Thursday, August 14, 2008

Focus and the bike industry...

I probably really should be finishing up the Fox fork rebuild and disc brake piston replacement, but this'll only take a few minutes.

I read two pieces this morning that prompted this impromptu diatribe on focus in the bike industry. The first one was a bit about the Trek dealer launch of their ’09 bikes. In it, they announced the launching of a line of road bikes under their Gary Fisher brand. Wow, does that ever seem like an ill-conceived notion. Gary Fisher, one of the founders of the mountain bike, is not a wise choice for a brand of road bikes. Trek must really be reaching for straws in the absence of the Lemond road line. “We think it makes sense,” said Joe V., Trek’s head of product development. “We think it makes sense.” Think and know are very different statements. Thinking something will work is not very confidence inspiring. I think I can fly. Trek needs to maintain the Gary Fisher brand as a mountain bike line – and they should more specifically focus it further into 29” wheel mountain bikes. Twenty-nine inch wheeled mountain bikes is what comes to mind when Gary Fisher is mentioned.

Going one step further, I saw an ad for a new road shoe in the recent VeloNews. Seems Trek is further losing focus of the Bontrager range of bike parts and moving into shoes. I can’t imagine that’s going to be good long-term. Just because Specialized has shoes doesn’t mean that Trek has to follow in Specialized’s, uh, shoes. At least Specialized is focused on maintaining their core brand name.

The second one was a bit from Masi where they are introducing a model for the Japan market. The style of bike is what is called the “Mini-Velo.” Talk about the tail wagging the dog. Masi used to be a brand steeped in racing. Not so any more. It seems they’ll chase any market to get sales. I just hope Faliero Masi’s signature is removed from the artwork of these two-wheeled, uh, bikes. In fact, the signature should be removed from all non-road race bikes. What’s next? Masi shoes? If Trek needs a road brand bad enough that they put Gary Fisher on the down tube, maybe they need to consider purchasing Masi? After all there's already a connection: Dave Tesch worked for both companies.

There are a lot of companies in the bike industry who could benefit from a bit of self-reflection and a refocusing of their efforts. As any company begins to grow, the temptation to grab all the sales they can get is just too much of a temptation. It works in the short-term, but not in the long-term. Resisting the urge to dabble in a market or segment you are unfamiliar with will only result in strengthening your brand and its market awareness. Do what you know and do it well.

One company who did make a major change recently, and one which I believe was the right one for this company is Iron Horse. Recently, Iron Horse announced they would pull out of the IBD (Independent Bicycle Dealer) and sell only through big box stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods, The Sports Authority, LL Bean, Wal-Mart, REI (REI should stay away from this brand if it’s going to be in these other stores) and Performance. What this move by Iron Horse says is, “we know it’s super difficult to compete in a market dominated by Trek, Specialized, and Giant. So, we will acknowledge that fact and position Iron Horse in the big-box channel. This way we won’t have to discount all the end-of-the-year models, pay reps to sell bikes through the IBD and effectively eliminate that headache of trying to get floor space among all those Treks.” Smart move on their part. Why fight it?

However, Iron Horse should have also gone a step further and eliminated their high-end bikes totally instead of selling them through Iron Horse’s parent company’s CEO's son’s mail-order bike company (is it okay to have that many possessive nouns in a row?). Who wants to buy a brand of bike for thousands of dollars when the same brand is available down at the local Toys ‘R Us? They could save untold amounts of money eliminating their team and racing expenses. Iron Horse also announced they were going to license Ellsworth’s “Instant Center Tracking” design. Ellsworth must be needing that cash flow because I can’t see having Iron Horse – a brand that will be in Wal Mart – as a licensee will reflect well back on Ellsworth. It's a partnership that makes no sense at all.

Okay, back to the fork and brake. I hate DOT fluid...

(What's playing: The Traveling Wilburys Congratulations)

8 comments:

Tim Jackson- Masi Guy said...

Sorry we let you down. We'll try harder in the future.

Thing is, they're actually excellent bikes for the commuter/ city market. Very utilitarian. They work well for people who commute on public transit and/ or have limited space for bicycles. That's why they are so popular in Japan.

Maybe I'll spearhead bringing back friction downtube shifters...

Jim G said...

Mike, I love these posts where you analyze the bike industry with an experienced eye -- thanks! I agree with you on some companies loss of focus. What this screams to me is that there's no clear vision from the top, no "big picture" road map. Obviously these co's can't "do what they know and do it well" unless that one thing is defined at the top management level...? Chasing sales (and your competition) only serves to dilute things further...

Interesting anecdote about the Iron Horse / Performance Bike relationship -- I've always wondered about that. And I think you're spot-on about IH trying to sell any high-end bikes; if they're going to be selling in Walmart, that's going to kill brand name for the big-dollar spenders. Didn't something similar happen with Mongoose or Diamond Back? Schwinn too, for that matter!

blackmountaincycles said...

Wow, thanks for reading, Tim.

Letting me down? I don't think so. I think you are letting the brand down. I've no doubt those styled bikes are excellent for their intended purpose. Masi is just the wrong brand to slap on the down tube. Wait 'til you see my commentary when you do a hybrid because a distributor says they can sell 100...

I still hate DOT fluid.

Carl Martens said...

I must say I agree with you, feeling that Gary Fisher should not associate with road bikes...it doesn't "feel" right.

Guitar Ted said...

Mike, I appreciate your candor and viewpoint. This is the kind of passionate post that I think some might take offense to, but my feeling is that it's coming from someone who cares.......alot!

Anyway, I couldn't agree more in terms of Gary Fisher, and with your observations on Iron Horse. I do take some exception in cases like Masi though.

While your take on it is valid, I wonder if maybe the perception of the consumer in this case is what is driving the decisions a bit. In my mind, Masi started from zero. It was a dead in the water brand with a fading memory amongst road freaks. Almost a byword of a time gone by. Whatever Masi was is not a fresh thing in the minds of consumers, not anything to the degree of your example of Gary Fisher, for instance.

So, while what you say is certainly truthful, and it has its place in the discussion of Masi, I just think its not as weighty a concern in this instance.

And it certainly could be argued that the "misfit" bikes in Masi's line might just introduce a whole new generation to the storied past that was, and is, Masi's heritage.

Just my two cents..........

Great post. Thanks!

blackmountaincycles said...

True, G-T. Maybe Masi has found itself in the bikes they are now creating. And you are correct in the statement that the current buyer doesn't know the full history of Masi much like the current buyer of Bontrager parts knows nothing of Keith Bontrager who operated out of Santa Cruz, CA.

It is a weighty concern, though. As a brand you have to identify who you are. That wasn't in place when I was there. Maybe, I hope, it is now. And if what they are doing now reflects their mission statement, then good for them to figure themselves out.

GNAT said...

Mike, great post. In fact, one of the best blog entries I've read anywhere in this blog-o-sphere.

Keep it up and thanks.

Oh...I hate DOT fluid too, but mineral oil disk brakes don't work here in MN's extreme cold. I guess I gotta keep using DOT fluid.

Yokota Fritz said...

It's indeed a little strange to see Fisher's name on road bikes (and similar), but remember that the cycling industry changes. The reason Fisher and his buddies in Northern California even got involved in the bike industry is because the established brands wouldn't create the bikes they wanted to ride. They were too conservative to respond to change when change was happening.

Which brings us to Faliero -- he wasn't above innovation back in his day at the Vigorelli Velodrome. Masi was even known to build up clunky city bikes with step through frames!

I spent today in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I saw dozens of very high end bikes -- Litespeed, Serotta and Calfee were some of the brands I saw parked in Big Basin parks, all equipped with the latest shifting technology with riders in their high tech fabrics. I also ran into Jobst Brandt riding his old yellow steel 10 speed (with downtube friction shifters, Tim! :-) ) Jobst was in his trademark green polypropylene jersey. As far as I'm concerned, it's all good.