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QBP wages Web war at Frostbike

Published February 20, 2012

Editor's note: The following is an update correcting information about Quality Bicycle Products’ “Buy Local Buy Now!” initiative:

BLOOMINGTON, MN (BRAIN)—Quality Bicycle Products founder and president Steve Flagg minced no words in drawing the battle lines: “I believe that our industry is losing the war against the Chain Reactions, the Wiggles, the Amazons,” he told the crowd assembled for Friday’s VIP retailer dinner to kick off Frostbike 2012.

“We think that together with all of you we can address this problem.”

Launching QBP’s “Buy Local Buy Now!” campaign, Flagg sketched out the potential strategy:

A consumer could log on to a QBP vendor’s website and select a product, then click on a button that pulls up a map showing the consumer’s nearest dealers, with different-colored pins indicating and those shops’ inventory status on the product: in stock (at shop), in warehouse (at QBP) or retailer doesn’t show stock status.

The consumer chooses the store from which he or she wants to buy and is directed to the store’s website to complete the transaction. If the item is in stock at the store, the consumer can pick it up in the store.

If the item is listed as being in the dealer’s warehouse, the consumer can choose to have it shipped to home, office or to the store for in-store pick up. In this case QBP is shipping the item on the dealer’s behalf, but the retailer maintains ownership of the sale through its own website.

If in-store pickup is selected, the customer will additionally be asked if they want the product installed at the shop. Flagg noted this would play to local dealers’ key strength and offer what online competitors can’t: service, warranty information, deep product knowledge and, if applicable, fitting service.

“I believe we have the capacity in 2012 to do this,” he noted.

It was a spirited start to a Frostbike burnished by sunny skies and unseasonably mild temperatures that made a distant memory of last year’s edition, which left scores of industry folk stranded in the Twin Cities area after severe snowstorms closed the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

With its expo floor of QBP vendors and house bike brands and numerous business and technical seminars, Frostbike—sold out for a second consecutive year—represents a sort of preseason camp for bike dealers. “It’s a great time to come and sharpen their business skills at the just the time they need to do that,” said Jason Gaikowski, QBP’s director of brand and marketing.

JT Sharpe, manager of J&L Bicycle Co. in Burlington, North Carolina, said he was lured to his first Frostbike due to this year’s back-to-back timing with the Park Tech Tool Summit, which starts Monday in Bloomington.

Sharpe noted his shop works with a variety of distributors, but QBP’s new East Coast distribution center in Pennsylvania has helped him quickly fill in gaps in inventory since it began shipping Dec. 1. “It’s a good resource to have to get the right stock in, when we need it, in a timely manner,” he said just after touring QBP’s LEED-certified building in Bloomington.

Jake Capistrant of Jake’s Bikes in Alexandria, Minnesota, turned out in part to learn more about the QBP online sales and fulfillment programs launched last year aimed at helping shops better vie with Internet sellers. “It’s a good way to attack it,” he said. “It’s a little expensive for small dealers, but if bigger ones try it and can give us feedback, we can maybe get on board.”

On the expo floor, meanwhile, Capistrant had his eye on NuVinci’s internal transmission rear hub as an economical drivetrain option for the gravel riding popular in his market. Frostbike was also an opportunity to touch base with Salsa Cycles, as Capistrant moves a fair number of the QBP-owned brand’s Fargo and Vaya adventure bikes.

New product is generally less prominent than at shows earlier in the model-year calendar, but Frostbike does provide dealers a first look at some shiny bits. In the SRAM booth, they could get their hands on the latest Red road drivetrain and scope out the new 10-speed Gripshift mountain shifters, coming in April in XO and XX versions.

At the Campagnolo booth, trainers were humming throughout the day with attendees eager to try out the Italian company’s long-awaited EPS electronic gruppo.

“Response has been extremely positive. People keep saying, ‘I don’t want to like it, but I really like it,’ ” said Martin Kozicki, aftermarket and OEM sales manager for Campagnolo North America. Campy also held six Frostbike seminars on certification to sell and service EPS.

Belgian bike brand Ridley, distributed exclusively by QBP in the United States, used the expo to unveil its 2013 cyclocross line—seven models in all, including three with disc brakes. Preseason discounts for the model year were made available only to retailers who placed their orders during Frostbike, noted Dana Carson, Ridley USA brand manager at QBP.

Carson said the move was a response to the increasingly early arrival—and shrinking window—of the ’cross selling season. “We wanted to have a maximum, maximum impact to how we introduce our ’cross line,” he said. Ridley USA’s independent and inside sales reps didn’t even see the bikes until the day before Frostbike opened, Carson added.

Also on the ’cross front, QBP house brand All-City Cycles unveiled its 2013 geared, lugged steel cyclocross bike, the Macho Man, complementing its single-speed counterpart the Nature Boy. The Macho Man will begin shipping in September.

Foundry Cycles, the newest QBP-owned bike line, saw steady booth traffic over the weekend and also had a brand introduction seminar Sunday morning. The carbon bike brand currently has 37 dealers and may move up to the initially targeted 50. But brand manager Jason Grantz said he’s proceeding cautiously in order to maintain exclusive territories and find retailers who fit in with the brand’s function-over-flash ethos.

Foundry has also run into trouble with factory delivery, primarily because of finishing flaws on its disc and cantilever cyclocross frames at one of the brand’s two Asian contractors, according to Grantz. “If getting it right means slowing down and people have to wait, we’re going to do that. You have to get it right,” he said.

In the meantime, Foundry’s road and mountain 29er frames begin shipping Monday, with completes to follow in about 30 days, said Grantz.

Beyond product, retailer Darren McKay of Dream Cycle in Vancouver, British Columbia, says he sees greater value in Frostbike as a way to reconnect with the industry, maintain relationships and build new ones.

“I really like Frostbike and Q, and what Q stand for, literally. That’s what I bring to my store,” he said. “And I love [Steve Flagg’s] accessibility. There’s no bureaucracy, no bullshit.”

Flagg’s “Buy Local Buy Now!” message also resonated with McKay, although he expressed privacy concerns about making his inventory so transparent.

Still, “I’m definitely interested and am going to watch that,” he said. “Steve cited Amazon and Wiggle. Those guys are Goliaths. We’re a bunch of Davids.”

And while Frostbike’s relatively balmy February weather may have been welcomed by most, QBP’s Gaikowski was not the biggest fan—it totally wrecked his plans for an ice velodrome.

Maybe next year.

—Toby Hill

Topics associated with this article: Frostbike, Distributor news

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