A funny thing happens when you start a blog. Not only do you find yourself doing a lot more writing, but you find yourself doing a lot more reading, too. And usually that reading is in the form of other blogs as the stack of yet-to-be-read magazines and books on my coffee table will attest to.
One of the blogs I have found myself visiting recently is the Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog. It's got a ton of great marketing-related articles on it by a slew of marketing guru contributors from a variety of industries. In fact, Tim "Masi Guy" Jackson is lucky enough to be a contributor, which is how I found out about this gem of a blog.
The other night, I read a pretty interesting post that really had zero to do with bikes or the cycling industry, but it still managed to hold my attention for longer than 34 seconds. The post was entitled "Store Brands Give National Brands a Run for the Money" and it discussed how many retailers are having great success with their own house or "private label" brands up against the big national name brands. Once considered inferior quality, many private label brands are positioned as high quality, upscale products and consumers are quickly gaining acceptance for them.
This post really got me thinking about society's obsession with brand names. I mean, it's just a name, right? Just a little logo? Or is it? And of course, cyclists are not immune to this obsession. In fact, we are the worst. We are completely obsessed by the lure of that brand name on their stems, bars, saddles, and everything else that can be bolted or stuck to a bicycle in some fashion.
Believe me, there was a time where I was as obsessed by bike part brands as I was by designer jeans back when I was 12 years old. Before I started working in the cycling industry, whenever I purchased a new bike, one of the first things I did was start making a list of which cool aftermarket parts I wanted to buy because lord knows I just couldn't leave the stock bike manufacturer branded parts on the bike. What would people think? I would surely get laughed right off the trail! Images of blue ano CNC'd cranks and yellow powdercoated stems danced in my head, eventually dancing their way onto my bike much to the chagrin of my wallet.
Once I started to work in the cycling industry, that obsession began to fade rapidly. No, maxed out credit cards were not to blame; education was the culprit that killed that sick obsession. I quickly learned that many of the cool parts I lusted over were not made by some bike geek in his garage or in some slick factory here in the USA, but they were made in Taiwan instead. And in addition to this, I learned that many of the manufacturers of these aftermarket parts were all having their parts made in the same factory, by the same manufacturer. At first, I felt a little cheated since clever marketing of some of these factories led me to believe these products were made a little closer to home, but once you figure out that "everyone's doing it", those feelings fade fast.
Yes, there was a day when many of those high-end aftermarket parts were made here and some still are, but the lure of inexpensive labor, less environmental restrictions, and good quality has shifted most of this production overseas. It's just the way that it is. And having been in this industry for several years now, you see just how homogenized that process really is. It's really interesting to walk through a factory in Taiwan and see who's getting their parts made there. In some cases, the products are identical; only the logo changes. In other cases, there might be a minor tweak like a different handlebar sweep or bend that sets one brand's bar apart from another before the logo is applied.
Obviously, there are aftermarket parts which are truly unique. But many are not...only the names (logos) have changed. So what is in a name? This is where I'd love to read some comments from you, my dear readers, on why you choose the aftermarket products you do. Why do you pull the bar and/or stem off your bike that says "Haro" or "Specialized" or "Felt" on it and replace it with something that has a certain brand name on it, but may not be any lighter, better fit, better performing, or better quality than the part (or parts) you just took off? Why do you choose a certain name brand over another? Do you do diligent research, ask your bike shop, or query your riding buddies? Does a particular brand's marketing efforts entice you?
So tell me...what is in a name?