Friday, March 8, 2019

Peeking In The Back Door: first in a new occasional series

Welcome to a new commentary thread here at BikeLoveJones.

I call it Peeking In The Back Door: A look at how the bike industry has evolved since I left.

Today's Peek: Condensation is not just weather-related.

Tripping through the pages of BRAIN (Bicycle Retailer And Industry News), We find these recent headlines:

1. Emerald Cancels 2019 Interbike Show. Yes, that's right. Interbike, the industry's trade show that I've written about here at BikeLoveJones, will not happen in 2019. Apparently, moving the show from Las Vegas to Reno (Finally!) wasn't enough to save it. And from the details in the article, it seems at least some folks won't actually miss it all that much. (I certainly wouldn't.) You can thank the Big Three -- Trek, Specialized and Giant -- for going rogue and creating their own big shows for retailers and distributors over the last four or five years, and basically doing Interbike better than Interbike ever could.

2. Head Sport agrees to to buy most ASE Assets for $22M. Remember Performance Bicycle? Yeah. Well, they went belly-up late last year and whatever is left of them is now owned by Head, the people who brought you tennis rackets and those cute little white skirts back in the 80's. Will Performance be missed? reviews are mixed at this point; I predict that by this time next year no one will care except, sadly, the ex-Performance employees who still haven't found another job in the bike industry. Sorry, guys, but a national chain of cookie-cutter bike shops that cared only about racer wannabes with a stack of cash wasn't going to have a super-long shelf life, especially after some of its Nashbar holdings began showing up in the back-wall discount bins.

3. Thule acquires rooftop tent maker Tepui Outdoors. This one matters only because Thule makes car racks that carry all manner of outdoor gear -- including bicycles. For those of us who live car-lite or car-free, this is a big whatever. But perhaps now we'll see intergrated Car-Bike-Camper-Thingys that are fully integrated for your convenience.

Oh, wait. That already exists. For homeless guys with tools, time and ingenuity.
The top photo dates from 2003. So this has been a thing for awhile.

Of course, these guys both got run out of town for looking homeless while their Car-Bike-Camper-Thingys were seen on streets lined with houses that were being lived in by, well, homed people.
But I digress.

4. Investment firm buys Clean Bottle. Some of you may or not remember this product. Back in 2009,not long after I'd become the inventory manager for Citybikes, a nice guy came in with an unbranded sample of one of these bottles, asking if we'd like to get on board as one of the very first retailers to carry the product. He offered to leave a sample with me for testing. I brought it to the inventory committee, ad they basically picked it apart: the rubber seals were weak and the bottle began to leak after only two days, it smelled bad and other than the gimmick they looked no different -- or better -- than any other overpriced, high-zoot plastic bike bottle already on the market. We passed on it with no regrets. Instead, we started looking at Klean Kanteen, a stainless steel water bottle that didn't smell funny or make water taste bad. It was by far the better choice.

5. Wheels Manufacturing sold to the Flagg family.  Anyone remember these babies?

Image result for Interbike sucks images

In a brilliant example of biting the hand that feeds you, the nice folks at Wheels printed up these stickers and handed them out at Interbike back in 2010, my second and final year attending the show. A guy at their booth, obviously not the owner, even hinted to me that they might start backing out on some of their agreements with big distros like QBP and Hawley.
Of course I grabbed a couple, and one graces the inside lid of my toolbox today.

Wheels was, and remains, a lifeline of small parts that nearly every bike shop has depended upon for nearly thirty years. They raised a huge noise when Interbike signed a ten-year extension of their contract with the Sands Convention Center, dooming Interbike to Sin City for another decade; and lots of "little guy" operations and retailers agreed. The guy who founded QBP recently stepped down to head up an online commerce development company, which he swears will remain separate from QBP distributors.
Meanwhile, he just bought Wheels Manufacturing. It was by all accounts an amicable acquisition; though the husband-and-wife founders will stay on only through the transition, which may say something as well.

6. The winner in our Condensation Super Bowl is the publication that brought us these and other scintillating stories of the rise and fall of the global bicycle industry. BRAIN was acquired in late January by the parent company of Velo News. What's even more interesting is that BRAIN will no longer be published by the National Bicycle Dealers Association, which has had exclusive publishing rights for over 15 years. Interestingly, BRAIN originally grew out of Velo News as industry mouthpiece. Now that it's rejoining Velo News under the same umbrella, will NBDA have a voice? Will it eventually be subsumed by industry giants, perhaps in some coalition between Trek, Giant, Specialized and QBP?
In a way, BRAIN has been assimilated by the Borg. It's friendly Borg, perhaps, but it's still the Borg, a creation that promotes steady, constant growth through assimilating smaller entities. It's like when the Enterprise crew rescued a little Borg-let, befriended it, named it Hugh, gave it a sense of individuality and then returned it, ostensibly to infect the Borg.
Not sure that's how this story will play out in the end.

But what I have learned from co-owning a small retail business is that steady, unceasing growth is unsustainable and unhealthy. Since I left Citybikes in Fall 2012, the co-op has gone from12 owners to fice, and from two stores selling new and used bikes to one small store that focuses on repairs and parts. How long it can survive in the current climate is anyone's guess.

I am grateful for my years working in the industry, and just as glad that I got out when I did. I am thrilled to be a hobbyist mechanic specializing in bringing old bikes back from the dead and putting them under riders again. I can't imagine a more fun way to keep my skills fresh and my hands busy.
Happy Friday, and happy riding.


TrevorW�� said...

Interesting post..I look forward to more posts in this series..

anniebikes said...

Beth, lots of good info here. Looking forward to more posts. Sadly, I will miss Nasbar and Performance, but only for a few housebrand items.

Jay said...

I really enjoy your posts about the bicycle industry. For those of us who use bicycles for fun, commuting or both but don't work in the industry are always curious about what actually goes on. I like the insight you provide. Thanks, Jay