Skip to content

CABDA West (Del Mar) 2020

January 18, 2020

This week saw the first of the cycling industry tradeshows of 2020 with the CABDA West event in Del Mar, California, just a few miles up the road from my home. As none of my clients were exhibiting at the show this year, I had no “bidnitz” at the event, but Jim Kersten- organizer and head honcho of CABDA- was gracious enough to provide me with a Guest/ Media pass for the show. My “job” at the show was to have a look on behalf of my clients, and to wander aimlessly through the halls having a sniff of all the goodies and have good conversations with my industry chums. In that respect, it was a wonderful show!

I attended last year’s inaugural event as an exhibitor, so I had a very limited view of things. Last year, the event had to deal with cool weather and plenty of rain to dampen things a bit, but this year’s event enjoyed better weather. Though chilly- by SoCal terms- it was at least very dry. The event boasted of “100% growth” over last year, and expanded into two additional halls- one for registration and event services, the other for additional exhibitor space.

Traffic last year was mixed, with the first day having busy waves and slow waves, and the second day being comparatively very slow … ghost town by noon. This year, though I was there an hour after opening each day, felt busier over all; the first day felt like it had much better/ more consistent traffic flow, and the second day had WAY better flow than last year. There was clearly more traffic, though at times it did *feel* like there were as many (or more) exhibitor/ industry folk than actual retailers. That said, I did see more bodies than last year.

Unfortunately, that increase in traffic was hardly felt in the second exhibitor building. The hall was about the same size as the main hall, but only about a third of the space was used- with the rest being left open and vacant … which just looked depressing. The space was used for an indoor BMX stunt show a couple times, but was empty the rest of the time. Add to that, the hall itself was either unheated, or just too big and empty to heat well, and remained very frigid both days. There were a few strong brands present in the hall, as well as seminars being held there, but it never seemed to draw any real traffic to the hall on day one … so a few of the exhibitors simply “asked for forgiveness, rather than permission”, and moved into a few empty spots inside the main hall before the show began on day two. I’m not sure that Jim and CABDA really could’ve done much to improve things in the second hall, given the number of exhibitors, but perhaps splitting more of the big brands between the two halls would’ve promoted better traffic flow for all exhibitors. In the end, the second hall felt a little like the basement of Interbike in Anaheim 20+ years ago.

The consensus wasn’t quite a consensus. There were grumblings of “this was pointless” and rants of “this was perfect.” Both were true, depending on your objectives and actions. I did see plenty of folks seemingly conducting business, and a few retailers I know were very pleased about the exhibitor turnout. With the demise of Interbike, we (The Bike Industry®) lack a unifying event in North America. CABDA, to their incredible praise, has done an excellent job with their shows- which now include the original Chicago event, plus Del Mar and New York. They have truly stepped up with trying to replace and improve upon Interbike’s position. That said, they still remain largely regional shows that don’t have the support of the major players in the industry- Trek, Specialized, Giant, and the other key brands. That is far from being their fault, and Jim certainly has his doors open to them. He gets zero complaint from me. The closest thing currently to what Interbike once was, is now Sea Otter. The Big Gear Show coming in July seeks to replace Interbike and improve upon its reach, by combining multiple outdoor industries in one event. It’s a formula that hasn’t worked yet, but certainly has the potential to- and with former Interbike director and Lifeboat event owner Lance Camisasca now running the bike side of things, it has a lot more firepower. But will it work for the full ecosystem of the industry? Suppliers, brands, distributors, OEM manufacturers, retailers, advocacy groups and media? And maybe even the ever-important consumer? So far, for North America, I’ve yet to see the right formula emerge and gain support from the broader industry. Again, largely by default, Sea Otter is the closest thing we have.

Example; my client Elastic Interface is the leading supplier of chamois pads to the cycling clothing brands. Where do they go in North America to conduct business? CABDA had a few clothing brands present, but none of them had their design teams or product developers there. Sea Otter, by sheer volume and weight, now has some of those individuals in attendance. Will The Big Gear Show draw those same people? CABDA is a victim of its successful design of being lower stress, and is usually handled by a brand’s regional sales reps or national sales managers and marketing folks, leaving the designers and developers back home. This presents problems for the suppliers like Elastic Interface who do not sell to retailers or directly to consumers, but to the brands both of them buy. Again, this is no fault of CABDA, by any means. Nor will it be the fault of The Big Gear Show if they are unable to draw a broader swath of the industry’s personnel.

Times have changed, and the roll of tradeshows has changed as well, thanks in part to the real-time speed of the internet for spreading news, as well as countless brands choosing to control their messaging and audience with private events/ shows. Product cycles are different for clothing and bikes and components, so no date on the calendar is perfect for the entire industry’s support networks. If you include the major shows outside of the US- Eurobike, Taipei Cycle Show, and Taichung Bike Week- the entire ecosystem is taken care of … but no longer here in North America (and not in one show), limiting the reach and access of many smaller brands, and larger suppliers. As of yet, there is no answer that I can see on the immediate horizon, though I eagerly await one to emerge. Some say tradeshows are dead relics of a bygone time, but I would passionately argue that nothing beats genuine face to face conversations … and we have fewer and fewer good opportunities for them.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Parke permalink
    January 21, 2020 8:32 AM

    Thanks for an insiders peek at CABDA west. It’s certainly a rugged period for understanding the value of shows aimed at presenting products to the reseller channels and for brands who must allocate budgets (or not) to drive these conversations.
    Because we are watching the old paradigm of “value add” to the product delivery chain reconfigure itself every year, its a fair question you ask about the worthiness of attending shows to support the model we have known, and counted on, for years.
    My guess (offered as little more than that) is: many good shops have secured a solid enough customer base to make the investment of curating a unique retail product selection worth it for them. They know they lose some business to showroom behavior, but they have equally seen enough of their customers who’ve had a negative internet experience and have returned to wanting the assistance a shop provides. The shops that haven’t consolidated a core following have mighty challenges ahead of them. The game is afoot – acquiring and keeping customers is still the art of a good retail store. That has always been a benchmark to strive to; it hasn’t changed since Bike 1.0, merged into 2.0 and currently 3.0 (Rick Vosper BR&IN). so a show that offers human contact, product enlightenment, and tribe gathering still has a place if the cost to execute works for all the stakeholders.

    In full disclosure, I am Ops Director for Outdoor City USA.
    We are aiming at blending 4 key ingredients for our upcoming Sept 2020 dates in Bend, OR
    A) Outdoor Industry Coalitions that drive Public Policy and Sports Participation
    B) Brands displaying and demo’ing product at the Expo
    c) Broad Spectrum bicycle racing events, Running, Climbing and Wellness
    D) Inclusive of families, all walks of life, with a high emphasis on kids (the next gen buyers)

    We are small right now – (year two), and have not the stature of a Sea Otter, but nonetheless, our formula is working and the various aspects of our industry and sport have embraced us rather quickly. We are encouraged. We are very bullish on Face to Face, no matter how you distribute and sell products. Turns out, we all crave a good tribe gathering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tim Jackson permalink*
      January 21, 2020 9:30 AM


      As usual, I agree with you and your observations. I do believe that face to face interactions are necessary and vital- whether brand to brand, brand to retailer, or brand to consumer … it’s part of the lifecycle in my mind. I may be wrong, and often am, but as antiquated and quaint as tradeshows may be in some ways, it’s hard to rule them out entirely- in the end, humans do actually like to interact with other humans in the physical world.

      The full ecosystem of our sport/ industry- like all others- is changing rapidly. The way we did things in the past is hardly acceptable or viable now. Tradeshows are very much in the same boat. I have clients who work directly with consumers and those who only sell to other brands. Connecting to consumers is the easy part these days. The hard one is connecting brands to other brands, especially in the “niche” of something like cycling pads … since cycling, unlike other industries, doesn’t have a dedicated apparel show.

      But, one thing is clear to me; there is no shortage of desire to “connect”, at some level, given the sheer number of events trying to do exactly that.


Get it off your chest; we're all friends here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: