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Rick Vosper: Did BLC Mark a New Direction?

Published April 24, 2012

Just last week I talked about the Elephant In The Room Problem and how much I hoped folks would be willing to talk about it when I got to the Bicycle Leadership Conference later that week.

So imagine my surprise when I got to Monterey and discovered that far from being ignored, it was a primary topic at the conference.

Speaker after speaker got up and told BLC attendees that if the bicycle business in the United States is to have any sort of future at all, it will necessarily have to expand beyond its present aging core of enthusiasts and reach out to include the legions of cyclists who want to ride bikes for reasons other than sport — the commute, fitness, transport, and utility categories, among others.

Either existing bike brands will expand to embrace these categories, the speakers told us, or their competitors will.

There were no impassioned speeches from the attendees in response to these announcements, no revival-camp-meeting-style pledges of support. Just a lot of thoughtful head-nodding and note-taking. But this, my friends, is what just might be what is called a sea change in the thinking among the supplier community in this country.

Retailers may find this sort of brouhaha amusing, all the more so because they've been telling us many of these same things for years. But for those of us on the supplier side of the equation, this change in thinking — if that's what it is — may turn out to be a pretty big deal. And assuming it turns out to be the case, it will require two kinds of things in order to be successful.

The first of course, is new generations of products. But the existing development process is very good at creating these once the brands are clear on what they want them to be.

The second — and to me, the more difficult challenge — is finding ways for brands to reach out to these emerging communities of cyclists to tell them about their new products. I'll talk about some possibilities for these next week, but in the meantime, here's the big takeaway:

As discussed previously, bike brands currently fund marketing to enthusiasts by subsidizing those costs among other categories and relying on key influencers to spread sales to them.

But when those same brands want to start marketing directly to those other categories, well, something's got to give. And the results — at least for traditional enthusiast marketing — may not be pretty.

Editor's note: Rick Vosper's quarter century in the cycling business includes executive stints as director of Airborne Bicycles, director of global marketing for Specialized Bicycles, and VP of marketing & product for Veltec Sports. Outside the cycling industry, he's worked as an award-winning copywriter and creative director for advertising, collateral, web, and multimedia agencies.

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