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CycloFest exhibitors report strong traffic in event's second year

Published October 23, 2017
Retail attendance continues to be highly regional at Interbike’s East Coast trade/consumer festival.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BRAIN) — On what was expected to be the peak day of Interbike's second annual Fall CycloFest trade and consumer festival, cyclists lined up at the Specialized booth all day Saturday to try out one of the Morgan Hill, California, brand's dozens of bikes available for demo at host venue the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

With a prime booth location next to one of the festival's two entrances, Specialized sent retailers out on 60 demos during Thursday's trade-only opening day. Friday's trade morning got off to a slower start, but once consumer hours kicked in just after lunchtime, Specialized staff worked continuously to get out more than 100 demos by day's end. Derrick Lewis, Eastern regional marketing manager for Specialized, expected to double that total Saturday, when the demo was open to the public all day.

“We could have brought 100 more bikes and still not satisfied the demand,” he said.

Most exhibitors returning to CycloFest this year said retail traffic was on par with last year's event, and that they seemed busier during the consumer hours through Saturday. (CycloFest continued Sunday with a pair of social road and gravel rides and a shorter public expo day.)

Whether that busier atmosphere was the product of rising attendance or a smaller overall footprint and exhibitor count this year — just under 60 companies, down from 115 last year — or perhaps both, was unclear. Interbike said it will not report attendance numbers for either retailers or consumers this year because parent Emerald Expositions became a publicly traded company last spring.

At the Pivot Cycles booth, sales manager Bryan Mason said he and his crew sent out about 30 demos on the opening trade day, in line with last year's count.

Distributor Qarv Imports came to CycloFest this year as it introduces Spanish mountain bike brand Mondraker to the U.S. market. Kervin Quinones, Qarv's founder,  had hoped for more retail traffic during the fest's trade-only hours, but said he still had a number of productive dealer conversations.

“The nice thing about it being somewhat slow is you have the time to really talk with people,” he said.

“It was slower than I hoped, but the quality of people was really good,” Raleigh's Rob Kaplan said of the retail-only demo day.

Flagging retail attendance on CycloFest's second trade day was a common criticism following last year's event. To boost traffic this year, Interbike opened the expo to the public starting at 1 p.m. Friday.

Norco Bicycles' Terry Duran lamented Friday morning that his staff largely sat idle before the consumer hours kicked in. “It's open to retailers now, but there's no one here,” he said. “But if it's big (on Saturday) and we get all these bikes out, it's worth it. There are only two or three bikes out right now.”

Niner Bikes' Lucas Perez said he sent out 10 demos from his 30-bike fleet Friday morning, but that activity picked up significantly as consumers poured in Friday afternoon.

Santa Cruz Bicycles' David Frye said he saw about the same number of dealers as last year, and was anticipating a second successful year for the brand at CycloFest.

“I saw a lot of comments last year that it was slow, but it was great for us. We put out more demos that weekend than we had all season long. We really had our heads down. As a demo event for brands that people want to ride, it's cranking. But for other things like clothing and accessories, nobody seemed to care too much,” he said.

Based in nearby Columbia, South Carolina, distributor Hawley returned to CycloFest this year with a booth dedicated to bike care brand Muc-Off. Staff stayed busy handing out product samples before running out mid-day Saturday. “We've seen a lot more people than last year. We brought 600 sample bags this year, thinking it would be more than enough. We probably could have brought twice that,” Hawley's Matt Tagliaferri said.

Exhibitors BRAIN spoke to during the two trade days said retail attendance was highly regional, drawing from the Carolinas and other nearby states, with a few outliers from farther away. Interbike had expected that regionality given retailer attendance at last year's CycloFest.

“Florida is the farthest we've seen, and one guy from Connecticut,” Niner's Perez said.

“We've seen several guys from Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia and of course Tennessee and South Carolina. But how far west are they coming from to get here, I don't know,” said Norco's Duran.

“My sense is it's not drawing as much from the Northeast of mid-Atlantic as it did last year,” Kaplan noted at the Raleigh booth.

Cooper River Cycles manager KC Hazelwood drove three hours from Charleston, South Carolina, to attend the second trade day after the store's owner attended the opening day. Retirees are a large part of his shop's customer base, so Hazelwood came to CycloFest to check out the variety of brands displaying e-bikes, particularly electric hybrids.

“More people are ordering them online and bringing them in for us to build, so we figure why not have them in the store,” he said.

Tim Comerford and a fellow employee of Spin Bike Shop drove nine hours from Lakewood, Ohio, for both trade days. The shop already carries Santa Cruz and Specialized as well as Focus, which also had a booth  at this year's festival.

“We demo'd a lot of the stuff we already have so we can get more of a feel for it and also share that experience with our customers and tell them we rode those bikes in North Carolina, because where we're at in Ohio it's fairly flat,” Comerford said.

He also attended as many seminars as he could during CycloFest's pre-demo morning education schedule, which included tech clinics from SR Suntour, Campagnolo and SRAM; sessions with POS provider Lightspeed; and a two-part Mann U program from industry consultant Dan Mann.

“I did both Lightspeed and Mann U, and both were very informative because we do have Lightspeed. It wasn't selling one of their products; it was demoing it. I absolutely loved it,” Comerford said. “I definitely have a lot of tools to change our selling standards. So I have essentially a lot of ammo, so to speak, to back me up.”

An avid mountain biker, Jesse Tomkins stumbled upon CycloFest last year when he came to the Whitewater Center to do his regular weekend ride on the facility's extensive trail network.This year, he came to the Friday and Saturday consumer days in search of his  next bike.

“These are my go-to trails. But I also want to get out to Pisgah (National Forest) and do some enduros, so I'm looking for that one-quiver bike,” said Tomkins, who lives less than a half-hour away from Charlotte in Huntersville, North Carolina.

On Friday's partial consumer day, he took out four different Rocky Mountain models. “I pretty much rode all of Rocky Mountain's line, so I'm kind of wiped out,” he said.

Charlotte resident Jake Heinz also was on the hunt for a new bike, but found little in his price range to demo. He started mountain biking four years ago and has slowly moved up in price point, buying demo bikes from the Whitewater Center at the end of the season. Now he's looking for a new rig around $1,500. His local bike shop recommended that he go to CycloFest.

“The unfortunate thing about the bike tents is that every bike for demo is super expensive. If you're looking for that entry-level bike or just above that, there's nothing,” he said. “Nobody had hardtails, that's one thing. All they have is full suspension. And I get it that they're going to demo their top-of-the-line bikes, but the first bike I rode was $9,000. It'd be nice to see a $2,000-and-under bike.”

For more on CylcloFest, see the December 1 print edition of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

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