One of the things I do is advise people in the bike industry on topics of sales and marketing. I’m an advisor. Sometimes I create “content” that serves the purposes of either selling or marketing. Sometimes I even sell things. It’s in this way that I maintain my industry friendships and scratch out enough of a living to be able to come here regular and tap dance for your amusement. I’m a tap dancer.
Some of the people I work/have worked with represent high-end brands. I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks on that, what constitutes “high-end,” who qualifies. And before you bring it up, I will acknowledge the paradox of a chucklehead like me doling out paid advice to people who make some of the industry’s best stuff. Perhaps they appreciate my irreverence, or my distaste for “bullshit.” Maybe I’m blinding them with a polysyllabic vocabulary delivered in simple, declarative sentences.
It doesn’t matter. Let’s leave that there.
The challenge for high-end brands is that there is a limited supply of high-end customers, i.e. people who can afford their stuff. The cycling market is rather like a pyramid, with the wealthy at the top. The overwhelming majority of cyclists are either not affluent or have a value matrix (my words) that precludes them spending the hard-earned money they have on anything as frivolous and transitory as a bicycle or its various accoutrement.
My task is normally to concoct a value proposition for the brand or their individual products that breaks through that veneer of resistance, that thriftiness. There is a part of me that feels conflicted about this, as if I am, in some way, coercing people to spend more than they feel comfortable. My overriding feeling though, is that money spent on bikes and cycling is money well spent. Humans are dumping their savings into cryptocurrency, NFTs, and flavored vodka these days. It might as well be pet rocks, black-light posters, and herring, for chrissakes.
One trope I encounter often among high-end brands, especially as regards their investments in social media, is that they want to develop the aura of aspiration around their brand. The kids might not have the liquid asset to buy now, but by becoming an object of lust now, we sow the seed of eventual purchase. It stands to reason that if you covet that handmade thing now, later, when you’ve made something of yourself, you’ll circle back to acquire it, a sure signal, to yourself and others, that you’ve made it.
I have my doubts about this proposition. I think people have short memories and the competition for their attention is fierce and growing fiercer. I think a brand’s time and money is best spent marketing and selling to the people who can buy their stuff now. The truism that social media is a prime mover in this regard doesn’t seem so true to me.
I used to tell my clients, “Social media is fun, but remember, likes ain’t bikes.” In other words, double-tapping a photo is much easier than swiping a credit card for a capital purchase, and you don’t have to explain it to your significant other.
This week’s TCIF asks, have you ever bought a thing you coveted when you were younger? How did that feel? Satisfying? Empty? What was it? Or are you like me, suspicious of your own nostalgia, and reluctant to go backwards to move forward?
Sucker that I am? Sure. A good friend of mine’s kid rode a handmade bike dressed up with 1970’s Campy components. It was gorgeous and Karlin did it justice, riding for the college bike racing team. I found out his uncle, a onetime USCF national champion, gave him the bike. As a grad student, I could barely afford a Cannondale aluminum boneshaker (a 1985 SR300, to be precise) dressed up with Suntour shiny bits. But I developed a lifelong lust for those Campagnolo components. Maybe its my Eye-talian heritage on my mom’s side or watching Breaking Away too often. But sure enough, when I finally had a paying job and put those school loans behind me, I wrote a check for a full Chorus gruppo and dressed up the bike. I still have a hankering for the Campy stuff on the road bike; it just looks and feels nice, but its only on my nicest road bike. The backup one is dressed up with whatever is on sale at the time I need it. It works well too.
Of course, being a fiend of stuff on two wheels, the other bucket list item was a “real” BMW, i.e., one with opposing twin cylinders. My old man had one of those when I was growing up, a 1960 R 60 in black with white pinstripe and an Earles fork. He was a motorcycle guy. Had these nice full color books of all the classic bikes. BMW’s, Nortons, Triumphs, Ariel Square Four, Indian and Harley from the early days, etc. As a poor undergrad and grad student I made do with second hand Hondas which actually worked just fine. But….there was that thing in the back of the mind. So finally I finally pulled the trigger on the horizontal twin as I approach retirement age albeit I found a used one at about half the cost of a new one. It doesn’t disappoint either.
I went through the car phase too and that disappointed. Broke the bank fixing up a couple of Porsche 944s to satisfy the sports car lust. They were very nice cars but not worth the time and money–not to mention appearances in traffic court. Cars should be like disposable diapers. Use them and toss them when they start to smell bad. Cars are something to use when you just can’t do it on a two wheeler.
I scored a pair of Spinergy Rev X wheels last summer for my 8 speed cyclocross bike, and I have to admit that it made the bike I put them on feel complete. It put the exclamation point on the restoration project.
When I was in college, a very generous and successful bro in law gifted me his ol’ espresso machine because he was tired of working on it and wanted a new and better one. I replaced two fittings and a small piece of tubing and that thing rocked until almost graduation time (maybe 3 1/2 years later)! What a fantastic gift and really superfluous on a student budget. and this was before Starbuds were on every campus. Huddled near that machine, it became a place to meet and greet and drink crappy pours that I made in the wee hours when we would have been better served by sleeping.
After paying off student debt, getting our son into his driver’s license and the expenses of another car, I was like, yeah let’s allow some reward here for a good cuppa. I got a really good super automatic and have been very pleased with the results. Many of my Strava posts will have a picture of a post ride Breve’ or Machiatto (a real one, not the fancy made up one). It’s been a good splurge. It’s a rare barista that can beat the results I get at home.
Back in the early 80’s a lot of cyclists in my area were riding Tom Kellogg frames. I really wanted one for myself, but couldn’t afford one at that time. Thirty-three years later after kids, youth sports, colleges, and finally an empty nest I finally got my Tom Kellogg bike, albeit now Spectrum. It is a lugged steel frame that is beautifully finished and has an unbelievable ride quality. I don’t regret the purchase in any way. In 2019 I decided to g back for a titanium Spectrum and I had my fitting virtually days after their retirement announcement. I had this one built as a gravel bike and I have no regrets with that purchase either. Good things do come to those who wait.