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Rick Vosper: Further To Bike Ads, And The Elephant In The Room

Published April 17, 2012


Thanks to Jeff Koenig of Big Poppi Bicycle Co. in Manhattan, Kansas, for this post (and critique) in response to my blog last week about bike ads.

I'm sorry if I wasn't sufficiently clear, but my purpose really wasn't to advocate for the status quote of advertising exclusively to elite riders and key influencers, merely to explain a little about how and why the practice works the way it does.

As I say, you really should read his whole post, but Mr. Koenig makes several excellent points which I'd like to paraphrase here, if I may:

  • Advertising is good, and our industry should do more of it.
  • Advertising to elite riders who buy small numbers of expensive bikes is good, but advertising to regular folks who buy huge numbers of less expensive bikes is better. And advertising to both is the best yet. And this is what retailers have been asking bike companies to do for years.

Koenig's post goes on to note that one of the most common experiences for bike shops is consumers bringing mass-market bikes in to specialty retailers for refitting or repairs.

How often, Mr Koenig asks do we meet customers who are dissatisfied that the cost of repairs is more than the value of the bicycle they are riding?  How often are customers replacing cheap, disposable equipment that costs them more over time than just buying quality the first time? 

He goes on to suggest that, as a pure investment with anticipated return over time, the specialty retail sector could do a lot worse than to target those mass-market consumers with ads letting them know how much more fun they'll have on a Trek or Raleigh or Specialized or Giant bike sold through an independent retailer and what a great value those bikes will be over time.

To which I say, well played, Sir. That's certainly one way to do it.

So What's All This About An Elephant?

The whole notion of the specialty retail sector working to recapture market share from the mass sector is part of what I like to call the Elephant In the Room phenomenon, you know, the huge thing that everyone knows is there but no one wants to talk about.

In the case of the U.S. bike business, the elephant is the fact that following the mountain bike boom of the eighties, we've had 20 years of zero net growth in this industry. The names change and things consolidate, but we're essentially just moving dollars around among product categories and brands.

To quote from the NBDA's site:

The U.S. bicycle industry generated $6 billion in sales in 2010, including retail sales of bicycles, related parts and accessories, through all channels of distribution.

The size of the industry has remained remarkably stable since 2003, with sales between $5.8 billion and $6.1 billion each year (the exception being 2009). For comparison purposes, we project the industry at $5.3 billion in 2002, $5.4 billion in 2003, $5.8 billion in 2004, $6.1 billion in 2005 (an all-time high), $5.8 billion in 2006, $6.0 billion in 2007, $6.0 billion in 2008, $5.6 billion in 2009, and $6 billion in 2010.

I say "flat," you say "remarkably stable." But in either case, the question for us as an industry is the same: how to increase sales not just for our individual companies, but across the board industry-wide. And that's a question I don't think nearly enough people are asking.

Jeff Koenig's suggestion is that the specialty retail sector try to win market share back from the mass sector by advertising to its customers.

Other folks have suggested that advocacy — getting more people on bikes more often, to paraphrase the Bikes Belong mission statement — is the answer. But after 10 years of enormous expense and effort, about all we can say is that if advocacy is going to move the sales dial, it hasn't done so yet.

If there are any other suggestions out there, I'd certainly like to hear them.

Tomorrow marks the first day of the 2012 Bicycle Leadership Conference, the once-a-year meeting of some of the sharpest minds on the supplier side of the industry. I'll be attending as the guest of Bicycle Retailer, and I hope to ask some of the other attendees about the Elephant In The Room question.

I'll be sure to let you know what I learn.



Editor's note: Rick Vosper's quarter century in the cycling business includes executive stints as director of Airborne Bicycles, director of global marketing for Specialized Bicycles, and VP of marketing & [roduct for Veltec Sports. Outside the cycling industry, he's worked as an award-winning copywriter and creative director for advertising, collateral, web, and multimedia agencies.

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