By Nicole Formosa
When Ryan Gurr’s Specialized rep invited him on a four-day trip west to the Amgen Tour of California, he assumed he would be sitting in on some sort of new product presentation.
Instead, the owner of St. George, Utah’s Red Rock Bicycle Company, along with a half-dozen other top Specialized dealers, was treated to VIP access to the stage race, team car rides at the time trial in Solvang, spins along unspoiled sections of California’s coastline with Specialized founder Mike Sinyard and tours and tastings at the region’s wineries.
Though dealers rode many miles alongside Specialized’s national sales manager and three of its regional managers, there was little talk of business.
Kent Cranford, owner of Motion Makers in Asheville, North Carolina, appreciated the no-pressure atmosphere where he wasn’t pinned down to make any buying decisions.
“It’s just another notch in the belt of our relationship” with Specialized, Cranford said, after the trip wrapped up with a ride overlooking the Pacific Ocean and along Santa Barbara’s famed State Street.
Because of the significant investment many large suppliers make to support the Tour of California, there are plenty of opportunities to pass along VIP privileges to existing or prospective dealers in the interest of building the foundation for future business.
Giant, sponsor of the Rabobank team, flew in eight dealers, including a few the brand is courting, to ride and dine with the team in the Tahoe area before the race started.
Although Giant manned a booth at the Lifestyle Festival at all eight stages of the race, the company generally sees a better return on investment in holding a private dealer event than giving away cowbells and free bags to consumers who wander the expo area.
“Those are folks who really have touch points with the consumer, and they’re posting about it on their website and Facebook,” said Patrick VanHorn, Giant’s corporate communications manager as consumers milled under Giant’s tent at the Solvang stage.
And with the cost for space at the expo precluding most retailers from buying their own booth, suppliers often open their space to their customers. Mad Cat Bicycles, a Giant store in Sacramento, set up in Giant’s booth at that city’s expo, and handed out VIP cards good for a 25 percent discount at the shop.
The Lifestyle Festival continues to get mixed reviews among exhibitors. It’s costly—prices start at about $10,000 for a 10x10 booth and many paid $30,000 or more for the week—and crowds are typically slim until the race closes in on L.A. Each stage has a different layout, meaning you can either score with your booth placement or be tucked away from pedestrian traffic.
Campagnolo, exhibiting at the race for the first time, happened to score. At stage six in Solvang, Campy’s 10x20 tent benefitted from its proximity to the time trial starting line and the crowds of spectators it attracted.
“I’ve probably put 10 people on bikes that have never ridden Campagnolo. …You can’t beat the exposure,” said Marty Kozicki, OEM sales manager for Campagnolo, as potential future Campy riders spun on trainers set up under the tent.
It helps that organizers are more flexible with the expo, now in its sixth year. In the past, exhibitors had to pay for space at every stop of the eight-day race; now they can choose what makes the most sense for the brand.
“I targeted cities that I knew were the best for cycling culture and where we had dealers close by,” said Adrian Montgomery, PR and marketing manager for Scott Sports, which bought booth space in Lake Tahoe, Mt. Baldy and Thousand Oaks.
Scott’s package also included advertisements on the Jumbotron and on the Versus television channel that aired during race coverage. The brand also sponsored Amgen’s Legends Ride in Lake Tahoe where it unveiled its new Foil road bike, and brought in dealers for the event.
The festival is expensive but for Scott Sports, which is not sponsoring a pro tour team this year, the exposure to 1,500 to 2,000 consumers a day is well worth the investment, Montgomery said.
“What we’re doing here is supporting the largest cycling event in the country. If we don’t do this, we’re not going to have a road race in the U.S. This is our only shot. This is growing the pie and I want my slice to be bigger,” he said.