Monday, May 14, 2007

Sea Otter Classic...come what May!

This morning, I got some of the best news I've had in a long time...the Sea Otter Classic is moving to the month of May! May 1st through May 4th, to be exact. Afters years of slogging around Laguna Seca in a veritable quagmire, somebody finally got the hint and said, "Hmmm...maybe we should move this event to a time when the weather might be a little better". To whoever came up with that brilliant idea, all I can say is THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

I remember when Sea Otter used to be in March; rain was pretty much guaranteed not to mention fog, wind, and general coldness. Once it got moved into April, I'd say rain was likely at least one of the four days; wind and cold is a given. Hopefully, by moving the event 3 weeks later, the likelihood of better weather will be far greater.

It would be one thing if Sea Otter was still being billed as a primarily a race event; then you just deal with the weather. That's goes on rain or shine. But over the years, Sea Otter has been promoted as a festival; boasting a big consumer event, non-competitive rides, and of course, some racing too. For the 2007, the Eurobike folks got involved and it was touted as the one of the largest cycling consumer events in North America.

Since Sea Otter is no longer just a "race event" where the promoters simply say "like it or lump it" when it comes to bad weather, when the focus is on consumers, the event takes on a whole new meaning and must adhere to a different set of guidelines. Much like shopping at Nordstrom or any other nice department store, people are far more likely to shop there when they feel like they are getting good service and having a positive experience. Who wants to go shopping in the mud, wind, cold, and rain? I'd be willing to bet that the weather at this year's Sea Otter kept more than just a few folks at home curled up watching Saturday Morning Cartoons. And taking this a step further to expo vendors, speaking from experience, when the weather sucks and gets all your product wet and muddy, it's hard to see much value in attending.

So to the folks at Sea Otter (just in case any happen to stumble across this post)...thank you for moving the dates for 2008 into a (hopefully) warmer month. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the weather WILL be better and if that's the case, you'll likely see an increase in attendance. Want some more tips on how to increase your attendance? OK, there wasn't anyone here to say yes or no, so I'll give you a few that I came up with:

  1. Ditch the entry fee. OK, parking was free this year, but who cares? Do you know how many groms were trolling around the parking lot begging for unused wrist bands because they couldn't afford the entry fee? Think they aren't valid customers because they can't afford it? Think again. Generation Y (people born between 1980 and 2000) boasts a combined spending power of about $150 billion. Aside from some of these kids, how many people do you think opted not to attend knowing that there would be a fee to get inside the gates?

  2. Get real with race entry fees. I went to Sea Otter this year thinking I'd like to race singlespeed just as I had for the past several years. When you go to Sea Otter to staff a booth, early registration really isn't an option since there are staffing issues that need to be worked out. My race entry fee, combined with the late fee AND the one-day license fee pushed the total damn near $70. I ended up not racing. Truth be told, it wasn't the outrageous fee by itself...I was getting over being sick and the weather was supposed to be bad on race day, but the fee just compounded it all. If the fee were more reasonable, I probably would have bucked up and raced but $70 is a lot of money to shell out. I'd be willing to bet more than a few people opted not to race due to the high fees as well.

  3. And speaking of fees, get real with the expo fees. As you know, you damn near doubled expo fees on us this year. The cool thing about Sea Otter is the fact that you had the little start-up companies exhibiting side-by-side with the big guys. I know of companies who are still in business today who got their humble beginnings selling at Sea Otter years ago. Let's keep it that way! Consumers come to see and buy new things...why disappoint them? If you keep jacking up the expo fees, you WILL price some of these people right out of your event. Speaking for myself, I came damn close to not attending this year because of the increase. When I mentioned to Skip Latham that it was simply not in my budget, he very graciously granted me a bit of a discount to keep Haro's attendance. I hate to say it, but a huge increase in Sea Otter expo space isn't going to be in my budget next year either. I simply cannot justify to my boss why the cost to attend just doubled. Am I getting anything more than I have in years past? No, I can't say that I will. Do yourselves a bit of a favor...take a look at bicycle sales statistics from a reputable industry source like BPSA. You'll see that the cycling industry isn't exactly growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, bike sales are down. Profits are down. Most companies within the industry are looking to REDUCE expenses, not increase them.

OK, well I'm done with my little rant. I hope nobody walks away from this post thinking I hate Sea Otter. I don't. I love the event. For the most part, the promoters have done a fine job at keeping Sea Otter a first-rate event. However, even the best job can still be done better. I'd really like to see Sea Otter remain the wonderful, inclusionary event that it's been for years attended by cyclists of all types, racer or otherwise. Don't give people a reason NOT to attend your event. Moving Sea Otter to May is definitely a step in the right direction. Let's keep on walking, shall we?



wrw said...

"You are not the only person questioning Sea Otter policies, recently read other negative reports."
MasiGuy says you are a fine downhill rider, finally decided to pedal uphill! :)
Now working on 'control' components, ever wonder why left side mounted dérailleur controls function OPPOSITE the right?
(Hint: Expeditious component production, product functionality be damned.)

stobstar said...

DH Jill,

I couldn't agreee with you more on all fronts. As someone who has attended Sea Otter for 7 years, I have seen the entry fees, expo fees and racer fees all go through the roof and dramtically increase. The moving of the dates to a warmer time of year is a step in the right direction and should have happened a few years ago, but there's much more attention needed in the areas you identify if Sea Otter wants to make this event a long term success.

Sea Otter is special because it brings together most diciplines of cycling in small area. It is a celebration of cycling, and to keep in line with that feel, the promoters need to do a better job understanding the barriers to entry from a consumer and manufacturer point of view.

When I started attending 7 years ago, I thought the event was top notch for both attracting new people to our sport and also allowing good return on investment for manufacturers. There would be a lot of smaller manufacturers there that are unable to afford interbike. The high booth prices of Interbike and associated trade show expenses prevent these companies from attending and succeeding in a very competitive market. Sea Otter used to be an opportunity to support smaller companies that can't commit to Interbike.

However, times have changed and it seems that the promoters are forgetting that if they want to help us grow our sport, they need to align with attendees to make sure they are meeting their needs.

I find the entry fee is a barrier to entry that is not helpful in growing the event. Also, as a sport class singlespeeder, I find that $70 to race for 2+ hours is rediculous and exhorbatant in price. For the past two years, I have stopped racing at Sea Otter due to the high fees. I'm not a pro and this race is not a 'must -do' race for me.

If the Sea Otter promoters are interested in long term survival and health of the event, they will need to do a better job with attracting exhibitors that our outside of our sport. They also need to get a reality check on the budgets that we have to operate with as manufacturers. If they learn to reach out, outside of the core cycling community to non-cyclists, we will grow our sport. Creating barriers like the entry fee to get in does not help increase attendence. Many manufacturers look at attendence numbers before they commit to the event to determine if the Sea Otter market is big enough to provide the manufacturers with a solid return on investment.

Also, many consumers come to Sea Otter primarily for the expo. I have seen many positive strides in creating a family friendly event, such as the play areas inside the expo, and this is a step in the right direction. I have also been asked to take surveys in previous years to provide feedback on what could be done better. However, if Sea Otter gets too expensive to attend for manufacturers, people will have less interest in the expo if it gets smaller and smaller every year. The bicycle industry has to learn to reach out to new demographics instead of recycling the same old customer.

Thank you for taking the time to outline 3 crucial areas that need immediate attention. If the booth fees continue to be what they are, my company that I work for will not be able to afford to attend next year. We do have options and can redirect this budget into other marketing events and consumer trade shows (Seattle Consumer Bike Show is thriving and growing a lot ever year).

I hope the promoters will take note that a mindset of 'short term gain for long term pain' does not work and will push many manufacturers away, pushing the consumers away, and ultimately Sea Otter would return to just a racer-only event, lacking the vibe that people have grown to love and appreciate about the event.

If the promoters are truly committed to the event for the future, they will do a better job to meet consumer, racer and manufacturer needs and do what it takes to keep this event as the most unique cycling event in North America.

Personally, I'd like to see more actions and less words as to how they will address these important issues that need immediate attention. Sea Otter has the opportunity to greatly contribute to the health of the bicycle industry in North America; let's focus on bringing people together instead of creating barriers to entry.