Success On Two Wheels, What The Bike Industry Can Teach Us
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When searching for new ideas for your business, sometimes it pays to learn from a completely different industry. As longboarding becomes more popular, it’s beginning to mirror both the culture and business of the bike world. Consider the following:
• The bike industry has 61 BILLION dollars a year in sales.
• Globally, more than 130 million bicycles are sold each year.
• The industry is seeing growth rates between 10-25% worldwide.
Entry-level consumers can migrate to much costlier products/components Bikes and longboards can be purchased relatively inexpensively. But once a customer has been hooked, there is a huge potential in all kinds of upgrades. The era of the $1,000 longboard complete is here.
A much wider range of potential riders The street skate market demographic is generally males under the age of 18. Bikes and now increasingly, the longboard world have a tremendous number of female participants. There are also numerous enthusiasts over the age of 20.
I asked Buddy Carr, a longtime skateboarder and bike enthusiast, about the industry. Over the past several years, he has attended the massive Interbike show in Las Vegas. “The size of the show and the ease of getting access all make for an extremely productive time,” he says. “Everything is there under one giant roof: road bikes, beach cruisers, BMX, mountain bikes and everything in between, all in one place.”
He finds the show truly exciting, especially if approached with the right attitude. So even if he has zero
interest in beach cruisers, there is always something that catches his eye.“I end up spending time looking at something I ‘thought’ I had no interest in,” he says. “Open minds lead to open doors.” Carr says technology is first and foremost on many consumers’ minds. “The bike industry seems to run on technology first and image/ego second,” he says. “Every year there is more to the show than just new paint schemes and graphic treatment.”
He points to the astounding variety of composites, electronics and new concepts that are shown each season. “Some products and ideas are good, some maybe are not so good,” he says. “But progression of products seems to drive the show, not autograph signings and expensive after-parties.” With billions of dollars at stake, you can bet there is a great deal of interest. “This is a serious business,” Buddy says. “The bike dealers are used to investing a lot of money into inventory, committing to pre-books and tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise.” Carr notes that the dealers come in all types and sizes and says there doesn’t seem to be a standard “uniform,” as he sees happening with skateboarding shows. “Whereas skateboarding was once a sport that accepted us ‘misfits,’” he says, “it seems the opposite is true these days, where the wrong shirt or pants could get you snubbed by a manufacturer.” While many of us view news of major bike tours on television like the Tour De France, Carr sees the bike industry as less ego-driven. While there is hype, it’s not central to the business. “Sure, a good marketing campaign and a tour win will help any brand sell more bikes for a certain season,” he says, “but that is a temporary fix and only one part of the equation.”
The bike industry needs the athletes pushing their products and showing consumers how well they work, but there is a huge focus on the product advancement as well. Carr is emphatic when it comes to progress vs. marketing hype. “The longboard industry will be successful by putting product development first,” he says. “We can’t rely on simply the image, team or ad campaign. If we create better products, all the other stuff follows.” One of those things is price. Carr says most people would be shocked to learn what bike enthusiasts are willing to pay.
“The average price of a decent road bike starts at around $2,500, and a really advanced raceready bike will set the customer back over 10 grand,” he says. “There seems to be an unwritten rule in skateboarding that a complete board should not cost more than $150 – which causes manufacturers to rush out and find a cheaper way to produce products. It’s up to us as an industry to raise prices through product advancement.” The word “passion” gets thrown around a lot these days. But committed bike riders are just like hardcore skaters. They have their sport running through their veins and are always looking for that next great product. But there are some key differences.
“The public and many industry people still view skateboarding as an outlaw sport or something that kids do, but in my eyes it is no different than the 30-something on the high-end bike with all the tricked-out gear,” Carr says. “It’s up to us an industry to move toward this type of thinking in order to grow longboarding in a direction that is favorable to both customers, shops and companies. Why should skateboarding be viewed as a cheap fad or something the skater will grow out of? What if the bike industry would have had that mindset? Would they be selling $10,000 bicycles today?” The skateboard industry is moving forward. It has started to embrace different markets and demographics. But it has taken a long time, and Carr thinks more can be done.
“I think we as an industry stifle our own growth,” he says, “and need to look at how we can advance skateboarding and not just focus on making a cheaper, less expensive product. Massmarket retailers already have that covered.”
A bike co-op is where bike enthusiasts can share resources and build community along with learning how to maintain their bike. Members engage in cycling advocacy and education to promote biking as a safe and sustainable means of transportation. A number of longboard clubs are sprouting up on college campuses. A leap to the co-op world isn’t far off.
Founded 20 years ago in San Francisco, Critical Mass is a cycling event typically held on the last Friday of every month in more than 300 cities around the world. The purpose of Critical Mass is not usually formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling on bikes as a group through city or
town streets. New York City (Broadway Bomb) and Toronto (Board Meeting) are attracting 1,000 plus longboarders for their rides. GreenSkate (held each April) is also drawing out hundreds of participants in dozens of cities.
Many cities contain subcultures of bicycle enthusiasts, including racers, bicycle messengers, bicycle transportation activists, mutant bicycle fabricators, bicycle mechanics and bicycle commuters. Some such groups are affiliated with activism or counterculture groups. Advocacy within the cycling community may aim for improvements including requesting bike lanes, improved parking facilities and access to public transportation.
There are many different types of longboarders. Downhillers wear racing leathers and full-face helmets, freeriders combine sliding with speed. Long-distance enthusiasts will crush 100 miles in one day! Cruisers just want a quick and easy way to get to around. Longboarders are raising awareness for helmet safety (NOBI Foundation) and collecting money for the less fortunate (Coast Longboarding’s Christmas toy program). And there’s a huge number of longboarders raising awareness and money for a variety of charities.
Would You Take 1%?
The bike industry is made up of a number of small, medium and large size companies. It has multiple distribution channels and technology drives the sport forward. Most importantly, it has products for all budgets, interests and ages. Taking just 1% of the total dollars spent on bike equipment would equate to a $600 million longboard industry worldwide. AXS