Letter From America – October 2019

SANTA FE, New Mexico

As I write this letter there’s a hint of fall in the air. Santa Fe, the city where we launched Bicycle Retailer & Industry News in 1991, sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet or 2,334 meters. The air is clear and crisp and trees, flowers and shrubs are starting their turn toward winter. 

It was about this time each year, mid-September, that the U.S. industry would begin its annual fall turn toward Las Vegas for a ritual gathering of the tribe—Interbike. In offices near and far the pace would quicken; the excitement would build, dealers and suppliers—big and small—would look to a new year, new opportunities, new friends and, with luck, new revenue. 

Las Vegas—it’s bright lights, the clanging of slot machines and, yes, that hint of sin—would add a spark of excitement as visitors from around the globe made their way to this desert city. At its peak, hundreds of Australians would join with others to kick tires, tell stories and swap lies in the cavernous halls of the Sands and later Mandalay Bay.

Those days are over. And while I am not prone to fits of nostalgia, I do regret the demise of our trade show. I miss that sense of urgency to be ready for opening day; the hoopla as hundreds of dealers gathered at entry ways eager to visit brightly lit halls packed with gleaming samples of the industry’s hopes for next year’s sales. But, most of all, I miss seeing the many friends I had met over the years.

Ironically, it’s now dawning on many exhibitors—especially small to mid-size companies—as well as many dozens of dealers that Interbike’s withering away has been a colossal mistake. It pops up regularly in conversations. Sad.

As everyone admits the hollowing out of Interbike began when Trek, Specialized and others fled the show to launch dealer events for select dealers, an understandable decision strictly from a business perspective. 

But it’s my opinion that it was a selfish act to turn their collective backs on the industry and siphon dealer attendance away from the only event that offered a collective experience for so many to enjoy. There could have been a better way instead of the majors Balkanizing dealers into singular tribes defined only by brand.  

Yet Interbike’s dismal death last year was almost a relief in some ways. There is no question that Interbike’s owner, Emerald Expositions, failed to sense changes in the marketplace; it maintained a show structure and pricing that too many exhibitors struggled to afford. And it failed to ignite that sense of excitement so necessary for success. Staff tried; management failed.

Emerald’s latest effort to entice suppliers and dealers to an add-on event at an Outdoor Retailer show in Denver this upcoming November was a flub of soft-headed thinking. Frankly, an embarrassment. Emerald recently canceled that show entirely and has replaced most of its management in the sports division. 

Still, one only needs to see how Eurobike has shifted to embrace the new world of cycling—e-mobility—and all the potential that it has for a new era of two-wheeled mobility. Last year, Eurobike management flirted with new dates and new programs, but quickly decided after listening to its customers that such a radical change was unnecessary. Eurobike did what Interbike failed to do—listen.

Eurobike management clearly glimpsed the industry’s future and aggressively embraced e-mobility, injecting new life into an event that ranks as the world’s best. The result? More than 1,400 exhibitors. International guests from 99 countries. And estimates are some 60,000 visitors, a number bolstered by consumers who trekked to Friedrichafen over four days to celebrate cycling and its future. 

Interestingly enough companies like Trek, Specialized, Accell and other key European brands stayed away to continue hosting their own insular dealer meetings. But executives may have missed the bigger play. More than a few people have mentioned to me that staying away from Eurobike to pursue their narrow financial interests may be a long-term mistake. 

Why? Eurobike offered a home to dozens of new companies in hopes of gaining a toe-hold in the market. As one U.S. executive told me, “they popped up like mushrooms in a spring rain.” Somewhere in Friedrichshafen’s many halls the new Treks and Specializeds of the future are gaining a market. Eurobike gave them a chance to breathe. That’s what a great trade show does.

 One further point, the majors absence from Eurobike tended to marginalize them in the eyes of the marketplace. And, what’s worse, no one seemed to miss them. Or care. Slice and dice that anyway you wish, but when no one cares, well, that’s a problem.

I still have some hopes that a risk-taking entrepreneur will attempt a trade show comeback for the North American market. Sea Otter, it seems, is now a de facto trade show but with limited appeal for dealers. It’s a grand event, to be sure, but it’s not what an industry show should be. Or needs. 

For now, we seem stuck with a welter of small regional shows of various sorts—not that these events are bad—but their focus is narrow and they fail to unite wide segments of the industry. A bigger issue, and suppliers are starting to discuss it, is time and money. Too many shows; too much travel; too tough on staff and the dollar cost to attend several shows puts them in Interbike territory. We shall see.

A Quick Note:

I am glad that Phil Latz is back in business reporting on Australia’s market. Trade news and a publisher’s ability to speak candidly to the industry, raising issues and celebrating successes, is no small feat. And Phil unites people; he never divides them. So, I’m honored that Phil has given me the opportunity to send you a Letter from America for his first edition of The Latz Report.

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