So this isn’t the blog post that I referred to in the comments yesterday. We’ll run that one a little later because, not surprisingly, we have the concept of supporting cycling at top of mind right now.
We see the way in which we support the sport as different and more effective than what we see other brands doing right now. If you want to race bikes, you’ve got to have a bike – preferably one which gives you competitive parity with those against whom you’ll be racing. No bike, no bike racer. No bike racer, no bike race. The cost of cycling equipment that puts you at competitive parity is a huge barrier to entry into (and staying in – the streets are thick with ex-racers who couldn’t deal with equipment cost anymore) the sport, and our business model is aimed squarely at mitigating those barriers.
Go to a college race some time and see some of the janked up hoopties some of those kids are rocking – and they’re racing well and getting fast and learning about the sport and learning the life lessons that the sport has to offer (yes, I am one of those hippies who thinks that many sports actually have valid things to teach those who play them). If they can’t already, they’ll soon be dropping my behind left and right. They’re getting around those barriers to entry by hook or crook, but I bet there’d be a lot more of them playing the game if the cost of entry was lower. Same with kids – for every one of those kids like the one in the picture with the Lightweight wheels that got emailed around to everyone a couple of weeks ago, there are a whole bunch who want to get in the game but can’t because of equipment. For licensed juniors and collegiate cyclists, we give a no questions asked 10% discount on frames and wheels. It’s a good thing we don’t have a board of directors because if we did, and they knew what our margins are, and we told them that we’re giving juniors and college racers a 10% discount on frames and wheels, they’d throw us out the window.
We aren’t exactly a deep pockets corporation right now, and even though we’re doing this thing more or less on a shoestring, it’s taken a fair volume of resources to get off the ground. The product samples that we’ve gotten haven’t been “free” samples, and there are other costs which we’ve borne – our beautiful demo fleet, setting up our business license and structure, insurance, shipping, driving laps around creation, web site domains, etc. None of these things is a huge expense on its own, but put them all in a pile and eventually you’re talking about a legitimate pile of jingle. Another big expense that I didn’t include in that list is promotion.
Too many people equate promotion with support. Support can be a subset of promotion, but the two are not mutually inclusive. Sponsoring pro teams, in my view, is promotion that does nothing to support the sport. It is promotion that it designed to differentiate a “super premium” product from other “super premium” products, mostly in the absolute absence of any quantitative differentiation. The end game of promotion like this is to support super premium price points (omission of quotes 100% intentional) and to sell more units at those super premium price points. Buying ads on race broadcasts and in other race-leaning media is purely fulfillment against that goal. The only affect that this has on citizen bike racers is negative – prices go up. If you’d like to become as convinced of this as I am, go check out Rick Vosper’s site (www.blog.rvms.com) and start from the beginning.
Sponsoring amateur teams is one of the great ways to support the sport. Teams are the backbone of racing, and supporting them is great. Several big brands sponsor grass roots teams, and we do too. The level of support varies, but I won’t ever say that increasing access to quality products is a bad thing. That is an avenue of promotion that is definitely categorized as “supporting the sport.”
Off the topic of teams but staying with promotion, our big promotional effort so far (other than sponsoring teams) has been handing out gloves and bottles to racers, mostly at races. The gloves have become as ubiquitous at local CX races as GamJams socks are in the road peloton. They are a useful benefit to people, and promote our brand. Same with the bottles. So, when you’re sitting in my seat, our method of promotional support of actual racers is a heck of a lot more beneficial than paying millions to sponsor the “doped up slabs of meat,” as Rick Vosper calls them.
Sponsoring races is another good one. Races are expensive and a financial risk to the promoter – I spent 2009 acutely aware of this as I was developing the Lost River Classic with NCVC. Curiously, in my experience with that event, only two cycling related companies came forward with any meaningful support – The Lost River Barn (www.lostriverbarn.com) and GamJams (www.gamjams.net). It’s worth noting that GamJams has supported a list of races over the past couple of years that far exceeds any other individual entity. Every other endemic company declined. I need to point out that the Altarum Institute was an incredibly generous sponsor of the race, and a great partner to the project. We are far from able to sponsor races with any significant cash contributions right now, but we’re doing what we can.
But the biggest way in which we can, and do, support racing is to provide you with as direct an access as possible to really great racing equipment, through our business model. The genesis of our business came when, through our own personal experiences, we found that the cycling industry doesn’t do the job that we think it could of supporting racers and racing. We set out to do it differently, purely focused on that goal.
Thanks for your support.