BY JASON NORMAN
MONTEREY, CA—Communicating with consumers in today’s economic environment is more important than ever to keep one’s brand top of mind. And in that regard, suppliers appear to be staying the course.
“Consumers are going to come back and look for the companies that continue to advertise and bring new products out to them,” said Mike Ely, sales manager for NiteRider, an exhibitor at the Sea Otter Classic last month. “Hiding your head in the sand and cutting back on all advertising is the wrong move.”
Like most everyone in the industry, the San Diego, California, bike light manufacturer is doing its best to find the light at the end of the dark economic tunnel. Its sales are flat and Ely foresees them dipping a little bit as the year progresses.
“We want to get through May and June, and get into our meat and potatoes (which occurs later in the year during daylight savings),” Ely said. “Typically for lighting, it’s peaks and valleys. It’s just how big are those peaks and how low are those valleys.”
Most vendors at the season-opening event echoed those sentiments, forecasting flat sales for the year.
“It’s one period at a time—a month, a quarter, whatever,” said Brett Hahn, North American brand manager for Continental Tires. “I don’t think anyone expects us [the industry] to turn around briskly. We feel we’ll at least be on forecast and that’s perfectly well with us.
“We had an all-time record for the brand in North America for 2008. We’re pacing right along with that. I feel like the accessory market is a little more insulated than the rest. It’s not a big-ticket buy, and tires are consumable. Consumers might not be buying new $10,000 bikes, but they’re certainly going to freshen up the tires,” Hahn added.
Manufacturers of clothing and accessories, which have a short lifespan, seem to be faring better in this economy. One example is eyewear maker Tifosi Optics whose sales of sunglasses in the bike channel are outpacing sales in outdoor and golf.
“Bike is kind of carrying us right now followed by outdoor,” said Shannon Haslam, marketing director for Tifosi Optics. “That market is slow to buy, but once they get up and running they’re good. And golf, I think everybody is just scared because rounds are down, and it’s cold so people aren’t going out. Bike is carrying us right now and we’re OK with that.
“Our price point is good. It falls right in line with what people are looking for right now: more value for the money. And the product keeps getting better and better every year,” she added.
Still, companies are thinking long and hard about travel budgets and being selective about which events they go to and paring down on staff that they send.
“Sea Otter’s the same meaningful event,” said Michael Zellman, road and PR manager for SRAM, one of Sea Otter’s sponsors and an exhibitor. “Did everybody need to come here that came here last year? Maybe not. Maybe 10 percent of staff isn’t here. It’s all about being efficient and being a little bit lean, but we’re not shortchanging the consumer that comes to this event.”
Two companies that were notably absent this year were Kona and Scott USA.Kona, headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, hasn’t exhibited since 2007 although many of its biggest athletes still race there.
“Coming all the way down, they honestly felt there wasn’t a return on their investment to have a booth,” said Keith Cozzens, who handles public relations for the company. “We feel like Sea Otter is more for our racers.”
Idaho-based Scott USA, which had exhibited every year, put its event resources into February’s Tour of California instead of Sea Otter largely because of the deal it struck with Team Columbia-High Road last year.
“Unfortunately, there had to be a reduction some other place,” said Scott Montgomery, general manager of Scott USA.
For manufacturers who don’t sell direct to consumers, however, Sea Otter is a mainstay on the industry calendar.
“We get very few opportunities outside of our 24-hour events to speak to consumers,” said NiteRider’s Ely. “Interbike is wonderful, but that’s dealers. You get the opportunity to talk to consumers here. Sometimes you get completely different feedback than from dealers. It’s a nice line of direct communication.”