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Published June 7, 2012

Led by GoPro, action cameras explode at retail.

Editor's note: The following article appeared in the May 15 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News

Next to 29ers, nothing’s seen more action at retail than action cameras—small units that mount on a helmet, handlebars or can be strapped to a rider’s chest.

Camera sales at bike shops reached $23.6 million in 2011, an increase of 341 percent over 2010—admittedly, from a small base. The category continued its blockbuster growth, with sales up 48 percent in the first two months of 2012 compared with the same period of 2011, according to BPSA Topline sales data from the Leisure Trends Group.

“This is really the breakout category in bike for 2011 and in 2012”, said JJ Rudman, a retail analyst for Leisure Trends. The Boulder, Colorado, company tracks POS retail sales as part of its Cycling RetailTRAK report.

While Leisure Trends only provides brand and model data to subscribers, Rudman did say the GoPro brand is “by far” the dominant player at IBDs.
Founded by surfer Nick Woodman in 2002, GoPro has exploded in recent years. The company received an infusion of venture capital last year, and 2011 sales were an estimated $250 million, according to a cover article in Inc. magazine this year.

GoPro is growing so quickly—adding an average of seven employees a week—that last month it announced it would leave its home in Half Moon Bay, California, for larger offices in San Mateo this summer.

“I was [employee] number 74 one year ago,” said Jessica Parker, the company’s communications coordinator. Now, she said, GoPro employs more than 200.

The sales curve accelerated when GoPro began focusing on social media. Users share videos on Facebook and Twitter. A search for GoPro on YouTube brings up tens of thousands of hits—including a video of a South African mountain biker getting clocked by a leaping antelope.

“A year ago, in January 2011, we had about 50,000 Facebook fans,” Parker said. “In January/February 2012, we’ve hit 2 million.”
Its cameras are found in all sorts of unusual places. A team of scientists in Alaska launched two dozen weather balloons, several of them carrying a GoPro camera, 19 miles into the atmosphere. The cameras captured videos of the northern lights.

“We’ve always had a big presence in the action sports industry,” Parker said. “However, we see ourselves growing in every single market you can imagine.”

Its current top-line camera, the HD Hero 2, has been on the market since October. In June, GoPro will release a WiFi controller for the camera, which will allow users to control multiple cameras from a smartphone or tablet from a distance of 600 to 900 feet.

Trailing in GoPro’s sizable wake are smaller companies like Contour, based in Seattle, Washington, as well as Looxcie and Cateye’s Inou. Contour founder and president Marc Barros said GoPro is “probably four to five times our size,” although Contour’s staff has grown from two in a garage to 70 employees.

While GoPro sells through a variety of channels, from Wal-Mart and Best Buy to specialty retailers, Contour is focused on the specialty market, Barros said. It emphasizes product design over marketing.

“We’ve actually found snow and bike are much more design-conscious. Contour is all about design, so actually snow and bike are probably our strongest markets,” he said.

Contour cameras have built-in GPS units, so users can track locations as they film.

Starting May 1, Contour began selling mount kits for several sports, including bikes. The $79.99 Bike Mounts Kit allows riders to attach a camera to a helmet, handlebars, seatpost, chainstay or any other round or irregular bar.
Some retailers are just starting to dabble in the category. Paul Kozy said his Kozy’s Cyclery chain in Chicago recently began carrying GoPro, but he does not have big expectations.

“It’s a bit like selling a $300 pair of shoes,” Kozy said. “You sell a few here and there, and you’re happy with it. You have to have the $300 pair of shoes to add legitimacy to your operation, but you don’t expect to sell a boatload of them.”

Dennis Jones, co-owner of Winter Garden Wheel Works in Winter Garden, Florida, said his store just began carrying GoPro after the staff demoed several cameras.

“Everybody just seems to be more tech-savvy. As long as it can be a plug-and-play, where you pull it out of the box and start using it, people are super happy,” Jones said.

Contour’s Barros said video would only continue to grow in popularity.

“We think you’re going to have more and more video. We think you’ll be wearing video, sharing video,” Barros said. “We think it’s a category that people should really be considering for the next five years.”

By Doug McClellan

Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine

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