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.


11 comments on “Asking the right question.

  1. And maybe sites like the TCU are a bad face for BMX. When I was a kid, even if the riders were blazing before or after a show, I was never aware of it. I really hate that its selling an image versus a product.

    • Well, I think there is something to be said for the honesty vs the fake image the 80’s presented (and there was more than you can imagine). TCU comments get ridiculous but the content is pretty spot on most of the time.

  2. I agree with what your saying about some of the manufactures sending teams of riders to shops to do demos and shows like back inna day.that would get more kids interested in bmx and riding bikes for sure.the summer tours were awesome,and i’m glad I was around to experience that!

  3. Sticker tosses go a long way…

    It was Eddie Roman, I believe, who once asked a kid requesting free stickers, “What’s it like to want?”


    “What’s it like to want to RIDE?”
    Is a good question as well…

    Goes a long way.


  4. ” 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. ” This is why I got into freestyle! I was seeing guys doing tough tricks, but they were POSSIBLE! Seeing people do advanced level stuff is rad, but remembering the fun of doing simpler tricks is how I got hooked into it. Well that and the fact that my bike was my transportation and my amusement. I think BMX and freestyle died down in the 90s because things just got too out of reach. It was depressing to see dudes doing so many hard tricks and with school/work/relationships some people just didn’t have the time to invest, kids however, do!

  5. this is exactly right. social networking can help increase your connection with the fans you already have, but most BMX companies have completely forgotten about creating new customers. one of my big goals in the long term is just to find ways to make BMX more visible in the mainstream. i got into BMX because of a GT Air Show in 1998 and I’m sure most kids my age would say the same thing. skateboarding has had a ton of huge iconic celebrities. BMX had Dave Mirra and that was 20 years ago.

    i just got off a bike shop tour with the Merritt team and it was great, but i feel like most of the people we met were already BMX riders. getting BMX into the minds of young, impressionable kids is a real challenge but we can definitely do better, collectively.

  6. Back in the mid 1970’s to the mid 1980’s my most important promo work was local grass roots bmx promos. Touring the USA by car/van/truck visiting locals tracks and teaching and mentoring the kids about how to have fun and learn to improve your skills on the bike. I didn’t have the elite level fast twitch muscle fiber so I intentionally worked proactively working on building by value (stock) as a rider in other ways that wining races. Fast forward to today….. its not uncommon for me to receive several Facebook emails in a week from someone who attended one of the bmx riding schools the we conducted during our summer bmx clinic tours. Jim Emerson, Linn Kastan, Jim Jannard, Karsten Berg and Doug Mello from JT Racing helped me understand that I was in the bicycle business and my job wasn’t just about performance on the track – being in the bike biz is about selling product.

    Brett, Thanks for your insight and perspective.

    What’s that Jawn?

  7. Los Angeles was the host city for last eight ESPN X Games – did the kids of Los Angeles end up the beneficiary of any of the ramps used in all these events? Vert ramps, Street course, etc? From my knowledge (I could be wrong) nadda, zip, nothing ? Sad!

  8. Great insight. Shop involvement and Manufacturer involvement must initiate growth. Most shops now have an “If they come, we will build it” mentality, versus the “Field of Dreams” quote. And, for the challenge of stocking BMX stuff, specifically, I understand the “Dan’s” dilemma.
    Almost all of us have a fondness for what bikes, BMX (in all aspects), and the experiences/ relationships/ fun gave us BITD! So how can that be replicated in today’s cultural/ social climate?
    Trick shows were very cool to attend. Being in Portland, OR we got our share, and a few of the shops had their own teams, too. Even today, I still like to watch older riders pull off moves that I remember. But, most kids today love watching the older tricks. They were flashy, fun, sometimes goofy, but a new rider could, with a little practice, pull off a few and feel like he was making progress. Somehow, that needs to be passed on. I am not suggesting regression of the sport, but to kids, AND parents, it can’t look “death defying”. I have a lot of ideas for this but it would take up too much space.
    Also, as far as BMX Racing is concerned, it really comes down to Marketing at the track level. and USABMX can help with a lot of marketing materials. But, so many shops have been burned by flaky Track Operators, that they are reluctant to get involved. And, currently, with the Dan’s dilemma, most shops won’t even try to compete beyond the basic components.
    I developed a 3 year plan that could get a local BMX track to have a thriving race scene and get it to be accepted as a “school sport”, which, in turn could get more shops involved, along with more community dollars and media participation.
    E-mail me if you are interested.
    Many of us want the sport to be “like it used to”, especially in our memories. And, I think there can be great strides taken to grow the market, but it comes down to grassroots and Manufacturer’s willing to get involved, too. Most shop owners already work a ton of hours and are reluctant to pursue a segment of the sport, where they see little return and long term benefit, they don’t understand, and is so far removed from what they know of BMX, even 15 years ago.
    I apologize for the length of this response, but I have thought about this issue a lot. I know we all have ideas, if you are open to hearing mine, e-mail me and I can provide greater details.

  9. Pingback: Bike of the Year? | Brettdownsconspiracy's Blog

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