BY NICOLE FORMOSA
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CA—If there’s one lesson Interbike show director Andy Tompkins will take away from the bedlam caused by an attempt to move the dates and venue of the 2011 show, it’s that any change to the annual trade show needs to be broadly embraced.
That became clear almost immediately following Interbike’s Sept. 18 announcement, just two days before the start of this year’s show. Retailers squawked immediately at the new early August dates and the switch to Anaheim. It was soon obvious that Interbike had misread a critical segment of the market, Tompkins said.
“After the announcement I became a very sought after person to speak with and share opinions with,” Tompkins said. “We have a very big marketplace we’re serving, with many different perspectives. Dealers were speaking from the heart, saying this is what we do at Interbike, this is how we use the show. It was more profound than at any time in my three years as show director where I really felt like I was getting true and
After Interbike 2010 wrapped, Tompkins returned to Interbike’s offices in Southern California deeply concerned about the negative feedback he heard from retailers. “We thought we were responding to a market need, clearly we were not,” he said.
He began reevaluating the decision, polling his supporters like the National Bicycle Dealers Association on the next move, and looking into a venue that could support later dates. At that point, Interbike had not yet signed a contract with Anaheim, Tompkins said.
Two weeks later, after remaining silent on any logistics related to the move to Anaheim, Interbike backtracked, returning the show to Las Vegas next year and in 2012. That would finish a five-year contract with the Sands Convention Center. Show dates in 2011 are Sept. 12-16—the only September timeframe available—and Sept. 17-21 in 2012.
The industry breathed a collective sigh of relief, having spent weeks fretting over the higher costs of traveling to and staying in Anaheim, the nearness of the new dates to Eurobike or the notion of being away from their store during one of the busiest times of the year.
“I think it shows that Interbike cares about the dealers. They reversed their decision and that means a lot to go up and say, ‘Hey it was wrong, let’s change it.’ I think it shows commitment to the industry instead of making the industry follow them,” said Jim Mincher, who’s owned Two Wheeler Dealer in Wilmington, North Carolina, for 36 years.
Mincher has been to every Interbike since its inception and typically brings three or four of his 15 employees to the show. He was considering skipping the 2011 show due to the inconvenience of the timing.
Exhibitors also expressed gratitude to Interbike for its reversal.
“It’s nice to know that they’re listening and I think they’re in a position that they have to be,” said Matt VanEnkevort, managing director of FSA North America. “I think the fact that they heard it at least says the organizing body is paying attention. I think, from their perspective, it would’ve been better not to announce in the first place and done their homework in advance.”
Although he admits the research process wasn’t deep enough, Tompkins didn’t make the decision to move the show on his own. He had support from the NBDA, Bikes Belong and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association—all of which have financial ties to Interbike—and suppliers like Raleigh and Advanced Sports Inc.
The process of exploring a date change began early this year after organizers heard concerns at the 2009 show that the late September timing missed retailers’ key buying window.
In January, Interbike emailed a survey to its entire retailer database—12,000 individuals—of which it got a 10 to 15 percent response rate. The majority of retailers reportedly were neutral or in agreement that moving the show to better align with the industry’s sales cycle would provide retailers with more “timely, relevant and efficient preseason ordering and decision-making information.”
Interbike followed that up with a second survey sent to 1,000 exhibitors in May asking if the company would be in favor of moving Interbike from late September to early August. In that poll, the August dates were more favorable, Tompkins said.
Tompkins and Interbike’s sales staff also had phone conversations with exhibitors who indicated they would support the move.
Feeling like there was adequate backing, Interbike initially considered the first week of August, but backed off that time due to overlap with Outdoor Retailer. It also sparked a highly negative reaction from the Outdoor Industry Association.
Interbike then settled on Aug. 8-12 in Anaheim, where the summer temperatures wouldn’t be quite as hot as Las Vegas for Outdoor Demo and where a consumer day would be appropriate given Southern California’s large cycling market.
But, as soon as it announced new dates and venue, retailers balked. Informal web polls facilitated by Quality Bicycle Products, Bicycle Retailer & Industry News as well as others showed little support for the earlier dates and exhibitors worried that retailers wouldn’t come to Anaheim next year.
Support from early advocates began to wane.
Lance Donnell, president of Sinclair Imports, said he was an early proponent of the move and told Interbike sales manager Andria Klinger four or five months earlier that he would support the date change.
Although it made sense in theory, once the new dates came out, his European suppliers said they wouldn’t have new product lines ready to show at Interbike and retailers indicated they wouldn’t leave their shops in early August. And Donnell wondered where he could throw his annual Interbike party, which attracts up to 1,800 people.
He began to reconsider the $50,000 investment he makes every year to exhibit and planned to reduce his footprint by half in 2011.
“We were left with very few strong supporters,” Tompkins said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t have broad-based support for these dates.”
After Tompkins reversed his decision, he quickly stepped up with a mea culpa, saying that his personal credibility and the show’s image had taken a hit for the indecisiveness and lack of transparency during the eight-month process of deciding when and where to move the show.
“We’re admitting that it was too rushed. I think that’s part of the challenge here; we weren’t able to make the industry feel like it was their decision. By reversing it, I think we’re acknowledging this wasn’t done completely correctly so we’re going to try to give the industry what it wants right now.”
With the short-term future of Interbike settled, Interbike has its hands full looking to the future. The same problems persist: the show is expensive—FSA’s VanEnkenvort estimates he spends about $100,000 every year to be at Interbike and the cost-to-benefit ratio is not always as clear as with Taipei Cycle or Eurobike—and the industry continues to splinter with more suppliers every year spending a larger chunk of their marketing dollars on their own dealer events and reducing their presence at Interbike.
Chuck Hooper, president of Seattle Bicycle Supply, said, “Although everybody in the industry is responsible for their own businesses, the big companies as well as the smallest companies really have a place at these trade shows. Some that opt not to go are doing themselves and the industry a disservice.
“There is strength in numbers and we want to build our industry and be around, so we all have to participate,” Hooper said. “Interbike needs to make a stronger marketing push to bring people in, selling them on the importance of what they can accomplish at the show,” he added.
Over the next six months, Interbike staff will consider how to add value to the show for exhibitors and retailers. That could mean tacking on a consumer day, cultivating more of a festival atmosphere or considering new networking and education opportunities. Interbike is creating a new marketing director position to head up the charge. It will also continue to weigh the best timeframe and venue for Interbike beyond 2012.
In doing that, Tompkins said he knows that Interbike has to be more open this time around about any changes. That means more surveys—Interbike will likely hire a third-party company to better poll the industry—interviews with the media, and forming an advisory group of retailers, manufacturers, parts suppliers and media to weigh in on future decisions.
“The U.S. marketplace does need a unifying event. That is clear; the details of it are not,” Tompkins said. “We’re going to try to bring these myriad voices to more of a chorus.”