http://www.jeffharbaugh.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/logo_color_640.gif 0 0 jeff http://www.jeffharbaugh.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/logo_color_640.gif jeff2011-09-26 20:14:562014-09-26 08:10:38Lessons From Interbike: Focus In or Focus Out
I had occasion to be in Vegas on business while Interbike was going on. The company I was working with was exhibiting there, so I took the day to wander around the show. I’d never been to Interbike before. There was something different about this trade show from all the others I’d ever been to. It took me a little thinking time with my favorite adult beverage after I got back to begin to figure it out.
What I did notice at the show, of course, was that everybody there- exhibitors, buyers, hangers on- were about riding bikes and making riding better. That’s not a completely unique observation. I’ve made a similar comment about SIA’s snow show in Denver where everybody is somehow or other associated with sliding on snow.
But I wouldn’t want to push that comparison too hard. Technology, and improving the technology, in the cause of better riding, was king at Interbike. I guess that’s partly because the technology is so visible and touchable and, apparently, constantly changing. I don’t claim there’s no marketing component to this, or that all the “new technologies” really represent significant changes. But it seemed to my bike uneducated eye that product evolution and improvement was very real.
And when I looked at the prices of bikes, it appears the consumer agrees and is willing to pay for it. When a friend told me that the price of a top end bike could be $10,000.00 or even more, I almost peed my pants. It’s been a while since I bought a bike and yes, I do know there are also cheap bikes out there.
The other thing that my friend told me was that he had bought his bike some years ago, and still had it. But various parts had been replaced as they wore out or he found an upgrade he wanted. It was the same frame, but not necessarily the same bike.
There’s market value in this kind of focus and community of interests. It tells you who your customers are (and who they are not). It invests the customers in their relationship with the retailer and provides reasons to visit that retailer. It gives the consumer an ownership of the product you can only get when the product is upgradeable, not a commodity, and long lived.
It’s not that there isn’t a fashion component to all this, but I didn’t seem much “after biking” clothing or “casual” bike shoes. That’s kind of where the comparison to the SIA show falls apart. Obviously, there’s a huge fashion component there.
Where else have I seen the kind of commitment to technology and community of interests I saw at Interbike? The only place that comes to mind is in longboarding. Longboarders, like bikers, seem to be an inclusive, group of people who are accepting of anybody who uses any kind of longboard for any purpose. They share an interest in longboard technology and product improvement. That’s probably why they’ve become as big a chunk of the skateboard market as they have.
I had a chance to talk to a bike retailer about skateboarding. He didn’t do skate, but was considering picking up longboards. Not short decks- just longboards. He said he wouldn’t know how to sell short decks and they just wouldn’t fit in his shop. He meant “fit,” I think, in a couple of ways. There was no way he could do a wall of short decks, and his customers wouldn’t be interested. But long boards, as a community with improving technology, and as a mode of transportation as well as competition he could relate to.
Biking also has the advantage of being something you can do from oh, I don’t know, ages 5 to 75? And, like skate, you can do it anywhere.
But where surf, skate, and snow break down, at least compared to biking and, I suppose, longboarding, is that they have diffused their customer focus. Much of the market (most?) is apparel, shoes, and other products, sold to non-participants. Biking has a broad community of common interest defined by participation. Action sports uses participation to attract nonparticipants to its “lifestyle.” Isn’t it interesting that biking, except for BMX, isn’t considered to be part of action sports?
Action sports works hard to keep its core distinctive and maybe even exclusive. You, the uncool person, can’t really belong to that core but you can sort of emulate it if you want by buying this shirt. That’s seen as a marketing strength and for some companies it certainly is. Biking is about hard goods and everybody is invited in as in longboarding. Hmmm. Is longboarding action sports? Maybe how we label it doesn’t matter and I don’t care.
Because of its inclusiveness and focus on participation, you compete in the bike market by making a product that helps the rider participate better. When you do that by definition you join and support the community. If you can’t do that, nobody cares. Energy in the industry is concentrated and focused inward.
In actions sports, on the contrary, our growth efforts have inevitably become focused outward. Our energy is diffused and bigger, stronger competitors can break in as the distinction between action sports and fashion becomes blurred.
I’m not saying that action sports have done it “wrong” and biking and longboarding have done it “right.” At the end of the day, more people are going to bike at some point in their life than are going to surf. It’s just the way it is. But there’s food for thought here. Is it better to build your market, like bike and longboarding seem to do, by welcoming anybody who wants to participate or can contribute to better participation? Ultimately, you create some limit to your market.
Or should you, as action sports has done, go for the much larger market of nonparticipants, recognizing that as you diffuse your energy over this larger market you invite serious competition and make the exclusivity that was initially your greatest competitive advantage less important?
I’ll be damned if I know, but the comparison is certainly intriguing.