At bikebiz, we go to a lot of events. In fact, we’re meeting with distributors, attending house shows, demo days, previews, shows and PR events multiple times a week and whilst that presents us with a wealth of interesting information from the cutting-edge of the industry, it’s simply not possible for your average bike dealer to dedicate the same amount of time to such a packed calendar without shutting shop for days at a time. Like it or lump it, it’s almost impossible to make the key decisions that will influence the success or failure of your business without truly getting to grips with the product, and this puts the onus on your distributors to take up as little of your time as possible with events that are packed with truly informative seminars, product rundowns and demos.
In an ideal world, these would take place a couple of times a year, and provide you with an abundance of subject matter to mull over for the next few months; in reality this is far from the truth of how many shows play out. In fact, in various cases, events we’ve visited have been so information-heavy with little else to offer, that dealers leave not only completely disengaged with the product, but also actively annoyed that they’ve dedicated time to a largely fruitless endeavour. At one such recent gathering, we asked some dealers if they felt like the event was beneficial. One shop owner told us: “I know it’s important that I’m here, but all I can think about is how I’m out of work for the entire day; now I’m here, I don’t feel like they have any idea what dealers are looking for in a meeting.” When asked what made the event unengaging, he added: “Anyone can read a pamphlet with the technical specifications on it, I want to know how the bikes ride and how stocking these products are going to benefit me as a dealer.”
You may believe that this accounts for a relatively small amount of cycling industry events, but a recent study we conducted confirmed that only 11 per cent of dealers believe house shows to be genuinely beneficial. Compared to this, a massive 50 per cent noted the benefits of major multi-distributor shows, whilst 39 per cent said that demo days were the best way to interact with brands.
These statistics show a dramatic trend and it begs the question – what type of event does the industry actually want? How do you balance a potentially vast amount of new information with true immersive experiences? A lot of companies are ditching the traditional house show concept and instead choosing to take their dealers on guided rides, experience trips or simply putting the latest models into their hands at a demo day. Rutland Cycling is one such company that organises various bike demo days with suppliers each year, offering customers the opportunity to try the latest top brands available – from MTBs to e-bikes. In a recent chat with bikebiz, Rutland head of category management Alex Woollen discussed what companies struggling with the event environment should be aiming for: “Achieving a high level of customer interaction, building a good customer-brand experience and relationship is important in today’s competitive marketplace. Our demo days allow our customers to try as many brands as possible over a full day of demo bike activities.
“Having all the major brands at one event in an informal and interactive environment creates a vibrant and positive atmosphere – a great opportunity for attendees to test ride with expert advice direct from suppliers. It’s also important to choose the right locations for these demo days – having the right bikes in the right location for good test rides is key to a successful event. These events also provide Rutland with valuable information and feedback on the brands and also for future events.”
The concept not only truly gives the dealer real experience of each product’s capabilities, features and handling; it also ensures that when making sales, their personal knowledge will cut through the marketing jargon and connect with the customer on a personal level. Last year we caught up with distributor Chicken CycleKit on a trip to Venice to meet Italian born-and-bred wheel brand Miche. Over the two days spent on the trip, dealers received an immersive and truly fascinating insight into the creation of prestigious Italian wheels, and even met some of the employees literally making the products that end up in their shops. I spoke to many of the dealers on the trip to gauge their experiences with events such as this and not one of them had a bad word to say about the way Chicken chose to get them involved. In fact, many had since agreed to stock Miche products, having revised their opinion of the brand’s range. Of course, the benefits to the brand didn’t stop there. A good hour of the trip was dedicated to discussing Miche’s image and branding – time and insight that the dealers were more than happy to provide – after all, a product that they value is far more likely to be a product that the customer also values.
Chicken CycleKit’s Alex Rowling tells me why the company thinks it’s important to bring the brand and the dealer together in this way: “We are lucky to have many of our suppliers still manufacture their products in Italy. These brands often have a rich heritage and some factories such as Cinelli and Columbus are considered a ‘cycling mecca’, so for cycling aficionados to be able see these factories is amazing for them. We regularly takes dealers out to factory visits, there’s no better way to ignite passion for a brand than taking them to a factory and seeing everything first hand.”
There’s no doubt that getting truly acquainted with a brand or product in its natural environment is beneficial, but is it feasible for the majority of dealers? The information and experience is there, but this still doesn’t necessarily tackle the inherent battle with time investment that dealers struggle with. This is where the bigger shows come into their own. Take the recent Cycle Show, which annually takes over the Birmingham NEC, for example. On top of a mammoth list of brands in attendance, the 2017 event played host to a gigantic dirt e-bike test track, a children’s test track and multiple stages with discussions and seminars from the likes of Cytech and our very own retail expert Mark O’Dolan. Taking a slightly different stance is the Core Bike Show – an industry event defines its USP by drawing the focus more onto the social aspect of an industry event, and less on simply dolling out the same old technical specs. Core, which takes place in the grand Whittlebury Hall, is ideal for those looking to truly connect with their fellow dealers in a relaxed environment, whilst getting to grips with an ever-growing brand list.
We asked organiser Keith Jepson about the implications of the bike industry’s packed annual schedule and Core’s place in that calendar: “There are large number of events in the calendar now. The most successful, whether it be L’Eroica, Ard Rock, Ride London or the NEC Cycle Show for example, offer a balance between features that the public or dealers can participate in and amazing product on show. Creating great riding or interactive ideas alongside show stopping product is key. Whether the focus is demoing product, direct sales or offering a unique ride experience, you have to make it memorable. Offering variety is essential – whether it be variety in trade stands or activities for riders and families to do! Core was first created as a relaxed environment to meet, discuss business and to hang out with contacts and friends in the industry. It was deliberately created with more of a conference feel that just a standard expo. The individual exhibition rooms give the dealers unique access to brands and the individuals behind them. This ‘private’ space allows both the dealer and exhibitor more time to go through the range and engage with the product. This continues today, even with the growth of Core from both a visitor numbers perspective and participating exhibitors, the show still retains its family atmosphere. This ethos was key in the early years planning and remains today; I believe that’s why we have so many visitors and exhibitors returning each year, plus new blood!”
So where does this leave the industry? Well, the traditional house show is far from dead. In fact, it appears that more and more are cropping up around the country. This doesn’t, however, have to be at the expense of the dealer’s engagement. Plenty of distributors are seeing the value in getting dealers out of the traditional ‘house show’ environment. It is also true that purse strings are becoming tighter every day, but those who can find a way to get their business partners into more engaging environments can reap the rewards of real expert opinion, and that should be worth a great deal.