe our industry is above that, don’t you?”

Kim Arca, Specialized’s legal director, responded a week later, writing, in part: “Mountain Cycle’s failure to respect the intellectual property of Specialized has put Specialized in this position. You have given us no choice but to defend our rights.”

Specialized is no stranger to litigation. The company has vigorously defended its four-bar linkage suspension patent. In 2003 it settled with Jamis and just last month it successfully prevented Scott USA from distributing its Genius full-suspension design the U.S., ending 18 months of legal wrangling.

Specialized also has defended its trademarks. In 2004 the Vancouver, British Columbia, titanium frame manufacturer previously known as Epic Bicycles was forced to change its name to Evereti Biycles in the face of legal pressure from Specialized, which has another full suspension model called Epic.

Michael Nover, chief operating officer of Kinesis USA, the parent company of Mountain Cycle, is no stranger to trademark disputes, either. Kinesis USA, the Portland based manufacturer of frames for Mountain Cycle and others in the industry, was originally called Prologue, but was forced to change because Schwinn had a model of the same name.

“That’s how trademarks work,” Nover said, adding he doesn’t believe the made-in-Stumptown Stumptown violates Specialized’s Stumpjumper trademark.

“By that argument, no bicycle company can use the word “rock” or “hard,” in a name,” Nover said, referring to Specialized’s Hard Rock model. “If it’s just the word stump that is confusing them, then what about Rock Lobster or Rocky Mountain?”

Nover wasn’t the only one to doubt the credibility of Specialized’s latest foray into trademark law.

Responding to a the posting at bikeportland.com, member’s of Portland’s cycling community have shared letters they have written to Specialized’s customer service department.

Some of the letters posted are courteous and respectful:

“Hey guys! This is Etta Janoushek from Portland, OR and I am a bike-loving pedal pusher around these parts (and other parts when I get the chance!)… Although I have never personally owned a Specialized bike, I have long respected your brand for the quality of your products. As a consumer I would be very hesitant to support, with my own dollars or with recommendations to friends with dollars, a company that would pick a fight like this one.”

Other readers simply took the opportunity to root for the hometown underdog and needle the Big Red S. Almost universally though, the readers show they are a savvy, if emotional, bunch of enthusiasts, the kind that companies are usually loathe to alienate.

“Lucky they didn’t name it the ‘StumpStrong,’” one reader chimed in, referring to the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s recent similar threatened legal action against SkidStrong, a bike brand started to benefit a bicycle messenger advocacy group that was forced to change its name. “They’d get their pants sued off by Lance LegStrong, too.”

But what’s in a name, really? Even the irreverent and often-profane web-based Urban Dictionary weighs in with its definition of Stumptown. (It has a less savory definition for Stumpjumper.)

All joking aside, Specialized takes this name game seriously, and the knife cuts both ways.

Tim Wilder, who works for another of Stumptown’s Specialized dealers, The Fat Tire Farm, pointed out that Specialized itself recently had to stop distributing it’s Adrenaline mountain bike tire because the Adrenaline name infringed on another company’s trademark—a company not even involved in the bike industry.

“Pesonally, I think it’s ridiculous,” he said. “But I guess they have to do what they have to do.”

Mountain Cycle’s Nover said he’s waiting to see what Specialized’s next move will be. Specialized’s legal director did not return a phone call in time to comment on this story at its original posting.

-------------UPDATE---------------

BikePortland.org reported last week that the Stumptown controversy was given front-page business section treatment by The Oregonian.


Posted by Chris Lesser at 10:14 PM 5 comments

Bike Biz for Dummys

I finally got to my mailbox at the office to collect everything that was stuffed in there from the last two weeks. This isn't unusual for me - the woman in our office that distributes the mail has actually just brought one of the white totes from the post office into my office with all my mail after a couple of weeks and tells me it wouldn't fit in the box any longer. It's not that I'm a slacker...well, not totally....it's that I get approximately 60 magazines a month. They take up a lot of room. Then there is the other mail....but I digress.

In the mail from last week was a brown envelope from the UK. I opened it and Woa!....a brand spankin' new BikeBiz. As Tim has mentioned, BikeBiz is the UK's bicycle trade publication. It's just been purchased and they are getting an overhaul.

I noticed the website change earlier this week. It's very different than it was before; the logo is big and bold, which is great. The same goes for the cover of the magazine. Also on the cover of the magazine in the top right corner it says, "Dummy Issue". I wasn't sure if Carlton (the editor) was making fun of me or what (like he'd make a magazine just for me...not an ego moment, just a senior one!). So, I flipped it open, without reading the front page and got to Carlton's Editorial.

Turns out this isn't like one of those orange "Topic-of-your-choice- For Dummies" books that is a tutorial on something. This 'Dummy Issue' means that this is just layout and the story is the same throughout the magazine. They just want you to see the format, texture of page, color etc. The very first issue with this layout comes next month for the world to see. This sneak peek is just because, to quote Carlton here, "you're lucky, you're one of the few to have been selected as a key reader and hence you're holding the kind of mag I could never have done on my lonesome."

My first thought was, I feel special....4,000 other people could have this same issue, but this makes me feel like there are only 50 and I'm one of them (do not burst this bubble, people, I like to feel special). Thanks, Carlton!

Flipping through the dummy issue I found that each of the sections were so easy to identify and look at. Carlton mentions that there will be more international items so that means everyone in the cycling industry in the US should take Carlton up on his offer a few weeks ago and get this magazine sent to their shop, office or warehouse.

There is also a section for family cycling. I'm looking forward to seeing how he integrates this into the business side of cycling and think this could be an interesting section.

There's the interview section - hey, Carlton, I think Tim would be a fabulous interview. Just my two cents. Or maybe you should get each Krew member 'in the saddle' in the back of the pub. Just a thought....

I like that there is a section to show what is in the top publications in the UK, too. In the dummy issue he shows snipets from Cycling Plus, Mountain Biking UK and Singletrack. Nice touch. As a side note, did you all know that Chipps and crew are podcasting over at Singletrack? Check out the latest here.

All in all, I really like this new format of BikeBiz. It would appear that it is going to be easy to read. Thanks for adding me to your special list, Carlton. I look forward to getting the 'real' copy and will be looking for it in the mailbox. I might even check the box more frequently in the next couple of weeks.

Posted by Donna Tocci at 5:21 PM 3 comments