MONTEREY, CA—The weather gods looked down more favorably on this year’s Sea Otter Classic as attendees enjoyed mostly sunny skies, with a little frosty wind—make that a lot of wind on Saturday, when gusts reached 25 miles per hour.
Despite one blustery day, preliminary numbers show attendance was up from last year.
Across the board, consumer attendance nudged up about 5 percent with the highest number of spectators—roughly 15,000—showing up on Saturday, the chilliest day of the four-day festival.
“It was cool, which is OK, but we had very unusually high winds on Saturday, which was more of a discomfort than anything certainly for everybody—the athletes, the spectators, staff and so forth,” said Frank Yohannan, president and chief executive officer of the Sea Otter Classic.
Exhibitor sales were also up about 5 percent from 2007, Yohannan said.
The number of registered athletes was on par with last year, although some elite athletes skipped Sea Otter to race in the opening round of the Mountain Bike World Cup in Belgium.
Moreover, the road races lost some pro teams and riders to the Tour de Georgia, which staged the following week.
“While we certainly want to have as many of the top, elite athletes in the world attend, we recognize there are conflicts with other events,” Yohannan said, adding that the World Cup events weren’t finalized until after this year’s Sea Otter dates were announced last April.
“This is an Olympic year and there are a lot of events that are moved up. That did have an impact on us, but not a significant impact,” he added.
Sea Otter approved credentials for 350 members of the media, a jump of about 50 from the year before.
The new components and improvements to this year’s event—the product demo area, the bike skills zone and the SRAM Dual Stunt—were all well-attended and will be back next year, Yohannan said.
Next year’s Sea Otter, which is scheduled for April 16-19, will continue with the existing format but with improvements to the new elements.
New Product Everywhere
Companies continue to launch new product at Sea Otter including big players like Shimano and SRAM.
“Our investment here is massive,” said Eric Schutt, mountain bike public relations manager for SRAM. “We love this event, and find it a good place to talk about new product. The timing is right. Typically every other year we do a big launch. This is an event we’ll continue to launch new product at.”
Shimano and SRAM weren’t the only ones introducing product.
Crankbrothers showed its new Joplin height-adjustable hydraulic seatpost for the last time before it becomes available to the public, along with its new Cobalt wheelset with no holes in the rim and its quick-release skewers that come in a variety of colors.
Many newer companies also created quite a buzz.
Lezyne’s not even a year old and it turned heads with a new road pump integrated into the water bottle cage.
Lezyne is also building a reputation for having strong, functional and clean-looking multi-tools.
“I call it the credit card idea,” said Micki Kozuschek, owner of Lezyne. “The tools are very light, very low profile and very small.”
Urban bike maker Swobo returned to Sea Otter, doubling its model offerings to six in only a year’s time.
“We have 100 dealers within a year,” said Sky Yaeger, managing director of Swobo. “Obviously we started making bikes to do something different from road or mountain. And also because there must be a customer for simple three speeds. Everything’s gotten so complicated and full of carbon fiber. People just want a simple bike. The learning curve on how to ride one of these is a couple seconds. And with three speeds it’s just fantastic as far as no derailleur, nothing hanging out, no maintenance, no adjustment. It’s impervious to weather.”
Yaeger added that Swobo bikes have been selling well in cities such as San Francisco, New York, Boston and Portland, Oregon.
Doing Well, Despite Economy
Exhibitors within the dusty expo area appeared to be weathering the slumping economy.
Most companies reported growing numbers, especially the smaller, up-and-coming companies.
“We upgraded our booth this year,” said Bryant Thombs, owner of Evomo, a clothing company for the freeride, downhill and BMX crowd. “I’m seeinghuge traffic and crowds. As a newer company it looks like people are excited about what we’re doing. We have 14 guys [athletes] wearing the team jerseys. Our sales are definitely trending upward.”
Another clothing company, Loeka—just north of the border in Vancouver, British Columbia—is also doing well.
“We are up probably 70 to 80 percent this year,” said Rory Harmse, co-owner of Loeka. “This is only our second year. It’s a good jump for us. We’re expanding into the UK this year. We’re working with a small distributor over there. We want to grow big, but not too big. We want to still provide the customer service.”
Lezyne’s Kozuschek said the bicycle industry has always tended to be less dependent on the economy than other industries.
“We’re not in a very booming, high-growth industry,” he said. “The people that ride [do it] because they love to.”
Profile Design creative director Barry Smith said he’s “pretty happy” with sales of Titec and Bellwether product so far this year, but that it’s definitely a slower start than last year.
“My sales guys have been telling me that the weather has definitely affected it, but I think it’s got more to do with the economy,” Smith said. “It’s election year, too—everybody wants to see what’s going to happen.”
Even though it didn’t rain during the four days, Ming Tan, vice president of marketing and brand development for Look Cycle USA, said he was hoping for better weather to jumpstart the Northern California cycling season.
“Nor Cal dealers are concerned about the economy. What we hear from reps in Nor Cal is it has taken longer to get into the bike season. There are areas where consumers are being more conscious about spending,” Tan said.
Still, he said the affluent customer the company targets could withstand the economic downturn.
“Their disposable income is larger and they can still afford to buy bikes,” Tan said.
Some exhibitors were feeling the pinch at the pump as well.
“Considering we’re here with a bigger presence, we needed a bigger vehicle to transport our booth,” Evomo’s Thombs said. “The expense of the gas was definitely noticeable. The number of events I want to go to I have to cut down on. I’m just going to stick to the much larger ones, which means two or three for me, and rely more on the popularity of bloggers talking about us.”
Pete Stace-Smith, public relations and marketing manager for Norco, said Norco would spend $1,000 to drive its demo vehicle round-trip from Vancouver to Monterey.
“It’s something that we never had to budget for before,” he said.
The Place to Be
Regardless of weather forecasts and economic issues, Sea Otter continues to be an event where exhibitors love to have a big presence.
“We get great feedback from consumers,” said Shannon Stearns, global marketing manager for Camelbak, which promoted its new Podium bottle. “We get to feel what’s working and what’s not. That’s really part of why we’re here—our core consumers. This is where we started mountain biking. This is still one of the most important things for us as a company.”
GT brought out huge numbers of mountain bikes for demo including its Force and Sanction.
“Sea Otter’s a festival of participation,” said Mark Peterman, director of product development for GT. “We have a huge amount of people out there enjoying the product. I view Sea Otter as a place where people ride your sport and enjoy the sport.”
While at Sea Otter, the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association held a quarterly meeting and agreed to move the annual Bicycle Leadership Conference from San Diego to coincide with next year’s Sea Otter.
The move will make it easier and less costly for suppliers to attend a one- or two-day conference in the run-up to Sea Otter’s opening day.
Board members pointed out that many BPSA members already attend the annual event.
Adding an additional hotel night is far less expensive than setting aside two or three days to attend a separate conference.
The conference is open to retailers as well.
BPSA’s president, John Nedeau, and Sea Otter’s Yohannan plan to discuss how conference organizers can work with Sea Otter’s staff to enhance the annual meeting.