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Fall CycloFest; Interbike’s Electrifying Charlotte Experiment

October 26, 2016

Disclaimer; the following opinions are mine alone, and are not those of my client. 

Interbike’s newest foray into an east coast-centric event, Fall CycloFest, just wrapped up this past Sunday on October 23rd. Charlotte, North Carolina played host to a mix of retailers, consumers, and various industry brands at the US National Whitewater Center. Interbike stated that 115 vendors and “more than 1,150 retail buyers from about 600 stores” had registered/pre-registered for the four day event. Thursday and Friday were open to the trade only, while Saturday and Sunday were to be open to consumers as well.

The weather for the four days was nearly perfect, albeit unseasonably hot, and a bit windy. Though potential rains were forecast for Friday, the event remained dry for its entirety. The USNWC is a fantastic venue, with a man-made “river” used for US Olympic trials and training for whitewater events. The facility also has numerous other family-friendly features like climbing walls, ziplines, and more than 25 miles of world class MTB trails. With food, beer, and numerous concerts hosted at the facility, it is an area draw all on its own. In many ways, Interbike really couldn’t have stumbled upon a better location. Kudos to them for venturing out onto the limb.


Though the weather and venue were nearly perfect, the effectiveness and success of the event is very much open to debate, according to every person I spoke to there … and most of us had a lot of time to discuss the topic.

The expo itself was held on the dirt and gravel upper parking area for the venue. In and of itself, not entirely unlike the area where Dirt Demo is held in Bootleg Canyon during Interbike. Similar to Dirt Demo, the weather was very hot and the winds intermittently turned the expo into a swirling dust bowl, coating everything- including nostrils- in a thick layer of dirt. Winds never quite reached the Bootleg Canyon levels, where tents went flying into the woods, but it was touch and go at times and effectively destroyed many booth samples (like clothing). More uncomfortable was the fact that the expo area was also directly underneath high voltage transmission lines … lots of them. The lines could be heard crackling and popping all day long, and many of the booths became “electrified”- electrical arcs were common when touching tent frames, especially with another metal object. Which was … interesting. Diagonally from the booth I was working in, for my client INNO Advanced Car RacksINNO Advanced Car Racks, Park Tool had their awesome portable bike shop trailer. Normally, they have their tall blade flags on top of the trailer, but due to the closeness of the transmission lines, they had to put them on the ground … for safety reasons.

Thursday and Friday were both reserved for retailers only, so there was a potential for “more than 1,150 retail buyers from about 600 stores“, but it would be sheer insanity to suggest anywhere near that number showed up- even if you combined the two days. Interbike had suggested that the massive drop off in attendance at the September show was at least partially due to the new CycloFest event. Billed as a larger draw across the region, the vast majority of retailers who did attend, were from the NC area. There were dealers who did travel from PA, OH, MS, FL, GA and other states- as well as a few from Canada and as far as Curacao! But all told, the numbers were far lower than Interbike and the attending brands had hoped for.

Lots of empty booths.

Saturday and Sunday were open to consumers, though a few consumers were allowed into the event on the opening days, much to the surprise of some vendors. Saturday began with long lines of cars to enter the venue, and an even longer line of consumers signing waivers. Though the event wasn’t supposed to open until 10:00AM (unlike 9:00AM for retail days), the gates were temporarily opened early before many vendors had gotten to their booths. Once the gate was re-closed, the masses gathered in anticipation … and the vendors began to feel like their commitment to the event was going to be repaid. After the initial huge wave of consumers entered, things slowed down during the rest of the day, though there was certainly a steady stream for much of the day. Sunday was a considerably slower day, especially during the first half of the day, but did have a few waves of visitors. As soon as the event finished at 4:00, vendors feverishly finished tearing down their booths … if they hadn’t done so already by 2:00.

There is no denying that nearly any first year event is going to experience growing pains. And Interbike deserves full credit for even trying this, after the losing experience they had putting on the OutDoor Demo East events in years past (2008-2010). They selected an excellent venue that holds a lot of potential. But it fell far short of expectation, for almost everybody.

Perhaps if the event had been held on the lower grassy areas, closer to the water park, it may have been less subjected to the electrical issues and heavy dust. I spoke to a few folks who lamented the fact that the items they brought to display/ sell had been effectively destroyed- that layer of brown dirt blown into clothing left it essentially impossible to sell. Down in the “bowl” of the venue, near the water, the expo might’ve also been shielded from the winds a bit, and possibly a little cooler.

Though there had been regional promotion of the event, nearly every consumer I spoke to said they had heard almost nothing about the event taking place until just prior, and mostly word of mouth. The USNWC promoted the event to its contact base, though the overwhelming majority of those people are whitewater enthusiasts, since the MTB trails are free to ride- you only have to pay for parking- so the riders are largely not on the mailing list. Perhaps better, more targeted promotion would have drawn more cycling consumers.

And here’s the main point of all of this, the meat of the event; CycloFest was an awesome demo event for bikes, on some of the best trails in the area. Brands like my former employers at Pivot Cycles had bikes on constant rotation, with consumers waiting as long as three hours to get on the bike of their choice. I saw countless Santa Cruz, Rocky Mountain, Orange, Norco, Niner, and numerous e-bikes being ridden heavily. Some of the other bike brands there had mixed success, and some were left staring at their iPhones all day.

If you were not demoing products, you were pretty much ignored- unless you were giving away something, like the famous Abus bags. SRAM was pretty busy and had lots of activity going on. Part of Niner’s success was pegged to the fact Rebecca Rusch was leading women’s rides and doing clinics. But the vast majority of non-bike brands simply got overlooked. And I understand why …

If I were a consumer in the Charlotte region, you can bet I woulda been out there both days riding on some epic trails on every bike I couldn’t find in my local shop … bikes like Pivot, Rocky, Norco, etc. You can find a Trek or a Specialized virtually anywhere, but the less widely distributed brands are next to impossible to get a chance to ride. And that’s precisely what happened. And, I totally get it.

But that’s not what brands paid for.

It was the first year of a new and risky event. It’s something Interbike needed to do- even if it failed. They needed to be seen as listening, innovating, and trying something new(ish). Rumors swirled all week about Interbike struggling to find and regain relevance. With Eurobike announcing major changes (moving from September to July), and even the Taipei show announcing a move to October from March, Interbike sits as the lone major event in the industry to remain relatively stagnant. Many rumors abound about a move to Salt Lake City within a year or two, though the September date is still widely believed to remain. Many retailers have begged for a date change to January or February, which would create a challenge for having bike demos in SLC, but it would best correlate to a time when retailers have the available time to be out of their shops for a bit. Brands aren’t too keen on a winter show date, since much of their newest products are still cooking at that time. Toss Sea Otter into the conversation in April, and it just gets more complicated. Yet Sea Otter has quickly turned into the early launch for most products now, even eclipsing the racing itself. And with larger, key brands holding private launches and dealer events in June/ July, you quickly see that the calendar is not anybody’s friend.

But how about this as a starting point for the conversation that Interbike is likely having in the offices right now; move the show out of Vegas to SLC or even Denver, in February, so we can hopefully get more retailers to attend. Then have a large bike demo event in summer or fall, possibly back in North Carolina again, or even in SLC. In recent years, brands have been pulling out of DirtDemo during Interbike, and the show was inarguably way down this year. Splitting the two parts of Interbike into two events might not be the most popular decision, but it would likely be more effective … certainly more effective than last week’s CycloFest was. Really, last week could’ve been handled by regional sales reps working with their brand’s demo fleets, leaving the non-bike brands out of the equation.

There is no doubt that Interbike is never going to please everybody, and making massive changes to the show’s date, location, or format is risky and scary. I get it. I’m glad it’s not my job. But the show really is important to the industry, and the argument that smaller regional shows at multiple times of the year is better, is hollow and self-serving. The industry needs to have an unifying event that brings us together to celebrate our successes, learn and share with each other, and showcase who and what we are. A million regional shows over the course of the year forces brands to pick and choose which markets they will support, and which ones they will neglect. And it gets really damned expensive going to multiple shows in multiple regions.

I have all the respect in the world for the folks at Interbike. I know they have a shitty problem to figure out- and I certainly don’t pretend to have the answer. I said it multiple times during CycloFest directly to a few Interbike folks- “I don’t envy you.” I speak loudly about Interbike because I care about it, and I believe in it. And I hope, by now, that they recognize that I’m not busting their chops just to be critical. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t … we’ll see if I get invited to any VIP events in the future.

Tim

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2016 11:42 AM

    Thanks for the analysis. Your comments pretty much jive with my experience. Except: While I heard the trails provided a great venue for mountain bike demos, I would add that I found the roads around the USNWC to be dangerous due to an unusually high number of aggressive drivers and the narrowness (or total absence) of shoulders. Not a safe place to demo road/tri bikes.

    Like

    • Tim Jackson permalink*
      October 27, 2016 3:02 PM

      The road demo was lacking, for sure, unless you were willing to ride on the narrow shoulders you mention. I did not get a chance to ride at all, but I grew up in Alabama with similar roads and drivers; mixed bag.

      The road into the USNWC was kinda nice, but obviously pretty short. I don’t know if the assumption was that folks would just use that short road for very simple demo rides.

      Definitely, if I were a bike brand demoing road bikes, I’d likely organize timed group rides with lead and sag riders to organize things. Safety in numbers.

      Like

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