Long time client Jeff at First Flight Bicycles in Statesville, NC swinging by to talk shop…
The dust is settling and I’m back here in the studio and I’m just getting through all the email stacked high and deep from my week away from 44HQ. I would not say I’m overwhelmed by any means, but I can say that the reception of my brand 44 Bikes was overwhelming at my first attendance at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show this past weekend in Charlotte, NC. The people in attendance were warm, welcoming and wonderful to speak with. Charlotte itself seemed or felt like a “newer” city and did not have that feel of a city from the Northeast such as a Boston or Providence where there visually is a lot of history present. Not a bad thing, just an observation that stuck out to me. But for those interested in attending the show on any level (be it exhibitor or just to go and check out the show) here are my first impressions, my financial commitments and my initial thoughts about Nahbs. I’ll follow up in a few months to see what is going on regarding the long term effects that a show of this recognition and 10 year running has and that will begin to reveal the overall impact it can have on both a brand and those who attend just for the pure enjoyment of cycling. I will say this: Universally everyone stated this sentiment over and over again, it was regardless of age, gender, etc. There is SO much talent in these walls right now it’s mind blowing. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that this is a rare occasion, and something extraordinary about the custom bicycle market. I could not agree more with this sentiment. It’s one thing to look at Bike XXX on the internet. A whole other ball of wax to see it in person. It will blow your mind.
So let’s start with the lead up. When Nahbs was announced last year to be in Charlotte, I was pretty excited and registered days after the announcement with a 10×10 booth space. I had a simple setup from the Providence Builders’ Ball that included my stand up “Shingle” or rather a sign with some graphic content and 3 stands that allowed the bikes to be setup and displaying in minutes. Since I drive a Honda Civic… everything needs to fit flat, or roll up or break down and take up little to no space. Quick setup and ease of deployment with one tool necessary were my design restraints. Thus the nature of what I brought to display. I also did not have a good sense for the space that i’d be displaying. I had some ideas on graphic banners and whatnot, but given my first showing at Nahbs, I decided to leave the pop and flash for another occasion, and overtly make it JUST about the bikes. Hence no real “booth” design or graphic display. This also helped to keep the initial investment lower. Social media would do the heavy lifting here and I had an idea of who I’d like to reach out to and help contribute to that heavy lifting. My total expenses for the show, including travel, booth space, booth setup, travel/gas, meals and rooms came to $2126.15. I did not include the price of the 3 bikes in this total as totals for others for bikes are very different. It’s widely published what bikes I brought to the show, and you can get a good idea of that expense if you want to look at each build and make some notes.
The other note I should mention is that I decided to bring bikes from my personal quiver. I thought about some of the bikes I’ve made for clients all over the world and the USA, and I just could not bring myself to ask for the bikes back from stoked clients that had waited months to get them. Not to mention the worry of sending them back to them with a scratch. OR let the Mountain Bike Gods forbid: “I’m sorry but FEDEX can’t find your bike…”. So I brought what I ride. That also added a nice layer of intimacy for conversation: I know my own bikes like the back of my hand and can speak directly to the client or visitor about that setup, what it was built for and how it rides for that intent. I can to a certain degree with my clients builds, but that level of intimacy gets muddled since it’s not a personal bike. And not all of the client bikes i can ride since they’re for someone much shorter than me (I’m 6′ 1″). This kind of proved to be a nice touch with a lot of people as they respected my decision, made for good stories shared and I could point directly to that bikes specific purpose built qualities. So for the sake of conversation, I will not include the price of the bikes as they vary widely depending on the component spec and options, paint/powder choice and from builder to builder, it can vary widely. But it’s widely noted what i brought to the show, so if you really want to, just check out the three bikes and you can pretty much get a number for what that equates to. I brought a 1×10 Huntsman, a SS 29er and my 1×10 Fat bike. All powder. The Shimano bike was commissioned, and was paid if full with no real expense to me other than my time (which I have plenty of even when I’m busy). An added unknown regarding the commission, was that Shimano’s booth was front and center as you walked in the front doors to the convention hall. Mine was in the back, albeit a corner booth so it allowed me to take down one side and open it up to more visuals. If/when I attend again, I’d do some things differently regarding the booth space, but it’s only after having spent time in the space and how all the other exhibitors spaces worked off of each others. It also allowed me to assess placement of the booth itself which is important. I knew that going in, but know I know even more.
Travel Involved: Honestly, a show like this for the size of the business that I have needs to be within driving distance. Charlotte is about at the max for that. Google maps stated is was in the 13 hour range. It was every bit of that and more like 16 hours. Total. Pedal to the metal, with the hammer and the nails in a 2001 Honda Civic with 233,000 miles on it and it’s original clutch. I will most likely not attend next year in Kentucky. That one apparently is in the 15 hour range but if I tack on what it took in reality, it becomes close to 20 hours drive time and I’d have to spend 4 days (2 days out, 2 days back) and that’s almost a week lost just to travel. I do know that I heard many builders’, industry veterans and many of the larger suppliers all ask the same question: Why has this show NOT been in Boston? A lot even said they want it in Boston. And that’s coming from some in California. So a note to Don Walker: Your attendee’s who help make this show a success want Boston. It’s (IMO) the hub of cycling culture and framebuilder history on the east coast. Portland being the west coast version. This show needs to be in Boston at some point. Make it happen. Figure it out. Weather is not an excuse nor is Unions. I drove through snow and ice to get to NC. I know builders who had delays with shipping bikes. I know attendee’s who couldn’t even get down town. The support from the Boston cycling community will be powerful. As that over used saying goes: BOSTON STRONG. Mini rant over.
Getting down to particulars with a fellow from from someone with some pull at Shimano.
Show Impressions: Set up was pretty darn easy. All the event staff and convention staff were super helpful, very kind and good natured. All were willing to help if called upon. Leading up to the show, there were some unknowns and “uncovered” type stuff, but I figured we’d just figure it out when is was time to cross that bridge. The pace of the show was nice as well. 10am start Sat. and Sunday, with Friday having a earlier start at 9am. I must say once I got there, and loaded out thursday night, it was tough to fall asleep not because I was nervous, but because I was so excited to get down to the convention center, roll up my sleeves, and get to work. I saw this as a business trip. Not a vacation. I was there to spread the word, shake hands and do my best to tell the story of 44 Bikes as best as I could. Friday attendance was strong for a friday show when everyone “should” be working. I’d say that Saturday was the busiest, sunday the slowest, and friday was the second busiest. I have not attended this show in the past, so I have no real gauge of how many people attended vs other years. I do know that many established veterans felt like attendance was low. I know many attendee’s just for the show stated that many friends could not get down town on Saturday due to the Parade and Pub Crawl which happened to coincide that Saturday. So many actually gave up attending saturday which is a shame if that is true. But I do know I shook a lot of hands and did a lot of talking. I met a lot of people and easily handed out over 550 business cards and stickers (which also had my business card info on the back). So there did not seem to be a lack of people from my impression.
Must do’s at the show: One thing I really wanted to do was go to a select list of my OEM’s and fellow builders and straight up thank them for all their hard work, providing me with continued support and just saying thank you. I started with Mark of Paragon Machine Works and went around to a handful each day doing the same. It was just really nice to put names to faces I’ve spoken to so many times on the phone, asked questions from and been an admirer of their work for so many years. It’s tremendous to have such a rich history in many of them as well as a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. It was something I just wanted to do and they well deserved my thanks.
Something that blew me away: The sheer number of people who came to the show and came to see me from things they had seen either in the wild or online. I had so many come up and mention specifics that they had seen on line or articles they had been following (like the one from Garage Journal about my shop build out). It was a strong reminder that social media, and the power of the internet as a marketing tool and just as a means of reaching fellow cyclists is not to be overlooked. If done right, it can be an extremely powerful tool that links you directly with your audience. If you back that up with top notch customer service and a true passion for actually speaking to people, it will deliver results. I know on the spot from several I had orders placed and many others stating that I’ll be hearing from them now that they met me. Hardly the result of smoke and mirrors.
Ending thoughts: So I shook a lot of hands and met a lot of amazing people. It was really a huge pat on the back to hear that even many of the veterans had been watching what I have been doing closely. My closing conversation was with a gentleman who came up to me around 4 something o’clock on friday, while I was waiting on a cup of coffee as Lynn was out getting some much needed “pick me ups”. That is coffee and a sandwich. So he simply introduces himself as “Joe”, and we get to talking but I apologize and take a seat of which he sits down next to me. Long story short, halfway through my sandwich and coffee, I start putting together a few tidbits of what he does and it dawns on me that this is Joe Bell of painting fame. “This changes the conversation completely”. This is after he heaped on much unsolicited praise of my work (of which I am very honored Joe even thinks that). I was flattered and it was great to close the weekend speaking with such a nice and humble veteran of the industry. Thanks for the great conversation Joe!
Also on the list of handshakes and glad to have met you’s is Chris and Jason at Bicycle Sport in Charlotte, Rody of Groovy Cycles, Erik of Peacock Groove, Drew of Engin Cycles, Steve Potts of Steve Potts Cycles, Gary Smith of Independent Bicycles, Don Walker, of well, Don Walker Cycles and Nahbs President, Tony at Bread Winner, John Watson of Prolly is Not Probably, Nate of Zukas Cycles, Dave of Ellis Cycles, James at Black Sheep Bikes, Mark and his Lovely Wife of Paragon Machine Works, Paul and Tamie at Paul Components, Don at Anvil Bikes, Yu at Sunrise Cycles, Hank at Henry James, Matt at Seven Cycles, Josh and Matt at NFS, My boys at Industry 9, Jeff, Wes and his son at First Flight Bicycles, Aaron and Sean at Shimano, Marty at Geekhouse, Mike at A.N.T., The Kennedy’s at Nova Cycles, Nick at Crumpton, Jay at Sycip, Chris King: I tried several times but looks like every time I tried, you weren’t there… Am I missing anyone? If I am I do apologize. But it was great to meet you all and it’s nice to be part of the family.