By Joe Nocella
In the whole scheme of things my shop, 718 Cyclery, is quite young. Two years in my back yard, one year in a small storefront and now a full year under our belt in a nice big space in Brooklyn. With so much going on just to get the shop running and sustainable, the thought of heading to Vegas for a “bike convention” had never crossed my mind.
This year was a real turning point for the shop, and I was finally able to find time in my schedule and space in my brain to contemplate the potential benefits of traveling to Interbike 2012. With the shop, my day job (architect), my not-for-profit (inner-city lacrosse), my teaching gig (Pratt Institute) and family (wife, kids, dogs, cats) on notice, I planned my trek to Vegas.
It was probably June when I decided to take the leap and sign up. I found the registration site a bit confusing. (Was there a fee? Did I actually just register?) I also found the connected hotel and travel web links a bit confusing. In the end, I received a registration number and was all set.
Soon thereafter, I began receiving a barrage of emails about this party and that event. None of it really made it on my radar, but in hindsight I should have paid more attention. My staff was concerned that I would sign us up for some inappropriate bike line, and cautioned me to think before I signed up for two dozen Chinese folding recumbents.
With all the things I was looking to avoid, I thought about what I wanted to see. This list may sound naive, but I purposely approached Interbike without any preconceived notions. I wanted to:
- Buy a spoke cutter from Phil Wood.
- Meet some of the amazing companies that we do a lot of business with (Paul Components, Phil Wood, White Industries, Thomson, Chris King).
- Look for software that could help us develop our online presence in a way consistent with who we are.
- Seek out a line of bikes that would work well in our shop. I’d know it when I saw it.
- Find a line of shoes that we could get into without a massive buy-in.
- Search for framebuilders, since we do a lot of custom builds.
- Check in with the bike lines we already carry (Salsa, Surly, Public, Mission, State, Leader, Montague, Handsome, Lapierre, Torker, Devinci and Rocky Mountain).
I planned to heed the two bits of advice I had been given. The first was no make NO appointments and just wander unencumbered. I was mostly successful, although I couldn't resist an informal meeting with my local Bell/Giro rep, Harry Schwarzmann. The second piece of advice was to take a roller bag for the many catalogs I was sure to gather.
I spent Tuesday evening playing text tag with a few NYC shops I wanted to connect with. Being independent, small and relatively new, I don’t have the cadre of bike buddies that I hope to have in 10 years. Consequently, my first evening was spent wandering the casino floor, losing money in small batches.
After a great night’s sleep in my surprisingly upgraded oversize suite at the Venetian, I awoke with a mission. I had breakfast and made my way over to the Sands Expo Center. Then my worlds collided. A few years back, I had attended an architecture/computer conference in the same exhibit halls, same registration area.
Being first on the registration line, before the doors opened, I made a few friends. A PowerBar rep here, a journalist from Taiwan there. Registration went smoothly, and I had my first industry-specific hanging name tag; I felt like such a player. Dampening this flush feeling was the fact that I had assumed that the main hall opened at 8 a.m., but in fact I had to wait until 9 a.m. for the main opening.
The waiting area swelled with hundreds if not thousands of people as it approached 9 a.m. I tried making sense of the paper map, but I found it unwieldy. I then downloaded the Interbike app, and found it quite useful. Many people in the holding area seemed poised to make a mad dash to various swag-laden booths when the doors flung open.
Mine was a more measured approach: I wanted to see a man about a spoke cutter. As the smartphone chirped 9 a.m., people walked briskly through the main hall doors. It was the kind of quick walk you do as a kid when told not to run. Consulting my app, I calmly strolled up to the Phil Wood booth and purchased Spoke Cutter #1837 from Leroy. I arranged to pick up my new 32-pound bundle of joy later that day, and set out to explore the floor proper.
Being an architect (and having been in this room before), I decided on a systematic “up and down every aisle” approach not unlike a sonar-towing destroyer in World War II. I ignored all the booths on my way to my jump-off point in the back corner, as I didn’t want to lose focus. The system works, I kept reminding myself.
I arrived at my jump-off point, took a deep breath, and embarked. Up and down the rows I went, pausing at booths that looked interesting. I made a point to stop at vendors who gave me a shot early on, as I wanted to make connections with the folks I had only talked to on the phone up to this point. I got to shake hands of idols such as Paul Price of Paul Components and Thomson president Brian Thomson.
What did strike me was how out of place I felt. In walking by mega-manufacturers’ booths, where there were rows of desks and chairs, it reminded me that this is the place where big preseason deals are struck by massive stores. Maybe we’ll be at the table someday, but maybe that’s not what I want.
There were moments when I felt like a minor big shot. At the QBP and J&B Importers booths, I was instantly recognized for the film made about us a few moths ago (“The Inverted Bike Shop” — see trailer below) that was screened by both respective companies for their employees. (Who wouldn’t like hearing “You’re the guy from the movie”). Yeah, I felt like Brad Pitt.
In the end, I wasn't that successful in finding what I was looking for in my initial list. By being relatively naive about the show going in, I think I set myself up for a little disappointment. I cemented relationships I already had with vendors that we deal with, but didn't really make any new ones.
Realizing that I represented such small potatoes to many of these vendors was sobering. But my biggest and most encouraging takeaway was the feeling that there aren't many shops out there doing it the way we do it. Will I go back next year? It’s a resounding maybe.