COVID-19 has caused many trade shows and other cycling events to be cancelled or postponed this year. Rebecca Morley explores how this has affected businesses within the industry
Trade shows have always been a vital part of the cycling industry’s calendar. But when COVID-19 restrictions began to be imposed, it quickly became clear that most events would not be able to go ahead – at least not as originally planned. First shows were postponed by a couple of months, then they were cancelled altogether, with organisers vowing to return bigger and better in 2021.
This month, in particular, would have seen us travel to Friedrichshafen for Eurobike followed by a return to the NEC in Birmingham for The Cycle Show, but now the former will be taking place in November – and in a different format. The event will be a pure B2B concept and parts, components and accessories providers will dominate the show, organisers said, as for the majority of complete bike manufacturers, a November show means that order dates have closed.
But the vast majority of shows across the world have been cancelled for 2020, including Taipei Cycle, Sea Otter Classic, Outdoor by ISPO and Bespoked. Both The Cycle Show and the London eBike Festival will also not take place this year – instead they are both moving to Alexandra Palace for a new-look event in April 2021.
These cancellations will inevitably have affected companies’ operations during these past few months – so how have they adapted, and what has it meant for business overall? “We’ve been quite seriously affected with regards to our activities at shows,” says Tern’s Mark Bickerton. “What hasn’t been affected is sales – we have been amazed at the demand that has been created as a result of COVID.
“All of a sudden, the business is there without any of the shows. The world has been turned on its head. Things have started getting back to normal with regards to communications with retailers; our sales reps, globally through our distributors, are beginning to get out and see dealers more.”
But the rest of Europe is somewhat different to the UK, Bickerton adds, in that in a normal year in Germany there could be a few shows taking place each weekend from March to October. “The German market loves its shows – they’re all regional, local shows but they’re very well-attended.
“I’m sure that will all come back after COVID. As far as the UK is concerned, Tern takes the view that shows are a very important part of presenting to the consumer and the trade. But the difficulty is you only reach the people at the show, so it could still only be 30,000 out of 65 million – 20 million of which is our target market. That said, the people who come to the shows are engaged and interested. It’s still very much worthwhile doing them.”
Getting out to see customers face-to-face is important to Silverfish, says marketing manager Richard Schofield, as is seeing its products in use and allowing riders to try before they buy. “We have been impacted by the forced cancellation of some of the bigger UK cycling events, the suspension of racing and demo events and limitations on visiting stores.
“Of course in the greater scheme of things, stopping these activities has been a small price to pay for keeping everyone safe and it has made us look at other ways to work. It has meant we have put a much greater emphasis on digital channels; on social media, our website and email marketing to keep everyone up to date.
“We are fortunate that we have excellent email databases and a strong presence on social media with over 160,000 followers across Silverfish and key brand channels. That’s given us important communication routes in this time when meeting in person has been restricted.”
Back to the drawing board
As countries around the world began to impose COVID-19 restrictions earlier this year, and show cancellations followed, businesses of all kinds and across all industries suddenly had to adapt and try to prepare for a very different year ahead. “As with everyone, we went into spring with a degree of uncertainty, and with an understanding that it was unlikely events were going to run in any familiar capacity for the remainder of the year,” says Michael Braybrook, marketing and events manager at Extra.
Although that presented a challenge in terms of product launches and consumer communications, Braybrook continues, it allowed the distributor to utilise the resources normally associated with running and attending events elsewhere, and explore new ways of reaching the end-user.
“Our primary focus remains dealer communications as they are our customers as far as we’re concerned, and although events provide an avenue to present product to the public, I don’t believe we’ve suffered much in the way of product or brand awareness. During lockdown, there was a hunger for cycling content online which was duly fulfilled by the cycling press; this allowed us to shift our efforts in end-user communications from events to the media.
“I don’t believe the brands were too negatively affected by the cancellation of events as a way of launching new product, as brands had to endure their own challenges with manufacturing and supply during periods of global lockdowns. This meant that planned launches and timescales largely went back to the drawing board to allow time to meet global demand of existing products and ensure new ranges could be ready for a revised launch date.
“Whilst we hope that 2021 will allow events to resume, as we believe there is still a strength to representing the brands face-to-face, we will be evaluating how we do this in the future and whether there should be a shift in focus to alternative and non-traditional media.”
Back to normal?
But even with restrictions now beginning to ease, it’s unlikely our lives will go back to how they were pre-COVID soon. And given the crowds we often see at these large events, it could take even more time before they’re able to return in the ways they were originally planned.
“Crystal-gazing is dangerous, and this is a fast-moving and unpredictable situation, but we are not expecting a fast return to how things were before March,” says Schofield. “We don’t anticipate large scale events to restart soon and inevitably when they do, there will be some reluctance to attend shows and events in person.
“Hopefully, we can take some of the new ways of working and adopt them as positive enhancements, whether that’s saving travel time or allowing more people to attend through virtual or video sessions, to existing shows. Trade shows have been the backbone of the industry and as a founder member of the COREbike group, Silverfish has seen a lot of benefit from being able to meet retailers in January and show them new and exciting products for the upcoming year. We know retailers see the benefit too, as shown by their feedback and the growing attendance figures.”
One significant change to the bike show calendar this year is a lack of Cycle Show at the NEC, which would have taken place this month. The London eBike Festival was due to launch in May at Battersea Evolution, but that too has been cancelled, and both shows are instead moving to Alexandra Palace for 2021.
The two events will take place from 16th-18th April 2021, utilising over 11,000 sqm of exhibition space along with 196 acres of parkland around the venue. “COVID-19 has forced us to cancel both The Cycle Show and the London eBike Festival this year and we have not been alone,” says Nicola Meadows, portfolio director at Upper Street Events.
“Cycle events across the UK and internationally have been forced to put a temporary pause on live events, from exhibitions, sportives and international championships. For us, the break in the event calendar has given us an opportunity to reimagine the events and deliver an incredibly exciting new format. The two events will co-locate in 2021, utilising the excellent outdoor space offered by Alexandra Palace. To plan and prepare for these events we are working closely with our industry to ensure that all events we run are safe for all our customers and continue to be an enjoyable and great day out.”
But how cautious might the public be to attend shows in the future? “We remain optimistic, as the UK has unlocked the general public have had a desire to get out and do things they love,” says Meadows. “As a business, we have always been resilient during challenging economic times, due to our passionate audience. Given that the new venue has substantial outdoor presence, we think this can only help attendance. We have also been well supported by our exhibitors, with only a few stands left available within the London eBike Festival.
“The cycle industry is having a bumper year in sales and it is important we work together to extend this over future years. The Cycle Show and the London eBike Festival will bring together all types of rider, and a ticket to the shows will offer not only a fun day out, but the opportunity to spend time with like-minded passionate cyclists.
“Brands will showcase the latest bikes, kit and accessories, and the demo village will offer a huge range of new bikes available to test ride across four miles of tarmac and woodland trails. This retail opportunity is unique, and exhibitors will be able to capitalise on customers placing orders for new bikes at the show itself.”