Chris Keller Jackson argues that the bike trade needs to diversify its show schedule...

How to find new customers

When reviewing the exhibitor details for this titular Channel 5 led event it turned out that some of the booths were Cycling specific. As a confirmed ‘Gadget Head’ I decided to give the NEC and the M6 one more chance. The NEC is, well the NEC, a vast and expensive space for both exhibitors and the general public to attend, the M6 was (it turned out) closed due to an accident, at least the queuing started before we got to the NEC.

What then, are nine Cycling businesses doing in Birmingham, surrounded by thousands of gadget loving geeks? I set out to try to find out why. For reference, there were 140 exhibitors displaying at the show.

First port of call was an old hand to the National Exhibition Centre, and the marketing manager of a company that promotes its cycling specific goods at numerous other non cycling events. Rory Hitchens (USE / Exposure Lights) had his ‘award winning LED light’ hat on and was selling the concept of cable free design lights to a whole new audience. For several of the exhibitors, this is the key to why the brands were showcasing their goods.

In a saturated market, where consumers know of products, quality and have certain expectations, new customers are becoming difficult to find, driven primarily by the current market conditions. There are several things you can do to counter this, innovate, advertise (aggressively market) and find new customers. Many of the public attendees have never been exposed (excuse the pun) to Exposure Lights, nor to high powered off road cycling lights, nor to the plethora of cycling related stands. With the lure of a ‘gold covered Maxx-D’ as a prize to one lucky entrant, Exposure were directly able to gather a new and potentially lucrative customer database. Given the cost of some highly specified torches on the market, there will be some uptake from direct marketing from the event, even more remarkably, there were no torch or lighting manufacturers of a similar nature occupying the same hall.

Next door to Exposure was Bicygnals, offering the consumer a different take on cycle lights. Much cheaper, to fit into a different ethos, where being visible is the remit and including indicators wirelessly linked front to rear, a really neat design. Bicygnals had show special offers and seemed to be trading well.

P&A is just one element of the cycling business, with bikes being represented too. In keeping with the Gadget ethos, there were two types of bikes on display. Folders and e-Bikes.

Brompton offered a large range of folders, accessories and staff on hand to fit and offer support for the consumer. The test track (where other vehicle innovations were offered for trial) was also sponsored by Brompton, which must have been an expensive purchase. Though not selling directly, the stand was in a prime and very busy location.

Hampshire based Swissbike UK had a different take on the folder concept, with their ‘air transportable’ 26 inch bike with novel folding technology. Employing ‘Win a Bike’ database generation techniques and leggy blonde PR girls makes for a busy stand. Jim Griffiths, the UK importer of Montague Bikes was overwhelmed by the response from the public.

Cycle Surgery, the retail chain, had a booth demonstrating Mezzo folders. These excellent small form factor folders were being capably demonstrated by the staff, and again interest was high. The last time I saw these bikes, they were being expertly welded and assembled in Taiwan, in one of the best frame fabrication plants in the world, not that customers would know that.

If I recall, when Folding Bikes were reviewed on The Gadget Show, the Brompton won, though it was not up against these admirable adversaries.

Gaining momentum all the time in the UK are e-Bikes. E-Bikes have transformed from cumbersome and heavy shoppers into high tech and elegant bikes. One of the best proponents of this style of bike is GoCycle, exhibiting at the show. If Apple built e-bikes, this would be one of their creations. The concept, marketing and execution of the brand is spot on for this market and instead of marketing as a powered bike, they want you to know this is a bike with ‘power assist’, that happens to fold too. GoCycle offer real innovation and style, which fits well with commuters and those wanting the coolest gadgets, as could be seen by the amount of interest, this was echoed in the post show report during the television programme on Monday 20th April.

More utilitarian, but equally as good a fit with the show was e-Bike seller Ultra Motor. Among the many products on show was the new in the UK ‘A2B Hybrid’, a heavyweight mover and its bigger brother, the ‘A2B Metro’ which looks like it could handle any terrain you throw at it. 37kg of electric bike is a lot to muscle around, but the speed and manoeuvrability is impressive, with a modern and distinctive suspended design.

Going eco, with wind farm logos and fashionable designs similar to Ultra Motor, Urban Mover were showing their bike range, priding itself on the green credentials of affordable transport with inexpensive charge costs. These are at the heart of the modern eco geek.

Lastly, OnBike Ltd were showing more traditional e-bike designs, along with a “Swiss Bike-esque” folder design with an electric power train and an e-Road bike that looked very compact and interesting, but will probably be banned by the UCI from competition.

There was certainly a diversity of Cycling brands at the show, fitting neatly into the mainstream of MP3 players, media streaming devices, security solutions and fitness equipment. One thing that stands out is the level of interest at this show from the consumer, for bike and non-bike brands. The show was a sell out weeks before the event giving the exhibitors the maximum opportunity to expose the brand to a new type of audience. Most bike shows tend to attract kids wanting stickers.

There are several shows in the calendar that are less cycling specific including the Outdoors Show and the TCR Show. These may offer your brand something that is hard to find during this recession, a new set of customers. There is certainly a good crossover between gadgets and cycling, and room for other products. Bike innovation (especially kids), commuter accessories, bike computers, apparel and communication all have a place here and can maybe benefit your brand too.

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