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Opinion: The Big Gear Show pulls off successful invitation-only event

Published August 6, 2021

PARK CITY, Utah (BRAIN) — The Big Gear Show was a success. It's as simple as that. Normally, I'd be tempted to use the phrase "modest success," but that fails to capture the overall enthusiasm among exhibitors and retailers at what should be called a coming out party, of sorts, for the bicycle, outdoor and paddle sport industries. The Big Gear Show, in fact, scored high on a number of levels.

The venue — an expansive parking lot at the Deer Valley ski resort — was flanked by a paddle-worthy pond and a ski lift system that offered opportunities to test a few bikes. The site's 6,500-foot altitude tempered the bright sunshine's heat. And more importantly, a light breeze blew steadily throughout the day, wafting through exhibitor and meeting tents, easing concerns over the threat of infection. Free masks were available, hand sanitizer was in abundance and, I suspect, most attendees had been vaccinated.

It was also a coming out party for the NBDA and Heather Mason, the NBDA's new president. The non-profit held a number of seminars — some packed with dealers and others not so much. But that's normal. Still, dealers routinely congregated at the NBDA's open-air pavilion and did what dealers do — talked business and swapped tales on COVID strategies and, of course, retail-supplier relationships.

Diamondback, Magnum, Pinarello, Fat Chance, Poseiden, and other brands provided demo bikes. Billy Michels PhotographyThe NBDA, a show sponsor, also announced its Bicycle Retail Excellence Awards at a ceremony held Wednesday under a spacious tent filled with attendees. Not bad. And PeopleForBikes had a booth and Rod Judd, director of membership and development, served as an NBDA panelist.

Overall, The Big Gear Show enjoyed a great start for an invitation-only event with no track record. And exhibitors were so pleased with the venue, the weather, and the better-than-expected retail (but never enough) turnout with many saying they would return next year.

Yakima's Joel Grabenstein, vice president of sales, brand and product marketing, put it this way. "The ROI has been worth it," he said, as staff showed off products targeting the overland market. And it was just as important, Grabenstein said, to get his team out of Portland to meet face-to-face with dealers, friends and other exhibitors. Yakima will be back next year, he added.

Larry Pizzi, best known for his long-time efforts to boost e-bikes as the industry's key product for future growth, was all smiles at the three-day event. As Alta Cycle's chief commercial officer, Pizzi met with friends and dealers whom he hadn't seen since COVID locked up the nation more than a year ago. Pizzi signed a few orders, got an earful on retail issues, and sat on an NBDA panel to discuss the current state of the industry.Tuesday's State of the Bike Industry Panel was well-attended. Billy Michels Photography

But more importantly for Alta, Pizzi said, outdoor retailers were dropping in to assess the potential for adding bikes to their sales floor. Cross-over retail traffic may well be one of the show's key attributes as it looks to next year. 

Others, like George Simone, G-Form's national sales manager, and Wahoo's North American sales manager, Eric Stobin, said much the same.

The outdoor/bicycle interchange went the other direction, too: Bike retailers like John Robinson of Columbus, Ohio's Johnny Velo shop spent time in the outdoor area checking out Jet Boil stoves and other items he may stock for his bike touring customers.

Later, I wandered down to an array of paddling companies flanking the pond to look for Bill Kueper, vice president of Canoe, Inc., at the suggestion of Sutton Bacon, the show's founder. It was a two-fold mission — to check on a new part I needed for a kayak I had bought years ago from and to get a sense of how the paddle sports industry was fairing.

The Big Gear Show:
  • 138 exhibiting companies brought 206 individual brands.
  • 421 invited retailer personel.
  • 71 attending media personel.

Kueper, an avid cyclist as well as an experienced waterman, was pleased with dealer turnout. But just as important, he said, was the chance to meet with competitors and renew discussions on strategies for e-commerce, supply chain issues, and how to help improve paddle sports retailing. COVID had put those discussions on pause. "This show has saved me at least a half-dozen flights," Kueper said.

So here's my take-away for what it's worth. I readily admit to being a trade show junkie. Interbike's demise (and there are a dozen reasons why it imploded) has led to a further fracturing of the industry, hindered opportunities for new companies, and has exacerbated misunderstandings between suppliers and dealers. Let's be honest it's easy to slap on onerous freight charges, for example, if executives don't have to look their dealers in the eye occasionally.

The Big Gear Show, with its invitation-only format, offers attending suppliers and retailers a chance to thrash out issues one-on-one in a more cooperative atmosphere. But no one should expect the likes of Trek or Specialized to sign on. Still, at least Giant had a representative there meeting with show organizers.

Diamondback had one of the busiest tents in the bike area. Billy Michels PhotographyAs the retail market undergoes a radical reshaping (think COVID, supply chain disruption, consolidation, margin suppression etc.), the notion of outdoor retailers kicking tires at a bicycle supplier's tent is good news. The Big Gear Show could open up new opportunities for small to mid-size suppliers—increasingly marginalized by Trek and Specialized in the traditional IBD marketplace—to find new outlets especially for companies like Go-Cycle, Magnum and others.

The loss of Interbike has also hit new entrepreneurs hard. And that was brought home by Tucker Richardson, senior product manager at Galeo, a company I'm certain dealers have never heard of. It's an avionics company in Fargo, North Dakota, with some 150 employees making products for the aviation industry. This is no fly-by-the pants Kickstarter company.

Galeo has developed what is essentially a motion detector with GPS capabilities that can be attached to a bike's water bottle bolt holes. As Richardson, pointed out, several million bikes are stolen each year and this device could make a difference. But it's tough to gain traction, much less attention, in an industry lacking a trade show. CABDA has three events scheduled, but that's an expensive proposition when it comes to introducing new products from a company no one has heard of. And consumer events pose even more challenges.

The Big Gear Show will never replace Interbike nor Outdoor Retailer, although OR is struggling in Denver with a number of major companies pulling out of next week's show. OR should go back to Salt Lake. But BGS offers a compelling multi-sport format, held outdoors, at a pleasant venue, at a reasonable time of year, that exhibitors can afford and retailers can visit. So here's wishing them the best for the future.

Related: Daily coverage of The Big Gear Show by Outside Business Journal.

Billy Michels Photography
Topics associated with this article: Tradeshows and conferences, The Big Gear Show / (e)revolution

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