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Rick Vosper: How Electra Markets

Published July 3, 2012


How does Electra Bicycles turn a tidy profit marketing products to a nonenthusiast customer base the rest of the industry is largely content to ignore? Electra Marketing Director Elayne Fowler knows. But aside from a few tantalizing hints, she’s not telling.

Elayne Fowler is one smart cookie. While the rest of the industry has been telling itself that it really needs to get around to addressing the needs on non-enthusiast riders one of these days, she and her colleagues at the “Official Bike Of Nothing Official” have been doing exactly that for almost twenty years.

And taking the results straight to the bank.

Fowler is not your typical bike geek, but she’s not all that atypical, either. Like so many of industry veterans, she knew early on that her heart lay in the outdoors and later found her calling in the bike world. Sound familiar? But unlike a lot of her colleagues, she honed her professional chops in the ad agency world first, starting in the big apple (NYC) at creative powerhouse Ammirati & Puris and then with San Francisco branding pillars like Young & Rubicam and Saatchi & Saatchi.

A college (UCSD) lacrosse player and triathlete in the early ‘80s, Fowler wanted to channel her drive and competitive spirit client-side into a company with a strong brand identity. She found that opportunity In 2006, in the form of an Electra marketing gig reporting to founders Benno Baenziger and Jeano Erforth.

“I had not heard of Electra before getting hired,” Fowler recalls, “but I immediately knew what to do to take this exciting and dynamic brand to the next level. The Townie had already come out, but there wasn't a whole lot of continuity anchoring the brand under the Electra name.” Her tenure began with the launch of the company’s Eurostyle town bike, the Amsterdam, and she was challenged to bring the company’s growing pack of collections to heel under the Electra marque. Including, she says, “ how to keep the brand message as the technical intelligence ramps up" and new patents come onboard.”

Hint: It’s All About The Bike…Just Like Everyone Else.

What makes Electra products different than its competitors’? It's about time and attention, and innovation, Fowler says. “It’s the same time and attention and innovation other guys pour into their race bikes, [but] bringing it to more recreational riders so we can invite more people into the sport," she says. “We pay attention the details, attention to the ride; we push the envelope on style and fashion themes,  basically paying attention to the complete everyday cycling experience without making it intimidating.”

Apparently they were doing something right, too. After sixteen ?years of largely flying under the industry radar, Electra came out in 2009 with a assumption-shattering full-page ad in the Interbike issue of Bicycle Retailer, masterminded by newly hired Electra CEO Skip Hess. (Note: neither I nor Electra nor BR&IN seems to have a copy of the ad. --rv)

Using point-of-sale data capture from Leisure Trends, Electra candidly compared its dealer sell-through stats and margins to its competitors in the enthusiast niche. "We support all types of cycling,” Fowler insists. “But we were starting to see some comments and questions coming from our competitors about Electra’s products and position in the market that were not accurate.” So Electra showed the rest of the industry where we stood, which was comfortably toe-to-toe with (and maybe slightly ahead of) any number of traditional brands.

“Our Owners Become Evangelists”

“I think it comes back to appealing to a broad population, from ages 6-96— we appeal to enthusiasts as their pleasure bikes, and then to all those who don't plan to race in a peloton or bounce off boulders…which is to say, most of the general population," Fowler says. “We also respect our customers; we present a wide variety of options and let them choose which products match their needs and sense of style. As we make products and share the word, our owners become evangelists; it becomes an organic perpetuating system driving a lot of Electra love.”

It’s a difference of approach, she explains. While other companies are chasing Pro Tour and UCI Cup racers, Electra is putting bikes out for attendees at the TED conference, and Fowler has “a whole bunch” of similar partnership programs with other glitterati-studded events.

“We do broad-based PR,” she says, “and we're working directly with our dealers to support them as they become more sophisticated in social media and other forms of local community involvement. Our biggest goal is to connect the consumer into the store, and that's something we've never wavered in.”

Of course this is still the bike business; she doesn't have the resources of say, Procter and Gamble. But “we find ways to use our funds effectively,"  Fowler says confidently.

New Markets All Around Us

Ask Fowler about reaching out to new markets and she can barely contain her enthusiasm: “Because of the playfulness and quality of the product, we're always finding new markets. It's easy to get someone excited about the products; our focus  then, is getting them into our retailers. That's why our dealer locator is such a robust system. We've also got a powerful B2B portal and some other interesting new IT systems, I can’t divulge yet. We're working on every point of contact, from reps to retailers to consumers. And it's paying off as we see dealers utilizing more and more of our business support tools and providing better representation of the broad Electra offering."

Fowler also receives lot of PR outreach from the fashion and design media— photographers and art directors (who love the Electra’s style and fashion appeal),. “So we appear in noneditorial contexts -- our bikes show up in photoshoots and videos and all kinds of lifestyle pieces. And the end result is, we've become a celebrity lifestyle product. To name just one of many, Miley Cyrus has a whole collection of our bikes, and when people see pictures of her riding her Electra, that makes a connection you can't get anywhere else. It works because it’s inspiring to a lot of people.”

But the bottom line for Fowler—and Electra—is that it’s all just bikes and marketing...same as for any other bike brand. “The secret is to be authentic,” she insists. “The same tools and systems are available to everyone; it's just a question of using them in a effective ways.”

Amen to that, Sister.


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