Friday, October 16, 2009

Tradeshows and the cycling industry...

Over the past five weeks, I've attended three separate week-long (for me) tradeshows. Needless to say, I'm fairly worn down and really tired of the seemingly endless cycle of packing and unpacking and packing and unpacking, etc, etc... but that's not the point of this.

Over the past few years, the relationship between tradeshows and the industry has been evolving in many different directions. The effectiveness and cost worthiness of tradeshows has been under examination by nearly every person and brand within the cycling industry- from retailer to manufacturer/ distributor to OE supplier and international distributors. The entire cycling goods foodchain has been scrutinizing the changes in the way business is done these days and what the shows all mean or do.

Here's one bike nerds view from inside the equation...

Retailers;
Retailers have really begun to trim back this year, here in the US, due to the weak economy. However, even before the economic downturn (also known as really terrible economic crash), retailers had been cutting back on their involvement with the main tradeshow- Interbike. The Dirt Demo component of Interbike has continued to grow in popularity, as retailers can ride the bikes they are already buying, thinking of buying, wanting to evaluate or just so they can get some competitive comparison against the brands they already sell. By the time Interbike rolls around, the vast majority of retailers have already placed preseason orders with their main suppliers and if they sell Trek, Specialized, Giant and a few others, they've already been out of their shops for regional or private brand tradeshows. All of this leads to a further shrinking of the relevance of Interbike to many retailers and a growing "show fatigue" by the time Interbike rolls around sometime in late September. Unless a retailer is specifically looking to replace a bike brand with another bike brand, there is very little use for Interbike other than to shake hands with suppliers.

However, for smaller ticket items like clothing and other accessories, Interbike still holds some limited power. But... in recent years very few retailers have gone to Interbike with the intention of "putting pen to paper" and placing orders. Again, with the strength of regional brand shows and the larger brands becoming increasingly large business partners for many retailers, Interbike's floor show is changing into much less of a tradeshow and much more of a social gathering. That said, Interbike has been savvy in beginning to address this and is looking to add more value for all who attend. The seminars held each year are growing in popularity and usefulness, as are things like the recently added Urban Legend Fashion Show. To further cater to the evolving shape of the Interbike audience, there has been a growing acceptance of Social Media and the small but growing importance it now has in the cycling world- giving media credentials to bloggers, Tweeters, podcasters and the like is a big step. Having an impressive media center in the midst of the show floor is an even more impressive step.

Eurobike may not have the same level of non-traditional show gimmics, but the show does continue to evolve and was quicker to develop fashion shows for the cycling world (though admittedly mocked by many folks in the industry at first). Eurobike suffers a bit less from the massive drop-off in order writing, as many European retailers do still place orders during the show. More importantly, however, Eurobike has become more of a distributor show- especially since it is now often the first introduction of many new products- a roll once prized by Interbike. Thanks to this explosion of early product introductions, Eurobike also benefits from a growing presence from the media looking to wet the appetites of product crazy cycling enthusiasts around the globe.

Manufacturers;
If you are a bike brand or a consumer product manufacturer and are trying to reach retailers, tradeshows are becoming harder and harder to justify. The cost of doing tradeshows is astronomical and prohibitive for smaller brands more likely to benefit the most from the extra exposure. Larger brands are shrinking their show presence, if not abandoning altogether, and are focusing the attention on regional private shows- you get the retailer all to yourself with nobody else getting in the way of your sales pitch. It's an intoxicating cocktail for many retailers when they get such special treatment too, so it is hard to find a reason NOT to do private shows.

For smaller brands who need the exposure, major shows eat up an entire year's budget and the stress can be nearly suicidal as well. Whether smaller bike brands or an accessory brand, the cost is high and the return is arguably low. But... can they risk not being there? Is being conspicuous in your absence something that will hurt you? Will your competition steal your customers if you aren't there? It's a big risk, as well as a big cost.

Most brands who have attended the ever-growing Dirt Demo are seeing that as becoming much more effective for them. In recent years, shows like Eurobike and the smaller Canadian show BTAC/ Expo Cycle have added demo days to their shows to address this shift in tradeshow appeal. Again, here in the US, there are many brands who attend Dirt Demo only and skip the floor show, or only show up with a very tiny presence. Brands as important to the industry as Specialized and Trek have been a part of this shift. Will it hurt them for not having a full footprint inside the exhibit hall? Not likely- many of their retailers have already ponied up the dough at regional shows and they still get plenty of press attention by being at demo- if not more attention. Let's face it, a fleet of very expensive wonder bikes bombing down trails or blazing down the asphalt says a lot... real or not.

Interbike and Expo Cycle both have seen a major drop off in the amount of orders written or new business created. Eurobike has suffered less of a drop off, but still faces the same challenges. The question then becomes "why are we here" for many of the exhibitors at the shows. Well, that all depends on the brands you ask, but it is increasingly becoming about relationships. It's important to be at the show to thank customers for their business and try to convince them to keep growing their business with you... if they haven't already placed that big, mythical "preseason order" already. And most of them have. As an exhibitor for a smaller brand, Interbike still presents a chance and a hope that new business will come our way. We attend both Dirt Demo and Interbike with the hope of seeing existing customers and also seeing potential new ones.

Here's the thing though- as I pointed out in my opening comment, tradeshow burnout is becoming a very real thing. Eurobike was just August 31- September 1st for demo and September 2nd - 5th for the show, Expo Cycle was September 9th for demo and 10th - 12th for the show and Interbike was September 21st - 22nd demo and 23rd - 26th for the show... and I just got back from the second edition of Interbike's OutDoor Demo East in Providence, Rhode Island held October 8th - 11th. I didn't attend Eurobike, but I was at the other three of the four events. As a manufacturer, that's an astronomical financial commitment, not to mention the man hours that have to be used for so many events. At what point do manufacturers say "enough is enough"? For global brands, it's very difficult to do that. Granted, at Eurobike and Expo Cycle, my presence at the show is to be there to support the efforts of the distributors we have (or my parent company Haro Bicycles has). All of those shows add up quickly- especially when they are nearly back to back.

The addition of the OutDoor Demo East last year "seemed" like a good idea and the initial feedback, minus the grumblings of "not another show", was that it was a success. This year's ODD-E was extended to four days, with the last two days being open to the public- something that much of the industry cringed over. How was the demo this year? Well... spotty at best. Day 1 was great because the weather was great. Day 2 had rain so very few retailers who attended actually rode any bikes in the cool and sloppy weather. Day 3 and 4 were open to the public... but there was also a two day stellar cyclo-cross event going on. And cross is huge in New England... with over 2000 racers signed up for the two days, it seemed like we'd all be busy... but the racers and the folks who came to watch and support them barely touched a demo bike over the two days. The racing was awesome and fun to watch, but that's the problem- I had the time to watch the races because nobody was riding the demo bikes. Nobody. Will we attend next year's event if it happens? Very hard to say right now. Lots and lots of evaluation is going into that question as we speak...

There are other smaller shows- mainly in Europe- but they play a much less significant role in the industry these days. These other shows were once important, but with the shift of dates and locations, they have fallen by the wayside a bit...

But, as another wrench in the works, there's the big industry show in Taipei Taiwan for all the OE suppliers, international distributors and bike manufacturers/ distributors. It's another layer of tradeshow commitment that can not be ignored. Which leads to the next tier...

OE Suppliers;
OE Suppliers are the folks who make the stuff that has a different name on it. The biggest brands in the world nearly all work with a finite number of manufacturers in Taiwan and China and those brands, kept somewhat in the shadows and away from the consumers, attract their customers in Taipei... or did. The Taipei Cycle show now suffers from a spot on the calendar- in mid March the past few years- that is becoming much less relevant to the bike spec'ing process. Many brands- including the one I am the Brand Manager for- complete and turn in their final spec to their factories at the end of December (if not possibly sooner). So by March now, many bike and accessory brands are in Taiwan to thank their vendors, meet with their International Distributors and then go visit their factories south in Taichung or over in China (mainly). For these OE Suppliers, the show is becoming hard to justify, as the spec process for that given year is already done and many production lines are already churning out the "new" products.

Here's where it gets complicated(er); there is now a growing series of mini-shows now mostly combined into one show in Taichung in December (5-13th) called Taichung Bike Week and Ride-On. The cool thing is that these two semi-competing shows have combined forces to actually altruistically serve the industry better. The December schedule allows product managers one final chance to see anything they need for their bike spec process. The informal format provides for private meetings away from the busier traffic of a full blown tradeshow and the costs are much lower. Plus, being in Taichung where much of the Taiwan bike industry resides, it is very easy to also do factory visits during the week. The growing strength of this new mini-show must be causing the Taipei show organizers to lose a lot of sleep.

On the other end of the Taipei show schedule is the China Cycle show in Shanghai, April 27th - 30th. This show now has a place on the map and calendar of growing importance. The date provides an early glimpse into what will be happening in the next round of product spec and takes place in the world's largest manufacturing center. Chinese made cycling products have grown in popularity with many prestigious brands now having their products made in China and the strength of home brands like Giant and Merida only lends to that growth. Giant is the world's largest bicycle maker and Merida is their largest competitor. Giant is a popular global brand of its own and Merida enjoys some strength as a brand in Europe and a few other areas outside of the US.

The shift away from Taipei as a spec show is turning it into much more of a show for International Distributors as well as for companies sourcing private label suppliers. Taipei, like all the other established shows, is learning to cater to new customers as the market has evolved.

***


As you can see, it's a complicated picture out there. Retailers have less use for traditional shows, Manufacturers have less use for traditional shows and the OE Suppliers have less use for tradtional shows. Demo events are gaining strength and popularity, so many have suggested that the tradeshows be shortened and the demo days expanded. There are others who say the floor show is a dinosaur and is fading out of relevance. But that really only addresses the shows for retailers. What about the other shows? Taipei is really getting the squeeze on both ends of its calendar and the smaller shows are forcing them to really change how they do what they do and there is much talk still about moving the Taipei dates to January... though that may still prove to be too late for most Product Managers.

Tradeshows are what many consider to be "a necessary evil"- but how long can we keep saying that to ourselves and justifying the crazy amounts of money all of us spend to make them happen?

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

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Posted by Tim Jackson at 10:15 PM

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous Phil posted at 1:56 AM  
    Epic! Phew! Where do I start?

    Just this, I really enjoyed following the Interbike media in toto.

    I think that may be a way forward for them in providing value to everyone.

    A four day extravangza of bicycle geekery broadcast to the world live.

    A bicycle infomercial and infotainment with meaning. I'd watch, I might even pay.

    Ramp it up.
  2. Blogger Tim Jackson- Masi Guy posted at 4:46 PM  
    Yes- the shows are evolving into things they never were before, which means they can become virtually anything in the future.

    I think that whether it is intended as an actual part of the evolution, the tradeshows will be viewed as more of an online presentation as more and more internet media engulfs them. By design or not, your idea will likely become reality. If the shows were smart, they would speed up the process and force the evolution to be quicker.
  3. Anonymous Bike Shop Girl posted at 3:29 PM  
    I agree with Phil on the media, I'm partial though as I'm in the media.

    I think these shows have become less for the retailers, and suppliers but more for the media and consumer. Thanks to the internet, social media and PDA's (ignore the lame name) it is instant interaction for the person at the end of the line buying and riding the product.

    The demo days should grow, companies should invest more on demo's like Specialized, Trek and Santa Cruz (among others.)

    I don't believe that opening Interbike or Outdoor Demo's it to the public is the answer as it will clog up important meetings between retailers and the smaller guys. It will also take out the middle guy, your local bike shop, from selling or telling many consumers about all their options. It's one step closer to consumer direct sales.

    Interbike used to be like christmas for us bike geeks. Things were leaked but it was just words prior to the show. Then they were debuted at times or special booths.

    Maybe have a smaller inside show, near where you can demo the bikes. Think Sea Otter but the show indoors as it is helpful with interviews, photos and keeping the dust off your goods. Keep those "special" bikes or proto-types at your indoor, smaller booth. Maybe keep 1 or 2 question answering desk jockeys inside. Put the big wigs, like Tim, outside. Talking about their product, leading rides on their product to personally show why the bikes are so special.

    Remember it is all about the experience and delivery.
  4. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 3:57 AM  
    Hi Tim,

    Great to see you're back at this.

    I pulled the ‘hat trick’ this year and attended all three major events –
    Taipie Show
    Eurobike
    Interbike
    ODD & In the Hall

    From the ODM perspective, I can say that all these shows are still very, very important.
    They bring together your customers, and your potential future customers, into a concentrated area which creates a very high cost to benefit.
    In reality, that really sums up all this.
    Despite what many feel, from my perspective these shows are extremely important.
    Taichung Bike Week is also becoming a must, but it is still a step below the big three.

    - Ryan
  5. Blogger Dan O posted at 9:40 PM  
    My bike shop days were in the semi-stone age of the early '80s and I didn't even know if trade shows existed at that time. They were never mentioned at the shop.

    I did attend Interbike as a guest in '95 - yeah, still a long time ago. Being Bike Geek, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

    Fast forward to 2009 - still a Bike Geek and look forward to all the blogs and other reports of Interbike. Me and few zillion other Bike Nerds for sure. I don't how you could track the media exposure developed my Interbike - but of course, it's there.

    Why not take it to the next step? Open Interbike for a day or two to the public? It would change the scope a bit and maybe the big boys - like Trek and Specialized - would once again return. It would also be more exposure for the cool smaller companies as well.

    No? Yes? Maybe? I'm nuts?
  6. Blogger Guitar Ted posted at 8:49 PM  
    Hey Tim!

    Late to getting to this, but I have an observation that is related to this and may affect the trade shows in the days to come.

    That being the "media camp" idea. As you are well aware, the "Press Camp" was launched this year, and was well recieved by all involved. The manufacturers in attendance seemed to like it, although I think they missed the boat a bit with the possibilities such a camp could offer.

    Then you have the smaller media press camps put on by the bigger companies. I was invited by Gary Fisher Bikes to their press camp just before Interbike. They got a "pre-emptive strike" on all the Interbike coverage and had the complete attention of all the media on hand who all were writing up peices about two bikes. Amazing focus that I am willing to bet would never happen at any trade show. Is that value for the dollar spent by the brand? I would venture to say yes.

    I think the "press camp" idea bears watching and if brands begin to embrace it more, I see even Outdoor Demo suffering a bit as a result.
  7. Blogger blaza posted at 5:40 AM  
    I Like the ebay and marketing
    marketing
  8. Blogger Christina posted at 10:28 PM  
    I agree with phill....
    =========
    non voice projects
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