“Due to lack of market & industry support” the organisers of the Australian Triathlon, Endurance and Cycling Expo have cancelled the 2017 event in Sydney. After two years at the Sydney Olympic Park, the show was due to relocate for their third year to Moore Park, closer to the Sydney CBD. Most Australian cyclists would love to have a big annual bike show in their city, so what is going wrong, why are the big Australian bike shows failing?
The lack of market and industry support is only one part of the equation because frankly, the Tour Down Under Village in Adelaide city center is extremely popular among visitors. Bike brands are prepared to pay a premium to secure their spot. The Tour Down Under Village is however coupled with Australia’s biggest cycling event so for visitors is a bonus on top of the main event. There are also niche events such as the Sydney Classic Bike show for enthusiasts and most big races or participation events also attract a few brands, but when a big bike expo as the main event, no one has the right combination.
The first bike show I attended was operated by Bicycling Australia magazine and they held shows between 1998 to 2007. Ausbike then took over the reigns in 2009, initially trying to be a trade show before transitioning to be a show for the public. 2013 was the final Ausbike in Melbourne, the same year that Cycling Australia launched the Sydney Bike and Lifestyle Show which lasted two years. In 2015 the international event operator Informa launched the Australian Triathlon, Endurance and Cycling Expo (ATEC) however less that one month before the doors were due to open for a third year, a cancellation has been issued. (Ticket holders and exhibitors will receive full refunds).
So why is is so hard to get a big bike show up and running? Let’s find out.
Location. Location. Location.
The wide distances in Australia make it expensive for interstate distributers to commit. The majority of Australian bike distributers are on the east coast but even between the major cities, transport, staff and building a reasonable exhibition stand cost tens of thousands of dollars. This is a marketing expense which is usually without an immediate return on investment.
In addition, the location of the show-grounds ease of access and transport for visitors affects the interest. Depending from where you are traveling, the Sydney Olympic Park may be convenient or inconvenient. A location that offers space for activities and entertainment along-side or outside of the main event can make it a better day trip, for example the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne or Darling Harbour in Sydney provide easy access to other city locations.
It has become traditional for a lot of new road cycling gear to be launched during the Grand Tours; Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España, from May to August. Australian distributers however often have to wait to get samples and the stock for the next season can be spread out over months. Consumers often want to see the newest gear (and brands want to show the new gear) but when the show is too early, there is no stock and when the show is too late the stock is already in the bike shows and no longer as new. It is a catch22 situation as there is no ‘right-time’ and it always clashes with a major event or the dealer shows where the brands travel to all of the major cities and present their new products to their dealers.
The Sydney International Boat Show is an institution with a big advertising campaign including television advertising, the show is guaranteed to attract large numbers of paying visitors. You can debate the differences between a bike and a boat (in your own time) but the fact is that the boat show creates enough demand from the general public who are prepared to pay $21 (adult).
Essentially a show or expo is all about exhibitors marketing and selling to consumers. The public look at the cost of the tickets and ask “How much should I pay for an expo where brands are trying to sell to me?”
The cover-charge has probably been the biggest deterrent for the host of Australian bike shows – most visitors will readily accept a modest charge but once the tickets head north of $10 and the visitors start calculating the cost for the whole family, plus parking or transport, plus the pricey food, the interest easily wanes.
Organisers cover costs by charging exhibitors and with the entry fee for visitors. Unless the show is extremely exclusive or attracts enough demand, the cover charge for visitors has to be low enough that it isn’t a barrier.
If you build it, they will (not) come.
Visitors want to see as many of the big brands represented as possible and a host of smaller and interesting brands. And brands and distributers are receptive to the idea of reaching huge numbers of people. Many of the big brands in Australia have exhibited at some stage at a bike show in Australia.
Visitor numbers to bike shows in Australia have been increasingly underwhelming (this is the responsibility of the organisers and comes down to their marketing and ticket pricing). It is hard for distributers to justify the costs when they compare it to other marketing activities. Brands who exhibit at bike races will experience lower overheads with a more concentrated audience at these events.
It has been notoriously difficult to get lots of big-name brands to sign-up to an Australian bike show, although that is exactly what the visitors, particularly if they are paying a premium price for tickets. The visitors are browsing or preparing for their next bike purchase and want to see all the big brands; Giant, Trek, Cannondale, Merida, Specialized, Scott and Colnago. But when Shimano is absent and even SRAM stays away, it becomes harder to satisfy the visitors who expect more.
There is a growing trend for a local bike shop to ‘represent’ a brand so technically a brand exhibiting but in reality, you can walk into the bike shop and see the same bikes and speak to the same staff the following day. This always feels like a hollow approach, it is only logically that they approach me as a customer intent on closing the sale rather than take the the approach of the brand of engaging and informing me.
Behind the scenes in an industry with a lot of personalities, show organisers may temp big-name brands with top exhibitions spots at no-cost. On the one hand, this can help attract other brand names to exhibit and raise the overall quality of the show. On the other-hand, other exhibitors (who paid full-price) inevitably hear about it and get upset other brands start negotiating for free exhibition space and the industry commitment and trust begins to decay.
There are plenty of smaller, young and innovative businesses who can help make up numbers if the price is right but a big expo needs the big brands onboard and that is big challenge.
Just be good
During their infancy, bike shows go through a natural process of self-discovery on which they try and improve. An exhibition space full of exhibitors and visitors still needs to engage the audience. Beyond the stalls a bike show needs demo’s, personalities and experts to ensure that there is always something happening and that it simply feels exciting.
In fairness, the Australia bike shows have attempted to introduce more action. For the ATEC show, perhaps realising the difficulty in attracting big brands, the show concept has shifted towards workshops and expert panels with less emphasis on exhibitors.
But the exhibitors themselves inadvertently contribute in their reluctance to engage with the visitors. Staff sit behind a bench wait for the visitors to make the first move. They simply watch visitors walking past, too scared say anything but too quick to complain that no one is interested.
Sales staff from bigger brands are more generally experienced and in contrast know that they can greet a passer-by, start a conversation and awaken their interest. Bigger brands tend to create open exhibition spaces and so they can invite a person in, the end-result is a stronger brand connection with the ‘future’ customer.
Show organisers should be more proactive in lending their expertise to helping exhibitors get more out of the show and create stronger lead-generation.
The Next Aussie Bike Show?
With the cancellation of ATEC in Sydney, Australia may have to wait for a few years until the next person or group decides to launch another big bike show. If the location and ticket price is right, it will be embraced by Australian cyclists but perhaps the hardest task of all is getting enough big brands to commit.
In the mean-time, bike brands will go-solo and focus on their own road-shows and demos. Operating smaller stalls at mass-participation rides or bike races are also easy and cost-effective options.
I have two predictions, firstly is an increased focus on test-rides. Big brands usually have a mobile fleet of demo-bikes and it isn’t far-fetched to imagine most of the the big brands committing to a demo-day in each of the major Australian cities. Riders sign-up and sort out insurance and then spend a few hours test-riding different bikes on a closed track. It has been done before and just requires a group or individual or organise.
The second prediction is increased consumer interest in commuting and functional bikes. Although Australian politics, law and infrastructure is seriously lagging with regard to cycle transport, increased congestion and cost of living will continue to make bikes and e-bikes more viable. In contrast to sport and recreational cycling, functional cycling and accessories will increasingly be presented and promoted to general consumers so I expect other industries such as automotive to reach out and use their expertise to create new riders.
What do you think?
Will we see another major bike show in Australia soon…. or something else? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.