Friday, October 30, 2009

Expo Fail

Whether you are a retailer or manufacturer, presentation and sales of your products and services directly to the public at event expos is the best way to make an impact with the consumer.

In an ongoing study of products, services and marketing ideas I recently went to a couple expos here in Austin. I saw everything from the very well funded big corporate booths to very small non-profit organizations. Some had giveaways, fun games, raffles, and others even had celebrity spokespersons.

The one major factor that everyone needs, no matter what the size is knowledge. It doesn't matter if you are a retail shop, a non-profit, or one of the big bicycle manufacturers, you must know what you are doing there.

I was appaulled that after being offered a free sample of a product, the person handing it out couldn't tell me anything about it. Now I know most people who have been to expos have run across their share of booth babes who were hired per event simply to attract attention and hand out goodies, but this was definitely not the case. What's worse is that this was a simple, single product.

So here's about how it went down...
Me "So there are so many of these on the market, what makes this one different?"
Company Rep "Unlike other brands, this is... (insert one word description like faster, durable, healing)"
Me "Oh, so how does it do that?"
Company Rep "Well, I'm not an (expert/doctor/etc.)"
Me "I see, so you are new? You aren't familiar with this product?"
Company Rep "I know about the product".
Me "Great! So how does it do it's job differently than others?"
Company Rep "I said I'm not an (expert/doctor/etc.)"
At this point I set the sample down and walked away in dismay.

Does it make sense to purchase a booth, load up your product, pay staff and spend the weekend away from your friends/family/cycling to create a poor perception of your company or product? It took me less than 5 minutes of my time online to get the answer to my question about this product . I'll tell you that the only reason I cared enough to do this after my experience was in order to make a point on this blog. Had I known the difference right then at the booth, I'd have taken a sample and tried it out. Unfortunately for them I am already turned off from the brand.

It's best to have a team meeting with your staff before every expo so that you can review the basics of what you are promoting. Make sure everyone knows your basic theme, technology or purpose. If for some reason someone asks you a question you don't know the answer to, let them know that you will find out that answer for them and then either find someone who does know, or ask for contact information so that you can get back with that person. A little effort will go a long way in creating credibility for your company, brand or product. I'd rather have the perception of a person as that of someone who cares and wants to help, than the perception of someone who couldn't care less and just plays it off as "not being an expert". There is no excuse for that!

If you are a retailer or manufacture in need of assistance to figure out your company position, product direction, or brand strategy in the market place I am availalbe for a consultation.

Darren Zielinski

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

To Tri Or Not To Tri - Retail Market Shift

Over the last couple of years I've seen an increasing number of bicycle retailers who have not previously carried triathlon products edge toward that market. The big question is should they? It's not as easy as basing it on the simple fact that the triathlon industry is quickly growing or that they have had a few customers come in looking for triathlon products. It's important for each retailer to qualify their need to carry those products as well as know who their competition is and how they can set themselves apart, if at all.

I've heard from retailers all too often that they have brought in a few tri products but "it just hasn't taken off".
Why is this?

First, one must consider the demographic of triathletes which is historically highly educated with an average household income of $126,000. I would say that this would have to be changing however since race promoters have been doing very well at broadening the market by creating races which can be completed with much less training. The second thing to keep in mind is that being a triathlete has been viewed as a status symbol, like those wearing a Rolex with a nice tan and having tons of pictures of themselves in exotic places. As status symbols go you can bet that many people want to find a way to emulate it. In triathlon it comes in the form of shorter distance events and lower priced gear. There is still a balance to keep in mind, and anyone willing to tackle a competitive sport which spans three disciplines will have to be at least somewhat education driven and have some expendable cash.

Are there any triathlon specific shops in your area? If so, you need to learn about them and their clientele. Ask your customers questions. Go to some triathlons and ask participants about where they shop, what they look for and best yet, ask about their good and bad experiences with shopping. It's important to learn from the mistakes of others. Remember though that no matter how good the shop is, not everyone will be satisfied 100% of the time. Use this information to figure out how you might be able to make your shop stand apart.

Do you have any tie-ins with the triathlon community? Having good customers or friends who are triathletes or even triathlon coaches can help your shop bridge up to becoming a worthy tri supplier. If no one knows you or if you have no experience in triathlons, credibility will be difficult to attain. Develop relationships with coaches and clubs and plan on hosting seminars and product demos. Along with that thought, you must at all times have an experienced triathlete on staff if you do decide to carry.

Your shop must also be inviting to the beginner yet have the ability to go the distance with more experienced triathletes. Creating a "beginner package" is a fantastic way to cater to new people to the sport and make it easy for them. Being three disciplines, purchasing equipment for triathlons is very confusing and overwhelming for the newbie. Having all the basics laid out in a package at a reasonable, entry level price will help build your shops reputation and customer loyalty. Don't forget to have some nice bling in the shop that people can look at and aspire to purchasing as they feel more confident in their abilities. You don't want to lose the customer base you've cultivated to the high end shop down the road.

Commitment is a big part of becoming a triathlon retailer. You must be willing to devote at least 20% of your space and budget to support this move to start. I have seen this throughout the country in various shops where only 5% or 10% is devoted. Customers can smell the fear of shops "testing" it out. There is no "testing" about it. Either you do it or you don't. This is by far the biggest mistake I see. This space devoted must also be separate from other equipment. Make it stand out so that there is no mistaking that you have a triathlon section. I will reiterate that having an experienced triathlete on staff at all times is very important.

I've mentioned some of the basic questions and ideas that bicycle retailers need to ask themselves if they are thinking about catering to triathletes. Sometimes the best answer is to leave it to the tri specific shop down the road and continue being the best bicycle shop in town. Don't stress out if it looks like you should stay where you are at. It's good to re-evaluate what you do and what your community needs from time to time and to hone your shops position.

Lastly, if you decide to delve into the world of retailing triathlon products, don't do so quietly! Have a launch party and put out announcements and flyers. Invite the triathlon community and friends. Shake hands and kiss babies. Introduce your experienced triathletes on staff. Make it an occasion and show your confidence. This will go far!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Keeping It Straight

A few years ago I saw a series of commercials from two different products from a particular brand which conflicted with each other.

The brand's explanation for their products of various levels was that different levels of athleticism needed different levels of their product. In the world of sports (as well as many others) this is not uncommon and is even a welcome thought process from both the consumer and the manufacturer point of view.

The problem with this was that they not only got their message crossed between products but they ran a long campaign of commercials of the two products on television at the same time.

Their lessor product was plugged in earlier campaigns for mid level athletes, however when the campaign I'm referring to came about they were clearly advertising that it was used for the most severe levels of climate and bodily stress that one could endure. At the same time they were trying to say the same thing about their top of the line product designed for the top athletes, however this commercial was much less impressive in representing the needs of the top athletes.

It seemed apparent to me that two seperate groups had a job to design and distribute an advertising campaign about their own level of product, and no one between the two communicated as to how these would look or compare next to each other. A lot of money was spent on these commercials which only caused discredit to the brand.

Did the company still make money from the advertising, probably. But was it as effective as it could have been? Definitely not.

Marketing STARTS with the definition of the product line and continues with product design. It's important to state specific levels of performance, comfort, etc. for each product level from the beginning so that what you design and ultimately market can be kept straight. You never want a lessor product to out perform your higher end product. Marketing as such will only work to discredit your brand. Credibility is all too important, especially in a day where there is so much competition.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Interbike 2009 / Branding

For the first time I was able to attend the bicycling industry's trade show called Interbike as a free agent, allowing me to stroll through and look at all the brands and marketing attempts at my leisure (outside of my meetings to secure business). Previously I've been stuck in a booth with little or no time to explore and study what else was out there at the show.

Wow! It's amazing some of the lack of thought and education that is behind some products. I can certainly appreciate one's passion for sports and the desire to build a successful business in the industry, but PLEASE people, pay attention to what you are making!

With the rapid growth in the fitness business and spread of knowledge on the subject of nutrition, companies really need to consider all aspects of what make up their product as well as the mind of their intended customer.

The basic building blocks for a nutrition brand IS NOT a huge marketing budget! It's ingredients and GOOD, CREDIBLE and RECENT science! Including ingredients in which a simple Google search will turn up a big mosh of arguments for and against the safety of said ingredient probably won't do well for your product, especially if your targeted demographic is highly educated. If you think not many people know about it now and it won't affect your sales down the road, don't bet on it.

More on other topics soon to come!