BY JASON NORMAN
LAS VEGAS, NV—The troubles on Wall Street were hard to discern at Interbike where the mood of those attending and exhibiting was largely positive.
Attendance at the show was up once again, as more than 23,400 exhibitors and retailers filled the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
“It was rewarding to hear that despite difficult economic times, both retailers and exhibitors seemed to agree that their investment in Interbike was worthwhile and the event is absolutely necessary to attend to see what’s new and further develop business relationships,” said Andy Tompkins, show director for Interbike.
More than 11,000 buyers were able to make informed purchase decisions by interacting with approximately 1,100 brands, as well as industry non-profit and advocacy organizations.
Even up against Eurobike’s early September dates, Interbike’s international contingent held strong with 1,683 buyers representing roughly 60 countries.
All these positive Interbike attendance numbers point to a resilient industry that’s weathering the economic storm well.
“Interbike makes the research and groundwork for buying decisions easier by putting all of the major brands in one place,” said Ronnie Bratcher from Reality Bikes in Cumming, Georgia. “I was extremely pleased with all of the product I saw and the renewed focus on bikes that fit the needs of the average consumer.”
Preston Martin, vice president of Bicycle Technologies International (BTI), said he was surprised by the “overwhelming amount” of new dealer inquiries.
“We had 100 applications and we handed them all out,” Martin said. “We usually hand quite a few out, but not as many as we did this year.”
Martin couldn’t pinpoint what drove so many new dealers to his booth, but he did hypothesize that perhaps these dealers are seeing equity firms investing in bike companies, such as Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking’s cash infusion into SRAM, and feel they, too, should invest in the bike business.
“Maybe that same logic holds true for these individuals,” Martin said.
Nearly 5,000 people contributed to record attendance at the two-day Outdoor Demo and more than 200 brands helped make this year’s event the largest since Interbike launched the outdoor expo 13 years ago.
“Demo’s a place for us to allow potential and current customers to sample our new products. A lot of shop guys come out and ride,” said Mark Peterman, GT’s director of product development.
The industry placed more emphasis on commuter, urban and lifestyle bike categories as a result of high gas prices.
Companies such as Masi Bicycles, for example, displayed their urban models on the outside of their booth, while keeping their race bikes on the inside.
“Manufacturers and retailers were talking about swelling interest for commuter, urban and electric and folding bikes, and a rise in people that are using bicycles to ride to work, a quick trip to the corner grocery store or an outing with their family,” Tompkins said. “This new consumer segment is providing economic opportunities for the entire industry.”
In order to demonstrate business opportunities in this category, Interbike added a new show feature. The Urban Legend Fashion and Art Show presented by Momentum Magazine highlighted how real people use the latest in cycling-friendly bikes, clothing, bags and accessories for everyday life.
Most companies Bicycle Retailer & Industry News spoke with felt that traffic at the show was up, which makes sense considering that attendees represented 3,851 unique retail businesses, up from last year.
Dealers’ thoughts while cruising the show floor mainly focused on ways to overcome the sputtering economy.
“Dealers wanted to talk about how the economy has created an opportunity for them to grow their service business,” said Bill Armas, marketing director for Park Tool.
The faltering economy seems to be having little effect on bike retail sales. Tifosi Optics marketing director Shannon Haslam said dealers reported having a decent second quarter.
Many said their accessory sales were up, which was good news for the Georgia-based eyewear company.
“There was definitely a bit of uncertainty with the economy overall,” Haslam said. “Retailers are feeling the credit crunch a bit and analyzing their purchases more carefully.
“I think seeing fewer shop employees is indicative of the fact that retailers are tightening their belts a bit, too,” she added. “There seems to be a general feeling of uncertainty for everyone, but also a knowledge that conducting business as usual is the most productive thing to do right now.”
Dustin Spencer, aftermarket sales and customer service manager for Fox Racing Shox, said the dealers he spoke with were doing well in commuter and high-end sales.
“Two of my larger online guys are opening new facilities to keep up with growth,” Spencer said. “I think the new commuter business increase will result in higher-end bike sales to those same customers down the road.”
Much of the buzz surrounding this year’s show didn’t involve new product or the economy, but rather a cycling legend. Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong raced in CrossVegas, and the next day held a press conference at Interbike to make his comeback intentions known.
“It crossed my mind 20 minutes into CrossVegas, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’” said a smiling Armstrong of his return to competitive road racing. Armstrong finished the race in the middle of the pack.
Armstrong said he would race for at least one year with Team Astana.
The press conference wasn’t without drama as another American cycling legend, Greg LeMond—who had a front-row seat—asked doping-related questions to Armstrong and independent anti-doping expert, American Don Caitlin.
Armstrong enlisted Caitlin to regularly test him and post those results to the Internet.
Some in the industry, like Masi Bicycles brand manager Tim Jackson, feel that Armstrong’s return will boost road bike sales for 2009, not just for Trek—the brand that Armstrong has long ridden.
“I’ve had one retailer tell me that ever since Lance announced he’s coming back, he hasn’t been able to keep road bikes in stock,” Jackson said. “He can’t build them fast enough.”
The media was there to cover it all as close to 600 journalists attended this year’s Interbike—a double-digit increase compared to last year.
Media attendees represented non-endemic publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Wired Magazine along with cycling-focused magazines, Web sites, blogs and podcasts.
Next year’s Outdoor Demo and indoor show are scheduled for Sept. 21- 22, and 23-25, respectively.