Asking the right question.

As most of you know, I’m a BMX’er.  I ride and also work within the BMX industry.  I sell bikes to bike shops and the vibe is BMX bike sales are dead.  This has shops and companies scrambling over how to increase sales and sell what inventory they already have.  It’s a pretty tense situation.  This week a dealer said he read in an industry journal that BMX sales have dropped 27%.  That’s a lot!  I remember when BMX died in 1989 and I think back to that time.  Companies either folded up their tents or diversified and went to the next big thing – mountain bikes.  Now, there really isn’t that option and just for the record, scooter sales are way down too.  I keep hearing the same question “What can we do to sell more bikes?” so often that it is beginning to drive me crazy.

Shop owners are constantly telling me the bike business, not just BMX, has completely changed in the last few years.  Mail order retailers have hit them hard.  The internet can be a curse when a customer looks at a price tag and then checks his phone for the best price.  Everyone says there are too many distributors and brands to make it easy for a shop to spend money on BMX inventory that will actually go out the door.  It gets to a point where the floor space in the shop is more valuable selling other types of bikes so BMX dwindles and consumers don’t even have the option to consider BMX.

Companies are frantically marketing their brands and riders on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other web based communication with their fans.  They spend tons of money sending riders/teams to exotic locations to shoot video for the latest web edits that are on all the social and BMX media sites.  It’s never been easier to follow a favorite rider or learn about the new latest and greatest.  The products themselves are the best they have ever been in my 30+ years of jumping my bike.  It’s actually a great time in BMX right now so it’s incredibly frustrating that the industry is in a down swing.

Lord knows the supply side of the equation is bursting at the seams but the problem issue we are facing is the lacking demand.  Some blame it on the market being diluted with too many brands.  They may be right.  This puts me in an awkward situation because not only do I firmly believe in the company I work for and their products but many BMX brands are owned or run by personal friends of mine and I don’t want to see any of them lose their jobs or businesses.  So this is a problem hits close to home.  I’ve been trying to figure out a solution that is beneficial to us all.

Somewhere between bike shop visits on the New Jersey Turnpike I realized that everyone is asking the wrong question.  The right question is “What can we do to get kids back on bikes?”. 

Last week I did a flatland show at a summer camp with a friend.  Picture 500-600 screaming kids and counselors getting stoked on seeing a couple of guys doing tricks on bikes. We weren’t doing the toughest current tricks either.  Maybe our riding looked more entertaining and attainable to the unknowing than what they see on TV.   As I rode around seeing the enthusiasm on their faces I also knew that these were the potential customers for the local shops I had just visited.  Here I was showing what can be done on a BMX bike directly to the demographic that would buy bikes.  The crowd was stoked on BMX at that very moment and there was no striking when the iron was hot.  I asked my friend how many kids he rode in front of a year.  He guessed 20,000 at various schools, camps, fairs and other events.  I realized that for a couple of thousand dollars a company could sponsor his team to put logos on the ramps, trailers, vehicles and jerseys and get a brand out there directly to people excited by BMX riding.  More importantly, it’s a way to get new blood into the market.  Where else would two grand directly reach those already riding as well as recruit new riders and their parents who buy them bikes?

I talked to a shop owner about shows and he said in the 90’s he hired a factory team to do a demo for $750 and after the show sold a ton of bikes because everyone was so into what they had just seen.  It was definitely worth his investment.  He’d love to do it again.   I told him that I could get a team for a show but they weren’t affiliated with a brand so there weren’t the big stars names to draw the local BMX crowd but he didn’t care.  He figured that it’s probably more important to gain new customers rather than just the few BMX’ers he already knew.

Everyone talks about internet marketing but it might be time to go back to in-your-face marketing.  BMX is undeniable when witnessed live.  Companies are already sending riders around to globe to ride in the middle of the night to produce a web edit.  How about putting some teams, factory and co-sponsored, back on the road to show the masses how amazing BMX bikes can be.  It doesn’t have to only be about the right now with a video with a limited shelf life.  This could be an investment into the future of the sport.  If there isn’t a demand-Build it!  Short term benefits will be there but more importantly so will the long term and all for the same marketing dollar.

The industry can no longer rely on a new crop of 13 year olds popping up every year to buy bikes.  We can’t rely on the big TV contests to make kids want to ride a bike.  Seeing a triple backflip on a mega ramp is like seeing the Lion Tamer at the circus to most people – incredible but not something they could ever aspire to do.  It’s time for the industry to stop being passive and get to work showing the world the amazing world of BMX in all it’s forms.  The sales will surely follow.  Mat Hoffman did it with the Sprocket Jockey shows in the 90’s.  Hell, Bob Haro created an industry when he did it in the 80’s!

Over 15 years ago I wrote about the impact the “Extreme Games” (X Games) could have on BMX.  I said no matter if it blew up the sport or ruined it I’d still be out riding in my parking lot.  Guess what?  I still am.  But it would be nice to have some new riders to ride with.