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State of Retail: How relevant are in-person trade shows, seminars, and dealer events?

Published December 12, 2023

A version of this feature ran in the December issue of BRAIN.

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — For our December magazine edition, we asked our State of Retail panel members: How relevant are in-person trade shows, seminars, and dealer events? Which did you attend in 2023, or do you plan to attend in 2024?

BOISE, Idaho: Jason Bauer, owner Bauerhaus Bikes

Jason Bauer

We’ve not attended any trade shows since the Vegas days of Interbike (2017). Presentations via a webinar format have been the go-to for some of our vendors, and that seems to work well, especially if the event is archived for future viewing. We aren’t planning to attend any events in 2024, but I would love to visit either Eurobike or the Taipei show at some point. For the most part, trade shows really aren’t that important anymore. They’re more of a social endeavor. They are great for seeing old industry friends and matching faces with phone voices but not super relevant for new product unveiling or order writing.

WALLA WALLA, Wash.: Kathryn Austin, owner/manager Allegro Cyclery

Kathryn Austin

We haven't gone to a trade show since the last Interbike show in Reno (2018). We really miss the show for the opportunity to see new products, meet with everyone, and get an idea of what the next season is going to look like. However, the expense of attending the few shows now available is prohibitive for us, and we will not be attending any shows next year, either. 

We connect with our main suppliers through our fantastic sales reps who come to our shop to see us or connect with us over the phone. Even though we are not one of their "bigger accounts" and a bit out of the way, they go out of their way for us.

Since we haven't attended any trade shows for awhile, I can't speak to their relevance to the industry; however, our enthusiasm to attend shows has definitely decreased, given the fact that vendors are using the internet to sell their products along with their bike shops. We have attended Zoom seminars for a few of our brands, and they have been helpful, though definitely not as much fun.

MOBILE, Ala.: Brad Burton, owner Cadence120 Bicycles

Brad Burton

I still think events are relevant for making connections with the people you do business with. We did not go to any in-person events this year, but we did attend Link, Giant Bicycles’ online retailer event. I think most other suppliers have also gone to some form of online training. Next year, we will attend Giant's dealer event and hopefully it will be held in-person again.

STAMFORD, Conn.: Julie Gabay, owner, president, buyer Pacific Cycling & Triathlon

Julie Gabay

My preferred way of connecting with suppliers is in-person at my shop. We did not go to any trade shows or dealer events during this past year, and I am not planning on attending any trade shows next year, either. I personally do not think trade shows are relevant. I feel in-person visits are much more effective. Many companies have done away with outside reps, which is a mistake. Sales reps are the connection to the brands.

MASSILLON, Ohio: Molly Lehman, marketing manager Ernie’s Bike Shop

Molly Lehman

Our "old guard," the shop’s first-generation owner, attended many trade shows over the past four decades, and these days, his time off is strictly for non-work-related activities. As the second-generation owners assume more shop responsibilities, we don't feel these events are as relevant as they once were; although, they can offer some nice perks for employees and they may become useful training and networking tools once again someday.

We skipped trade shows in 2023 in favor of face-to-face visits from sales reps and utilizing online tutorials for product training. We hold our own annual seminar each winter and invite product reps to join us for some of those sessions. Our current plans for next year do not include attending any trade shows; although, we're open to sending folks to regional tech clinics, and we would be very interested in attending in-person training on our point-of-sale system, if it existed.

HOPKINS, Minn.: Jonathan Minks, owner Jonny Rock Bikes

Jonathan Minks

I think all industry trade shows could be better, and they should strive to be better each year. Planning and preparation should be the main focus, not a last-minute attempt. In 2023, we attended the CABDA Midwest show, which I love. It is kid-friendly, very affordable, and you can actually talk with vendors. It's not overly busy or loud. Bringing my family to a trade show has been very important to me. Events should be open to families and be inviting and engaging like CABDA. When QBP did its last Frostbike, kids were not allowed. And Interbike was too big, too expensive, and held at a poor time of year. 

We will be returning to CABDA in Chicago in 2024. It is one of the best shows around. I would say it's even affordable for vendors as well. Every year it gets even better, and it’s geographically close, so it's easy to attend.

BROOKLYN, N.Y.: Ilya Nikhamin and Kasia Nikhamina, co-owners Redbeard Bikes

Ilya Nikhamin and Kasia Nikhamina

We didn't attend any trade shows or events in 2023, but we'll be attending the Philly Bike Expo in March 2024, where Ilya is presenting at Bike Fit University. If Mosaic Cycles hosts another gravel camp for dealers, we'd love to fly out to Boulder to attend. We'll also be seeking out more bike-fit training opportunities, in particular, with classes taught by professionals in medicine and physical therapy. 

We like to know the people at our partner brands. An in-person meeting can pave the way for a stronger relationship that will mostly occur over email and phone. Ilya misses trade shows, particularly Interbike in Vegas. He loved having the chance to see as many brands as he could and to ride many different bikes at the Outdoor Demo. Now the events are so splintered. As he says, "Fools got greedy.”

ENCINITAS, Calif.: Will Schellenger, owner El Camino Bike Shop

Will Schellenger

I attended the CABDA event in Ontario, California, this year and will probably attend it again in 2024; however, I was disappointed in it last year, and I told myself it was the last trade show I’d attend. It seems the relevance of these events has dwindled over the years. The big players in the industry do not attend, and unless you are going for a specific reason, you will probably be disappointed. I miss the old days of Interbike where you felt like part of a bigger community and you wanted to see and be seen at the show. My understanding is that these shows were very expensive for the distributors to attend, and once they had an established dealer base, it no longer made sense for them to attend. It really is too bad because we are a community, and we all benefit from coming together to share ideas and to try and grow the bicycle industry as a whole.

BRADENTON, Fla.: Paul Tobio, owner Ryder Bikes

Paul Tobio

I think that trade shows, in-person seminars, and dealer events are extremely important to our industry. We all need to be expanding our education levels, and while we can read about many of these topics, hearing it directly from the source provides deeper understanding and that allows us to inform our customers better and to truly become the local experts to grow our industry.

That said, I did not go to any trade shows or dealer events this year. While I missed the in-person meetings as a way to connect with suppliers’ staff and other dealers, I do understand the cost and planning that needs to be done to get dealers from all over the country together and keep everyone on a schedule. Many of our suppliers moved to online meetings and have ramped up their webinar-format training. This also provides the shop staff to learn about new products and features to assist customers with making accurate choices for their style. 

In 2024, I am looking at making it to CABDA in March and the NBDA Retailer Summit in May. As suppliers seem to be moving away from in-person events, I feel it is important to connect with other retailers and suppliers. I am also planning on joining a NBDA P2 group for 2024, which will also allow for connection with other retailers.

Jason Bauer.
Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine

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