BY JASON NORMAN
VISTA, CA—When Electra Bicycle Company introduced its iPhone application in late January, many in the industry might not have even noticed.
But the California cruiser company’s “app” is a first for a bike brand and could signal a growing trend in how companies connect with consumers as more choose smartphones over conventional cell phones.
“You’re always trying to connect the consumers to dealers in a better way,” said Elayne Fowler, marketing director for Electra.
Electra’s app not only allows consumers to access its product line and helps finding the closest Electra dealer, it also gives the brand’s fans a way to share their photos with the Electra community.
Retailers like Midtown Bike Company in Memphis, Tennessee, have started using the app—which has already seen more than 1,000 downloads—as a selling resource on the shop floor.
“It’s a general companion of sorts,” said Dan Duckworth, general manager of Midtown Bike Company. Duckworth said the app works as a reference guide and in many instances is more efficient than referring to a product catalog.
Jayson Muroi, client advisor to Jax Bicycle Center’s Fullerton, California, store also finds Electra’s app useful.
“I personally use it,” he said. “It’s especially good when we don’t have the catalogs.”
Muroi foresees more companies creating apps as a way to create brand awareness in the near future. So does Electra’s Fowler. And one of the major advantages of smartphone apps is that no two have to be the same. “Others can adjust it to their brand,” Fowler said.
While the smartphone app revolution might be slow going in manufacturers’ circles, that’s not the case overall. Many industry members and retailers use their smartphones to stay connected in their personal and work lives.
And it’s not even the bike apps that excite them most.
“I’m very fond of an app called Convertbot,” Duckworth said. “It’s the slickest weight, distance and volume conversion app, and all I paid was 99 cents.”
The majority of smartphone apps available are either free or 99 cents.
Other standouts in Duckworth’s book include Google Docs where he can store and access price sheets, vendor communications and dealer agreements.
“I can also use my iPhone to ring up customers because I utilize Merchant OS (a POS system),” Duckworth said.
The most popular bike-related app among industry members is iMapMyRide. It uses built-in GPS technology on an iPhone to allow cyclists and most outdoor fitness enthusiasts to track their daily training data.
The most popular non-bike apps include social networking apps like Tweetdeck for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. And for music lovers, the streaming app Pandora is a hit for those long trips both on and off the bike.
Dustin Griess, a former industry member who worked in the IT department at QBP for several years and still races BMX, is hoping to make a living building and selling bike apps. His popular Cycling Grub app—he has one for mountain biking and BMX as well—quickly connects users to multiple cycling brands, media and retailers.
“I think it just saves people time,” Griess said. “I’ve been getting a lot of good traction from it.”