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Like a pool of water in the Nevada desert, Interbike gradually evaporated over the years, only to completely dry up this year.
In case you missed it, last week Emerald Events, Interbike’s owner, announced that the 2019 show is canceled. Will it ever return? We just don’t know.
Numerous factors and changing dynamics contributed to Interbike’s death: the shrinking number of American retailers, big brands launching their own dealer camps, and the rise of e-commerce, among other things. The purpose of this column, however, is not to point fingers.
Instead, we want to better understand what aspects of Interbike should live on. At one point Interbike was the world’s largest bicycle show, a place where brands, bike shops, media, and bike fanatics met up to ink deals, share best practices, and show off the latest and greatest gear. Times have changed, of course. So, should the bike industry continue to seek out parts and pieces of Interbike? We reached out to multiple bicycle industry insiders, from manufacturers to retailers to event organizers, to inquire.
Deals need to be done
The core mission of Interbike was simple: North American bike shops met with bicycle brands to place orders for the coming year. Does the industry still need a venue for this to happen? For some brands, yes, for others, no.
In recent years, the industry’s largest bicycle manufacturers — Trek, Specialized, and Giant — launched their own events for dealers and media.
“We offer very personal treatment where retailers get one-on-one time with everybody and they get everything they need in terms of products and people,” says Giant’s global senior product marketing manager Andrew Juskaitis.
Giant shrunk its Interbike presence seven years ago. Today, Giant brings between 250-300 of its top shops to its private camp. There’s less competition for attention, and it is a more efficient way to meet with key accounts.
This model works great for the big bike brands like Giant. But small- and mid-sized bike brands lack the resources to put on dealer camps, yet they still want a place to meet with retailers. These brands still need some type of show or venue to meet with dealers and ink deals.
“The purpose of an industry gathering is mostly to reach your dealer customer base,” says Chris Cocalis, president of Pivot Bikes, who had attended Interbike since 1988. “We’ve basically lost our retailer show completely. It’s fantastic to reach consumers, but really we still have to get the support of our dealers and how you do that with the way everybody runs their business these days is tough.”
Pivot and other brands are looking to regional bike shows as a way to reach retailers. Cocalis plans to attend the Chicagoland Area Bike Dealers Association (CABDA) show. CABDA holds its Chicago event in February and will launch a second event in San Diego this January.
CABDA has steadily grown since it was reintroduced five years ago. In 2019, it expects nearly 200 exhibitors in Chicago. The show focuses on attracting as many bike shops as possible. In 2018, 560 shops attended the Chicago event, indicating that there is still a need for these businesses to work out deals face-to-face with product suppliers.
“The number we care about is the shop count,” says CABDA show director and CEO Jim Kersten. “The overall number of attendees makes the show look more full, but I don’t think it has as large an effect on the overall success of the show, how many orders are placed.”
Kersten says that interest is exceeding expectations for the inaugural San Diego show, January 16-17. He currently expects 350-375 shops to attend, despite external factors such as Performance Bicycle’s current turmoil and the wildfires in Southern California.
That interest is also reflected in the number of registered exhibitors. The California event, held at a smaller venue than the Chicago show, is at capacity with about 185 booths, and 20 more are on the waiting list. Kersten says over two dozen brands have reached out in the past week since Interbike’s cancellation was announced, hoping to get into his show.
A need to share best practices
The industry needs a way to share best practices between retailers, brands, and even media. How do you display product? What’s the best way to create lasting relationships with customers? How can brands reach female cyclists through clinics and organized rides? Interbike and other shows try to answer these questions through panel discussions and educational talks given by industry experts.
“I think learning opportunities are one of the most valuable things for any progressive bike shop person,” says Hill Abell, owner of Bicycle Sport Shop in Texas, a 35-year-old business with five locations. “How do we continue to grow our skill sets and gain new perspectives in the evolving world of retail?”
But is a national show the only way this information can be disseminated? No — there are other ways that shops and brands are now distributing best practices. As Giro’s Eric Richter points out, much of that education is readily available online. That means any type of event needs to offer something special.
“For me, I think it comes down to creating an experience that adds value that justifies the expense of going,” Richter says.
You might assume, then, that the desire for clinics and symposiums would wane at conferences. That’s not the case, says Kersten. Throughout the Midwest, investors have been buying up existing shops, and this has created a demand for more education at CABDA to help them bolster their staff’s knowledge.
“All of our training seminars and sales clinics, we had to expand that a lot. Two years ago, we doubled education at the show,” Kersten says. He estimates that half of his participants come for the trade show and the other half attends CABDA for education.
Without Interbike, the Bicycle Leadership Conference (BLC), held in the three days leading up to Sea Otter, may also be the bike industry’s best venue to share best practices and learn.
“The BLC helps to offer a valuable gathering, and the combination of the BLC followed by Sea Otter gives it additional elements that are worthwhile,” says Tim Blumenthal, executive director of PeopleForBikes.
Shops and consumers need to demo new gear
Bike shop owners and employees love riding bikes. And so does the rest of the industry.
“A show needs to get back to a celebration of the cycling lifestyle, and I feel like we’ve lost that in the last few years,” says Abell.
Before shop owners like Abell order the season’s latest gear, they want to ride the products. Interbike’s demo days at Bootleg Canyon and at Northstar Resort in 2018 were set up to accomplish this task.
“The demo opportunity is a huge feature of Interbike,” Abell adds. “It’s one that everybody treasures at the end of the day, from the lowliest shop rat to most of the people that run the business. They are interested in getting on bikes and checking out new technology.”
So where will retailers try out new gear? The Outerbike show may be one option to test ride products. First held in Moab, Utah nine years ago, Outerbike has grown to four events for 2019: Moab, Sun Valley, Idaho, Bentonville, Arkansas, and Crested Butte, Colorado.
Outerbike’s co-founder and co-owner Mark Sevenoff doesn’t think his events can fill the void left by Interbike, partly because they mostly showcase mountain bike products, but also because attendees are mostly consumers. However, he has seen how bike shop employees and owners can use the demo events to see what customers want, as well as ride the product themselves.
“We don’t push Outerbike for the dealers, but every year we do get more shops,” Sevenoff says. “Dealers can attend consumer events because it gives them opportunities to gauge consumer response right there.”
Richter thinks that a customer-first approach could be beneficial if the exhibitors buy into it.
“For me, it’s clear consumers haven’t been valued by Interbike,” he says. “There’s an opportunity to use a tool like social media to see what people are interested in people are excited about.”
Outerbike’s ascendance has also coincided with direct-to-consumer brands that have given cyclists an easy way to purchase bikes online. However, this Internet-centric model is missing a key step in the sales process that every bike shop offers: A test ride. Outerbike serves that need.
“The direct-to-consumer thing has definitely helped us,” says Sevenoff. “Fezzari, they came and they were stoked. Canyon came to a couple events, but they had scheduling conflicts. YT has been, Commencal has been.”
Other events like the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival in Arizona and Sea Otter Classic also afford demo opportunities.
“Sea Otter is probably going to be even bigger this year now that budgets are freed up from Interbike,” says Juskaitis. He feels it has become more like a tradeshow, perhaps at the expense of the event’s races. “Back in the day, it was a race with a tradeshow, and last year especially, I felt it was a tradeshow with a race.”
The industry needs to network and socialize
From the Sinclair Imports party to the CrossVegas cyclocross race to the simple act of walking the show floor, Interbike was one of the best places to catch up with old friends and make new connections. Nearly all of the industry experts we spoke with will miss the chance to network and socialize. Unfortunately, that is a need that few events can satisfy at the scale that Interbike did in its halcyon days.
In recent years, Sea Otter has become a defacto bike industry meet-up.
“Sea Otter, as far as an industry gathering, has cemented itself in place,” says Cocalis. “It gathers a good industry following globally, but I think there is an opportunity for some either late-fall or early winter event that is almost a more true kick-off to the season.”
Even Interbike, in its final few years, wasn’t a complete gathering of all corners of the industry.
“I know that the gathering of the entire tribe is really important and valuable to us and valuable to everyone,” says Blumenthal. “One of the limitations of Interbike was that in the last 7-10 years, it wasn’t a full gathering of the tribe. A small percentage of our key partners, retailers, suppliers, and even media were there and engaged. Interbike in its heyday had the energy and spectacle to reflect bicycling which is amazing and big and diverse, and it hasn’t felt that way recently.”
And perhaps it will never feel that way again. If retailers can conveniently drive to a regional event like CABDA, if industry insiders can stay connected on social media, if demo opportunities are plentiful at events like Outerbike, an exclusive, industry-only national gathering might be antiquated.
“There are reasons why Interbike went away — the market has changed, business has changed, the economy has changed,” says Juskaitis. “Let’s not try to replace Interbike. Let’s come up with the next generation of Interbike.”