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Interbike Q&A: Gregg Bagni sounds off on state of trade shows, retail landscape

Published September 20, 2017

LAS VEGAS (BRAIN) — Gregg Bagni is like no other personality in the business. He’s hyper-informed, super-energetic and bubbling with creativity. A master at networking, he has a heartfelt enthusiasm for bicycles and, just as important, for the state of retail.

Still, Larry Hewett, Thule’s national sales manager and a longtime friend, noted, “He’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”

To make his point, Hewett, who ranks as one of the industry’s best raconteurs, recalled his first meeting with Bagni. At the time, Hewett was with Yakima and Bagni had been hired for some consulting.

“The first time I met him he looked at me and said, ‘Oh my god, you look like Kenny Rogers. Go to menwholooklikekennyrogers.com.’ I did and I couldn’t believe it. That was the first thing he said to me. That’s unusual,” Hewett recalled. 

But on a more business-like note, Hewett later hired Bagni to make a key presentation to a number of Thule’s best accounts while at Outdoor Retailer. “He did a great job. He was very animated and he was very positive on retail. But I’m not surprised that there are those who think he’s a bit kooky,” Hewett said. 

Some years ago at CABDA, Bagni developed a 1970s-themed booth for Schwinn complete with strobe lights, ’70s pop music, beads and staff decked out in bellbottoms. “That booth was nuts. It was like taking a trip back into the ’70s, and what better way to tell the Schwinn story,” Hewett said.

“The industry is lucky to have someone like him around. He’s truly one of the most interesting and out-of-the-box thinkers in the business,” Hewett added.

And it was Bagni — to celebrate Schwinn’s 100th anniversary in 1995 while at Interbike — who arranged to momentarily close traffic on the Las Vegas Strip. Soon, 100 Elvis impersonators, led by Father Guido Sarducci of “Saturday Night Live” fame, marched down the Strip to the Sands. It was quite a sight.

“I think he’s a marketing genius. He’s fascinating and he comes up with crazy ideas, but he’s always thinking,” said Skip Hess, who worked with Bagni while both were at Schwinn.

Today, the 63-year-old Bagni may enjoy a lower profile within the industry, but he’s been active nonetheless. He serves as a director with White Road Investments, a venture capital fund set up by Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, the founders of Clif Bar. 

The fund backed Santa Cruz Bicycles before it was sold to Pon, and it backed Public before its recent sale to Ken Martin at Mike’s Bikes. The fund has also been active in the natural foods industry.

As Bagni explained, the fund helps emerging, mission-driven companies grow. His role, often behind the scenes, is to offer counsel and inject some energy and direction around strategic branding, marketing and product development. “This gig is proof that I am the luckiest person on this planet — special thanks to my mother ship, Clif Bar,” he said.

Q: Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the planet and interstellar space. Your company, Alien Truth Communications, has made a fetish out of a hypothetical alien image. What’s that all about? 

A: I saw a spaceship. It was real. It was right there. It made me realize I, too, am not from this planet. When I left Schwinn my wife and I were shooting the shit one night trying to come up with a name for my company. We hit on Alien Truth Communications and it fit. People remember it, and I have fun with it.

Q:  You’re a fan of trade shows, or at least creating excitement around brands at trade shows. What do you see as the future for events like Interbike?

A: Trade shows can be cool, yet they aren’t cheap. However, face-to-face in today’s virtual non-facing world is incredible when it’s done right. Trade shows are big-ass rooms filled with hyper-competitive brands, and the shows that survive will be the ones where this hyper-competitiveness is combined with hyper-collaboration. Check out the natural foods industry or Outdoor Retailer for example. When I was at OR this summer, and just to show you how collaborative that show is, we all walked up to the Capitol to protest [Utah’s stance on public lands]. It was the coolest, friendliest and most positive event to send a message. It made for a really great show.

Q: But how relevant are trade shows in today’s digital world?

A: Again, face-to-face is critical. To give you a weird example, would you rather have sex virtually or with a live, loving and warm humanoid? Better yet, if you could write an order at a show, which doesn’t happen all that often anymore, that would be even better. Whether it’s consumer or trade, that’s what we all want — face time. Look at COMDEX or Comic-Con. Forget the first word [trade or consumer] and focus on the second word — show. Present a show to your customer. It’s all about the show, and that works. We need to put a fun and entertainment factor back into these things.  

Q: You’ve always been a fan of smart in-store retailing. How do you view the current state of retail among IBDs?

A: Retail isn’t easy. It’s harder than ever and guess what: There are too many retailers in all sorts of industries and categories. There’s a correction going on even as we speak. If you’re a great retailer who really understands people, product, promotion and location, you should survive. And one more thing: Those retailers who are going to survive are embracing and developing their own online sales efforts too.

Q: The word “omnichannel” has become so ubiquitous I think it should be banned. Nonetheless, what’s your take?

A: Great brands and great products get sold anywhere they fucking want to be sold. Get used to it. However, it’s up to the suppliers of these brands and products to make good decisions around distribution and have well-thought-out product lines and placement that fit their channels and retailers. This is tough, but I believe there’s only about 300 great retailers successfully managing their way through [this retail disruption] right now — operations like Erik’s, Mike’s Bikes, Kozy’s Cyclery, Richardson’s, to name a few. That makes one wonder, from a sales standpoint, whether this select group may be the only ones you really need to talk to?

Q: The commuting culture? Bike share? Will it grow? Can it help the industry?

A: I have deep respect for anyone who commutes. Unfortunately it’s still considered “hardcore.” I was hoping high gas prices would encourage more commuting, but it’ll probably be continually bad traffic in urban areas that ultimately drives commuting. Bike share is great but not profitable — yet. We have to keep encouraging cities to provide two wheels when and where people want them. Wherever we can get funds, we need to get them. We will figure out how to do bike share the right way, and it’s a value-add to consumers. It’s one more way to get people on bicycles. They are using bike share because they like it. It’s the most nimble way to get around town, if it’s safe.  

 

 

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