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Opinion: The industry failed Interbike and you want it back

Published December 11, 2018
Former industry member Trey Richardson looks at the Interbike cancellation and more.

By Trey Richardson

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Industry veteran? I prefer "heavily seasoned," but for those that don't know me or think I'm just a loud mouth that likes to nurture arguments, I am ultimately on the same side as everyone despite occasionally disagreeing.

Before I blabber on, here's a 30 second intro to my last almost 30 years and why the hell I am here moaning (on a more official level) in the first place:

I was a 17-year-old shop rat who finally was officially hired in 1990 at a long time Schwinn store in the Houston metro. I worked in and out of a couple of Schwinn dealers before and after their bankruptcy and a buy out as well as before and after the internet boom. I spent a stint in a 'big box' store before moving to Atlanta in 2005. I went to work for a popular bicycle tire manufacturer here to successfully launch a new brand until being laid off when the economy shit the bed. I then returned to my roots in bicycle retail for a couple of years of which I was managing a store location for a large Top 100 Trek dealer owned by a NBDA VP. After that I became outside sales rep for a large bicycle P&A distributor for four years and even wrote hundreds of tech articles for a popular cycling tech blog.

Within some of those years I developed, marketed and ran corporate wellness programs for some large companies including one in the Fortune top 10 (yes, ten). I also did (failed at) doing some retail consulting for new and existing bicycle retailers (more on that later). Today, I consider myself a marketing professional outside of the cycling industry where I swim in analytical data from web and email campaign traffic. Regardless, I will be forever adhered to contributing anything I can to help get this incredibly diverse and often disconnected industry back on track whether you like it or not.

I have worn many hats in and outside of this industry and at times have looked back and thought to myself 'Trey, pick something and be done with it already', but I have come to realize, I greatly cherish the scattered amount of skill sets this and other industries have provided me. Though things have been rather unstable for some time, it was recent events and some of the things I've read here which led me to reach out to BRAIN to offer my less than humble perspective.

While there are some and at times many things I may bluntly disagree with, I have been passionate follower of many of our industry leaders often seen here. Most anyone who's met me knows I mostly a goof ball that states my opinion as well as I listen. Well, I'll listen more in a minute but first you're going to hear my opinion ...

What the Hell Happened?

Different things happened in different parts of the country at different times so let's kind of generalize this to keep it on task.

Before the mid-late 1990s, consumers access to all things bicycles were at the mercy of local (and mostly similar) bike shops and a couple of mail order catalogs ... except for department store bikes *cough*

During the 80s video games and personal computers were joining general society at ever-increasing speeds with the force of a freight train initiating the decline of youth bicycle sales and eventually all bikes since household incomes were investing more into time consuming computer fun

During the latter 90s and over the next 10 years two BIG things happened at the same time. THIS IS A BIGGIE! (more on this later but it involves a blindfold)

The internet boom and the unstoppable competition from e-commerce threw so much at retailers so fast they scattered in 1,000 different directions at once ending the once uniformed way of doing business (all of the above threw manufacturers & suppliers off and consumers became pickier than ever of what shop they preferred)

"The Lance Effect' — Love, hate, or don't care in the first place about what went down, there is absolutely no denying he single-handedly (with bold marketing and branding), brought the exciting world of cycling to the mainstream unlike anyone before or after him because of not only his story and the millions his foundation raised but because his 10 year long reign came at the exciting birth of social media.

2010 to present as the Lance excitement wore off some BIG players entered the e-commerce scene (Amazon, Wiggle, Chain Reaction, etc.) and flipped an unprepared industry on its head while they weren't looking. #blindfolded

The Blindfold

So now what? Nobody seems to know and everyone is throwing their arms up in the air trying to figure all of this out. Before I start pointing fingers, let's discuss the well-timed blindfold I mentioned above. Regardless of all of the other things wrong with the industry, what sent it so quickly into its biggest spiral over the last 15 years was due to the 'Lance Effect' happening when it did.

As the internet and e-commerce was preparing to dominate the retail side of the industry in the mid-to late 90s, the "Lance Effect" provided just enough boost to maintain if not better the health of the brick and mortar business model over the next 10 years. Though not necessarily great, things were good enough that the surviving shops were continuing with 'business as usual' all while the e-commerce was exploding in the background.

The brick and mortar side of the industry was wearing a blindfold made of false hope ... a sort of 'things were good enough/no quite terrible' so don't change anything. Starting around 1997 till about 2010 the industry failed to gradually make critical adjustments in the retail segment because no one was complaining enough. By the time the 'Lance Effect' was over, it was too late. The industry, unintentionally, allowed the e-commerce side to virtually get away with murder.

Today, we are witnessing the aftermath of what happens when you take something for granted just because things were going OK.

Pointing Fingers
I have no intention to upset anyone nor am I going to go out of my way to comfort anyone reading this. There is no time for that and I am a believer that coddling & pride are some of the culprits that got us in this mess in the first place.

So who exactly is the bike industry? In short, it's a bunch of passionate people who are currently working at, or one time or another, worked at a bike shop. On the B2B side it's safe to say that 85 percent are former shop employees or bike enthusiasts. Of those, most have shop experience from back in the good old days and let's admit, are fond of those days (guilty).

Our hobby is our passion which is our career ... and that is the best worst thing ever.

There is a cancer of informal and softened decision-making taking place in our industry. I am not saying everyone needs to go out and get an MBA or burn their business down but we need to encourage every segment of our industry to attend continuing education programs. And I'm going to put this in all caps ... HAVING A COMPANY WHOSE PRODUCT YOU SELL PROVIDE INFORMATION ON 'BETTER BUSINESS PRACTICES' & HOW TO SELL IS SECONDARY TO THE COURSEWORK YOU SHOULD SEEK. Having someone giving you advice that could fall anywhere between shooting from the hip to highly formal expert advice based on the cycling industry should be the secondary, not the primary, source which drives your business decisions.

Though a good portion of advice and lessons from respected industry leaders has been good to great, it's never been what I consider complete. Maybe complete isn't the right term ... It's never been professional. We all love the industry and are on some level all friends in that we share a lot. However, the bike industry is a business and we need leaders to treat it like a fucking business. I have mentioned it in comments too many times to count but no one has ever said, "There are $XXX, XXX, XXX and Y, YYY number of bike shops. The one's netting between $AAA, AAA and $B, BBB, BBB need to sustain an minimum of ZZ% growth per year over the next 5 years or consider an exit plan over the next two."

I know this will tick some off, but there are too many traditional business models (not just retailers) taking up too much space (profit) in today's marketplace and we need a set of industry leaders who focus on understanding that. Just as we need direction for growth we need direction for damage control and failure equally. All of this begins with more long-term forecasting using historical numbers. Every retailer should have a 5-year (minimum) plan which they make adjustments to at least once a year. On the B2B side, it should be standard to have a 10-year forecasting meeting every year.

Losing Interbike is Worse than You Think

Like anyone who has invested a good portion of their livelihood in this industry, my heart sank to the news of Interbike being canceled. I have gone to Interbike as an attendee, a vendor and as media slime. Aside from the event organizer, I understand most every person's role and what it takes to attend or be a vendor (the costs are astronomical). Due to joining another industry (of which Emerald owns a trade show in funny enough), I haven't been to Interbike the last two years which from what I understand were lackluster at best.

While it's common knowledge, any and every trade show is a profitable business first, before it is a support system and place for the good of industry collaboration. Regardless of the leadership's intentions, a show won't happen unless the expo company is making a buck. That mostly comes from vendors buying space, labor, and concessions. So for Emerald, a GIANT in the trade show business (who provides guidance on what it takes to have a successful trade show) to pull the rolled out carpet out from under the industry and clean house is a sign of INDUSTRY MISMANAGEMENT. (last all caps I promise)

So why is losing Interbike a really bad thing? As a longtime attendee and vendor, each of the last 10+ years has ended with a "meh" with a few enthusiastic "well that was the busiest first day I've seen in 2 years." Each of those years also seemed to start with a "who's meeting for drinks where" and nothing else. The week after Interbike, all the old farts are all, "well, people don't do business there anymore, so it's become irrelevant."

I'm officially calling bullshit ... oh sorry. BULLSHIT! (last, last time)

Another Industry Tradeshow Perspective

While "business" (does that only mean orders being taken?), was done back in the day, the most important thing this industry never learned to take serious enough was how Interbike had the ability to pool so many resources together in one place. My most recent position as a marketing Director in another industry took me to five large trade shows and a few smaller conferences per year. Every single person from dealers, distributors, manufacturers, rep companies and reps were hyper focused on doing business ... and that had NOTHING to do with taking orders (though some did). Everyone had meetings, booth visits, and account tours scheduled throughout the day.

While new products were getting shown and announced, there were endless opportunities to attend seminars, training, business & e-commerce strategy focus groups, and numerous other brilliant subject matter. Most of the private and public training pieces were well attended if not sold out! There was even certification credits for several specific segments given out to certify professionals to operate, sell, install, or fix said technologies (on a much different scale, but loosely how we give credit to being certified to be a Fit Specialist and how there should be more emphasis on having more certifications and levels for bike techs. *thumbs up to PBMA though I think they need to get stronger support so they can evolve into what that association deserves to be.

Final Thought and Advice

So to all us slackers who said Interbike became irrelevant, (guilty), wake up, get hungry and get it back! While there is a part of me shaking my fist at our industry's leadership not being the mean parent or truly understanding the tsunami of e-commerce's muted wave during the Lance years, there are many other factors such as the arrogance of retailers attempting to bully suppliers into making up for them falling behind the curve, its refusal to pay professional-level wages to bring in AND KEEP great minds, its treatment and ill-focus of women leadership & their buying power, or (fill in the blank), as those are a whole other slew of dirty subjects but that is one of the many things this industry could have avoided had we been more aware by peeking out from under our blindfold every so often. (I promise I'm not trying to get everyone to hate me).

On a positive note, one of the most valuable things I've gained from this industry outside of the lifelong friendships, is the perseverance to adapt. Through sheer determination and care, this industry is nearing an upward bounce. No lie, some heads will roll and there may be 2 losers for every 10 winners, but the show will come back simply because it has to. Sea Otter, Outerbike, CABDA, and others ... while having their place, I feel there are too many distractions for them to provide a collaborative environment like Interbike should (could have). I could be wrong, but the North American Bike Industry needs a business focused trade show that brings all segments together under one roof at least once a year. It also needs to travel from coast to coast and ... fuck consumer day.

All of my tough love, hope & honesty,

Trey Richardson

Topics associated with this article: Interbike

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