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Exhibitor and attendance numbers trend up at Sea Otter

Published May 2, 2024
Camping reservations set an event record.

MONTEREY, Calif. (BRAIN) — Let James Ayres, Haro Bike’s director of North American sales, put the spotlight on this season’s Sea Otter Classic: “It literally blew us away. It was borderline flabbergasting,” said Ayres in an interview.

For Haro, this year’s Sea Otter was a coming-out affair as it showcased for consumers its new line of mountain, gravel, and road bikes, adding a different dimension to its traditional role as a key player in the BMX market.

“We are going in a new and different direction, and we worried that there’d be naysayers telling us to ‘stay in your lane.’ But we saw a ton of people excited about our new lineup. A lot of them had been connected to Haro from BMX, so for us it was overwhelmingly positive,” Ayres said.

As for Sea Otter overall, Frank Yohannan, the event's co-founder, said he was pleased with consumer traffic, the continued strength of its race program, and the record turnout for on-site camping. And as for the number of vendors, always a key metric, Sea Otter enjoyed a 7% increase in exhibitors over last year. 

Booth count went from 525 to 560 this year, he said, noting that those vendors incorporated about 1,000 brands. “We like to measure corporate brands. For example, SRAM may have 10 different brands, but we count them as one exhibitor,” he said.

Sea Otter over the last several years has tried to entice more retailers to come out and visit the expo during Industry Day. About 500 or so turned out, but Yohannan noted that number included multiple members from a single store.

Still, exhibitors interviewed by BRAIN noted that dealers, wearing a prominent badge identifying them, had dropped in to kick tires and checkout programs.

Rob Kaplan, Bull’s head of North American sales, said, “the traffic seemed up over last year and the vibe in general was positive.” But, he added, he was pleased dealers were also there. 

“We saw some dealers, and that’s good, but we would love to see Sea Otter lean into how to make it more of a replacement for Interbike (in terms of dealer attendance.)  A lot of dealers go to Sea Otter as a vacation and to see their brands,” Kaplan said. But convincing more dealers to come would be a major plus, he added.

Steve Gluckman, REI’s former bicycle product manager and now consulting part-time with Tern, said he had a chance to talk with several of Tern’s current dealer base as well as dealers who wanted to learn more about Tern and its programs. 

Gluckman, who refers to himself as a “fractional executive” at Tern, pointed out that this was the first time Tern had exhibited at Sea Otter; Gluckman said he will recommend to management in Taiwan to return next year. “From an efficiency standpoint, the ROI for us was there.”

A steady flow of visitors stopped at Tern and the location helped. Tern was directly across from Trek — which had a much larger presence at Sea Otter than in recent years. As for consumers, “We had great conversations, absolutely, and overall, I thought it was really a good event. There really is nothing else like it,” he said.

The numbers collected by Sea Otter officials appear to back up the general mood among exhibitors as to the high volume of traffic that moved through the Laguna Seca Raceway over four days. Some 77,000 people came out for the event over its four days, a slight uptick from last year. Yohannan said.

As for on-site campers, it was a record, based on estimates. Some 7,500 people spent 3,300 nights at the area's 940 campsites, paying rates ranging from $135 per night for sites with RV hookups (360 locations with power, water, and toilets) to $95 a night to camp on the area’s grassy knolls. “We had our highest camping numbers with camp nights sold out,” he said. 

Sea Otter calculates the total number of campers by using a multiple of 2.3  people per sold campsite. “We have a three-night minimum, but a lot come and spend four or five nights with us,” he said. 

Bolstering Sea Otter’s strategic position in the U.S. bicycle market was its continued strong draw among racers with 7,600 signing up to race in a variety of events. More importantly for exhibitors, perhaps, was a continued strong showing among U.S. and international media with approximately 350 picking up credentials. 

For Haro’s James Ayres the media coverage the Southern California company received over its new push into mountain and gravel was “over the top."

Yohannan noted that Sea Otter “always gets some international media from Europe and elsewhere, and this year we had a reporter from the BBC, stationed in San Francisco, call to get credentials.” 

Photo courtesy of Sea Otter Classic.
Topics associated with this article: Sea Otter Classic

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