BY DOUG MCCLELLAN
TAICHUNG, Taiwan—Richard Storino has been attending industry trade shows since the BDS show was the highlight of the year.
In early December, Storino, the North American manager for Campagnolo, found himself sharing a crowded and noisy hotel suite with four other brands and with little more than a table on which to show Campy’s 2009 line. It was, in other words, an ideal venue: efficient, simple and cheap.
“I’ve never been to another show where everyone is so happy,” Storino said during a break between appointments. “It’s a straightforward, no BS, lay-it-out-on-the-table show.”
Welcome to the industry’s newest event—one that was not created by a marketing company but sprang up organically, and haphazardly, almost overnight.
Taichung, the capital of the global bicycle industry, is now the host of what has become a must-attend event for component suppliers and the bicycle brands that spec their products.
“At what show can you go out of your hotel room, have breakfast, take the elevator to another room, see components, have dinner together, go to bed, and not have to travel all over the place?” said Piet van der Valde, the European sales manager for VeloStrictly speaking, Taichung was not one event but an assortment of loosely affiliated mini-shows that took place simultaneously from Dec. 1-9. Many companies set up rooms at the Landis or nearby Evergreen hotels. Another group of suppliers sponsored Ride On Taiwan, which combined product presentations with test rides at a resort in the foothills west of Taichung.
Van der Valde helped organize an umbrella event called Taichung Bike Week, while Campagnolo oversaw what it called First In Performance. Velimpex and ProNet organized a group of suppliers for what it called Surf On.
By traveling to Taichung for a five-day presentation in a hotel suite, Storino and Claudio Santi, Campagnolo’s sales manager, saved themselves weeks of grueling road trips.
“I handle all of North America,” Storino said. “If I travel from the first of December, I won’t see everybody until April or May. It’s easier for the product manager and easier for the component manufacturer to come here.”
Every exhibitor told a similar story.
“One appointment that just left would have been a trip down to California that I don’t need to make now,” said Mike Kalmbach of ProNet, a Washington State distributor of such brands as Selle Italia and Vittoria.
Among the 35 to 40 customers that Crankbrothers’ Steve Cuomo expected to see were product managers from Norco, Rocky Mountain, Kona and Raleigh. Visiting those companies usually requires him to make the trip to Seattle and Vancouver.
Product managers have for years come to Taichung in late November or early December to meet with suppliers and finalize spec.
For seven years, WTB and SRAM have taken advantage of their presence by hosting product presentations.
In 2006, Ride On hosted its first event in Taichung after sponsoring OEM events in Europe. This year, Ride On organizer Mike Johnston said the event attracted 70 brands compared with less than 30 the first year. That translated to about 250 people who attended Ride On alone, he said.
With Ride On growing, events reached a critical mass as other suppliers realized that many of their key customers were heading for Taichung.
“If all my customers are in the same place at the same time, I can’t not be there,” said Tom Petrie of Velimpex.
When Ride On declined requests from Velimpex and others to include them in an expanded show, many of them scheduled simultaneous events.
“We’re not trying to be high and mighty,” Johnston said, adding that Ride On’s organizing companies worried that getting too big would interfere with its laid-back atmosphere.
“I was astonished by the number of companies that wanted to be included,” Johnston said on a warm afternoon as product managers tried 2009 prototypes from Crankbrothers, Hayes, Magura, Mavic and Fox.
The leaders of the various mini-shows met in Taichung and will explore joining forces for a 2008 event, several said. The event would take place at the Landis Hotel in downtown Taichung the first week of December. Van der Valde said Taichung Bike Week organizers reserved enough business suites at the Landis to house about 55 companies.
Tom Petrie is not sure if Velimpex would participate in a combined event, but he and Kalmbach plan to return to Taichung one way or the other.
“It will depend on the format and venue,” Petrie said. “We don’t want a trade show with customers wandering in and out of a booth. We want a conference room with fixed appointments and an organized schedule of presentations.”
However a future show is organized, participants say it can only get bigger. “Everybody in the industry is here,” said Storino. “It’s one-stop shopping.”