BY NICOLE FORMOSA
LIVIGNO, Italy—GT aims to grow its U.S. market share this year by developing a new consumer advertising campaign, building on its new traveling demo program and implementing sports marketing and merchandising initiatives.
“We plan to continue to increase market share and grow our dealer base in the U.S. This will be supported by continuing to invest in R&D, new products that differentiate GT from the competition and an increased investment in the GT brand,” said Bruno Maier, executive vice president of marketing and new business for Cannondale Sports Group, of which GT is a part.
For 2009, those new products include the much talked about carbon fiber downhill race bike, the GT Fury, a lighter and stiffer line of GTR carbon road bikes and an expansion of the 6-inch travel, full-suspension Force line to include two carbon models.
GT will also add the Zasker 29er hardtail and the Gutterball, a single-speed urban bike, to its stable.
“To stay at the forefront of cycling you really have to do a lot of different things in different categories,” said Mark Peterman, GT’s director of product, at a June press launch in the mountain village of Livigno, Italy, where several international and domestic journalists explored miles of high-alpine singletrack and steep mountain passes on GT’s new bikes.
The Fury replaces the popular DHi. While using carbon fiber for the monocoque frame was controversial, GT felt carbon was the best material to improve on the toughness of the DHi because it’s 10 times stronger than aluminum, Peterman said.
The Fury has 8.3 inches of rear travel and weighs in at 38 pounds, about the same as last year’s DHi.
“We designed this bike to be strong. We didn’t use carbon on this bike to make the lightest thing possible; we wanted to make the strongest bike possible,” said Robert Stemen, research and development manager for GT.
GT also shaved weight from its GTR road bikes and Force full-suspension bikes for 2009.
GT dealers who saw the new line at a launch in Madison, Wisconsin, in June were impressed.
“It’s going to be a tough market in 2009 because of the increase in cost of goods and the economy’s not as good as it was. They’ve done a good job not increasing prices, but at the same time offering something new,” said Dano Kinnee, owner of Retro City Cycles in Orlando, Florida.
Kinnee started selling GT in 1998, but dropped the brand in 2001 when Pacific Cycle bought it. He picked it up again last year and now carries 95 percent of the company’s IBD models.
He’s been pleased with the brand’s performance. “Our other full bike line is Jamis and one thing GT can do that Jamis can’t is they offer more bikes at a better value,” he said.
Steve Morateck, the general manager of Allis Bikes & Fitness in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has carried GT since the early 1990s. He said he saw a dip in sales after the Pacific Cycle purchase, but that business picked up again in 2007 and GT has sold even better this year.
“We’ve got a lot of hardcore GT fans, customers who grew up riding GT. Our following has been pretty strong throughout. Obviously GT has gone through changes over the years, but we’ve always had a strong consumer base,” he said.
Pacific Cycle acquired GT in 2001 and sold the brand in the sporting goods channel for several years before returning the brand to its roots in the IBD channel.
Morateck said he thinks GT is headed in the right direction, especially with its product, toward rebuilding brand recognition to where it was in the early days. But, he said, it’s a difficult task because the landscape has changed in the last two decades.
Specialized and Trek dealers have a much stronger foothold now, particularly with the growth of the concept store model.
“There were Specialized dealers in our town 10 years ago, although GT was a stronger name. Obviously that’s completely turned around,” Morateck said.
GT sells roughly 90,000 bikes in the U.S. IBD channel, while Specialized sells about 310,000 units and Trek sells more than 700,000.
While one goal is to increase market share, GT’s strategy goes beyond just getting the brand back to what it was in the 1990s.
The company is being guided by a recently completed brand research and discovery study that pointed to the independent rider, as opposed to factory racers, as the brand’s target customer.
“We’re making product on the leading edge that the pros kick ass on as well as affordable race-ready bikes for the privateer racer. We want to support all levels of racing and riding, not just the factory rider as it was back in the day,” Stemen said.