Interbike '09 attendance indicates retailers feeling somewhat better…at least in bikes

Could it be the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas was a harbinger of economic recovery and of a shifting in retailer moods heading into 2010? The trade show floor seemed abuzz with optimism, thanks in large part to strong retailer attendance. The show's increase in retail attendance is in strong contrast to the declines in attendance at most other U.S. outdoor, snow, fitness, action sports, shoe and apparel trade shows in 2008 and 2009.
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Could it be the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas was a harbinger of economic recovery and of a shifting in retailer moods heading into 2010? The trade show floor seemed abuzz with optimism, thanks in large part to strong retailer attendance. The show's increase in retail attendance is in strong contrast to the declines in attendance at most other U.S. outdoor, snow, fitness, action sports, shoe and apparel trade shows in 2008 and 2009.

Management of the Interbike Outdoor Demo and International Bike Expo, held Sept. 21-25,reported more than 22,500 attendees -- its second-highest headcount ever. That was down only slightly (about 1,000) from 2008's record-setting attendance -- despite some pre-show predictions that attendance would be down by as much as 10 percent due to the economy.

While overall attendance dropped -- due primarily, SNEWS® was told, to exhibitors bringing fewer support staff than in 2008 to shave expenses -- retail store attendance and the number of individual buyers was up over last year. That would seem to indicate that retailers in the bike industry are feeling a bit more upbeat about business these days. 

"There are a lot of introductions happening in the cycling market that's keeping business fresh," according to Andy Tompkins, show director for the Nielson Business Media group that also oversees Outdoor Retailer, Health & Fitness Business and ASR, "and companies feel like there are lots of great opportunities to take advantage of in 2010."

And many of those opportunities are in products that crossover into the outdoor industry, rather than just pure cycling gear, although this year's exhibiting fitness companies had trickled down to a mere three.

Outdoor crossover strong

The top driving forces in the cycling industry over the last few years seems to be a huge boom in production and sales of the commuter/urban/townie-style bikes, as well as a major increase in electric-assist bikes. For instance, whereas only six companies that offered at least one electric bike exhibited at the '08 show, 25 showed up this year.

With an increase in bike commuters traveling to and from work, as well as around town for errands, comes the need to offer them lifestyle peripherals such as commuter clothing, bags, accessories, etc. And unlike regular bike clothing, commuters and urban cyclists need clothing that stays out of the chain or easily sheds mud kicked up from the tires, while looking fashionable enough for work or a visit to a coffee shop.

"Just like the commuter category itself is doing," said Tompkins "if you also have more of a lifestyle segment, like at Outdoor Retailer … you have a different style of person supporting bike shops."

And hardcore cycling-specific companies are taking notice. Sugoi, for instance, premiered its HOV (human operated vehicle) lifestyle line. Made from performance fabrics, but in more stylish cuts, these pieces look like pure lifestyle. But the jackets, for instance, have adjustable cuffs, reflector accents and even a hide-away mud flap that drops down to cover the bum when cycling home in the rain.

In fact, products like this brought standing-room-only crowds -- and over double last year's attendance -- to Interbike's annual Urban Legend Fashion Show.

Blair Clark, senior vice president for Smith Optics, said he sees the potential. "I am really pleased with this year's traffic and the number of new dealers we have been able to meet with," he said. "I wish that we had brought a bigger presence and a broader product line. Our meetings with retailers confirmed the number of potential crossover markets that are represented here."

Where's fitness?

One crossover category that was not as well represented -- perhaps mistakenly -- was the fitness industry, especially given the strong crossover representation by many cycling stores also selling fitness equipment. SNEWS counted only three fitness companies at the show: Nautilus, StarTrac and PowerBlock. Nautilus reported it had a very successful show -- the same week it announced it would divest its commercial division (click here to see a SNEWS Industry News Release -- http://www.snewsnet.com/cgi-bin/snews/16138.html). More fitness companies skipped Interbike than in the past, perhaps because the show timing is too late for fitness retailers to get in orders before fall weather drives cyclists to indoor equipment. Still, it's not too late for cycling shops to consider a winter fitness category, and Nautilus found the timing to be just fine.

"The Nautilus retail brands are just now entering the indoor fitness season (typically October/November through March), when most outdoor bike consumers are turned off by bad weather," said Nathan Roe, Nautilus' director of retail operations. "With our introduction of two new lines of treadmills, bikes and elliptical machines, we received very positive feedback from buyers."

Eastward, ho -- and an invite for consumers to take a look

Hoping to broaden the audience, along with its potential markets, Interbike now moves east for the second annual Outdoor Demo East, Oct. 8-11 in Providence, R.I. This outdoor show combines two days of trade-only exhibits with, for the first time ever, two more days that are open to the public. So not only will it cater to some of the harder-to-reach Northeastern retailers, but it will also bring in consumers to see and test some of the cycling industry's newest equipment. 

As for predicted attendance at Outdoor Demo East, show organizers told us that overall numbers are promising so far, but it is also expected that many exhibitors will bring pared-down staffs like they did at the Vegas show to save on expenses. And although it is an unknown quantity, early research indicates that consumer interest in attending the event is very high.

--Scott Boulbol

SNEWS® View: Could this trend to add consumers to a traditionally trade-only event also be a sign of things to come for other trade shows in 2010 and beyond? Only time will tell, but if consumer numbers are as strong as expected at Outdoor Demo East, SNEWS suspects other trade shows will take more than a casual glance at the format as a possible means to enliven and reenergize existing trade-only formats. We do know there has been some interest voiced in the fitness industry to allow the public to come in at certain times -- a format that works well at a number of European shows to pump up numbers, brand exposure and sales. --SNEWS® Editors

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