Business Focus Gives Huge Sea Otter an Interbike Feel

Monterey, US

A total of 528 exhibitors, representing more than 1,000 brands, came to the Sea Otter Classic last month, jamming the Laguna Seca Raceway exhibition area, setting records for attendance, reaffirming the event’s hold on the US bicycle industry, and enhancing its growing cachet among a bevy of foreign exhibitors.

Australia was represented by four companies that made the trek to California for the mid-April event: Knog, Enviro Bike Box, Quad Lock and Polygon Bikes, which is based in Indonesia but has core Australian connections.

“The one trend that captivated visitors were the dozens of e-bike brands and e-bike-specific accessories from major suppliers.”

NZ companies Aeroe and Passchier could also be found on site.

Dozens of European brands were sprinkled throughout the expo, along with 30 Chinese companies and seven from Taiwan, giving Sea Otter and the thousands of consumers who came to the four-day show an international flare.

The attendance numbers are impressive – about 76,500 visitors swamped the expo over its four-day run. Those numbers included exhibitors and consumers, as well as 5,700 athletes who registered for dozens of race events. Another 6,500 or so chose to camp at dozens of campsites that ring the expo area.

And as expected, the one trend that captivated visitors were the dozens of e-bike brands and e-bike-specific accessories from major suppliers.

“Is this the new Interbike?”

There were just as many, or more, web-based D2C companies fighting to get a toe-hold in the marketplace. (Perhaps the event should be called E-Otter … just kidding.)

Plenty of analog bikes – or acoustic bikes, if you prefer – were on hand, with a heavy sampling of full-dress 29ers, a category in the US market that’s showing some growth in a down year.

Quad Lock exhibit at Sea Otter event
Quad Lock’s display was among several exhibitors with Australian connections. Photo credit: Quad Lock.

Dozens of companies also took advantage of Sea Otter’s role as a media attraction to launch new products or, to put some of those launches into perspective, older products that got a tweak or a new paint job. More than 335 media representatives registered for Sea Otter —from major publications to the itinerant blogger.

Still, no matter with whom you talked, the trending phrase was, “Is this the new Interbike?”.

Let Kevin Perry, a buyer for the 12-store California chain Sports Basement, put that into perspective.

“This show captures what’s going on in the industry,” said Perry, who took advantage of a new addition to Sea Otter, Industry Day. Perry came to check out what his vendors had to offer.

Industry Day, held on the Thursday, the expo’s first day, offered dealers and associated companies incentives to come out and see the action. Some 400 signed up.

Think of Industry Day as a low-key effort to enhance Sea Otter’s growing reputation for B2B business.

“It’s a chance to catch up with brands, see what’s trending and get a fix on how the pandemic has affected us. We’re still in a pandemic hangover,” added Perry, who is a buyer for the chain’s accessory brands.

Inventory issues, he said, remain a problem.

For Perry and many others, Sea Otter has taken the place of Interbike, which closed its doors in December 2018 after its final show in Reno, Nevada.

“This is enjoyable. It’s outdoors and everybody’s here,” he added.

Sea Otter founder and director Frank Yohannan described Industry Day as a “hit”.

Some exhibiting vendors took advantage of the expo, setting up meetings with dealers, distributors and others at private parties. It kept the venue’s catering service busy supplying them enough food and beer.

“Vendors are here; they have a showroom and they’re set up. We no longer have an Interbike, so Sea Otter is it. Given its setting outdoors, people riding bikes, its location in Monterey, California – what’s wrong with that picture?” Yohannan quipped.

There’s no other bike event in the US that rivals Sea Otter in scope or size, nor is there any show organiser making noise about launching a true B2B-only event to recapture the bicycling market. That boat has sailed.

Life Time, a spa and fitness company traded on the New York Stock Exchange (LTH), owns Sea Otter, plus other cycling events in the industry including the Leadville 100 and Unbound Gravel. Both attract exhibitors but the numbers are small in comparison to Sea Otter.

A group of entrepreneurs has launched what its dubbed (e) Revolution, an all e-bike show in Denver, Colorado, slated for 8th to 11th June at the Colorado Convention Centre.

While it’s promoting two days for trade, followed by two days for consumers, the focus will be on branded e-bikes and e-accessories. Companies selling e-bikes on Amazon, for example, will not be allowed to exhibit.

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