A First Timer's Thoughts on Interbike

In the whole scheme of things, my shop (718 Cyclery) is quite young.  2 years in my backyard, 1 year in a small storefront and now a full year under our belt in a nice big space in Gowanus Brooklyn.  With so much going on just to get the shop running and sustainable, the thought of heading to Vegas for a ‘bike convention” had never crossed my mind.

Meeting Paul from Paul Components was a definite highlight

This year was a real turning point for the shop, and I was able to finally find time in my schedule and space in my brain to contemplate the potential benefits of traveling to Interbike 2012. With the shop, my day job (architect), my non-for-profit (inner-city lacrosse), my teaching gig (Pratt) and family (wife, kids, dogs, cats) on notice, I planned my trek to Vegas.

It was probably June when I decided to take the leap and sign up.  I found the registration site a bit confusing (was there a fee?...did I actually just register?).  I also found the connected hotel and travel web links a bit confusing.  In the end, I received a registration number that I would apparent have to present in order to gain admittance.

Soon thereafter, I began receiving a barrage of emails about this party and that event.  None of it really made it on my radar, but in hindsight, I should have paid a bit more attention to these calls to action.  My staff at the shop was concerned that I would sign us up for some inappropriate bike line, and cautioned me to think before I signed up for 2 dozen Chinese folding recumbents.  

With all of the things I was looking to avoid, I then took some time to think about what I would like to see. Like all of us, my time is valuable, so I began thinking about what was in it for me and my shop. This list may sound naive, but I purposely approached interbike without any preconceived notions.  
  1. I wanted to buy a spoke cutter from Phil Wood
  2. I wanted to meet some of the amazing companies that we do alot of business with (Paul Components, Phil Wood, White Industries, Thompson, Chris King)
  3. I wanted to look for some software that could help us develop our online presence in way consistent with who we are.
  4. I wanted to seek out a line of bikes that would work well in our shop.  I didn't know exactly what that meant, but I would know it when I saw it
  5. I wanted to locate a line of shoes that we could get into without a massive buy-in
  6. As we do alot of custom builds, I wanted to search for frame builders.
  7. I wanted to check in with the bike lines we do carry (Salsa, Surly, Public, Mission, State, Leader, Montague, Handsome, Lapierre, Torker, Devinci and Rocky Mountain)

With this list in my mind, I boarded a plane at Laguardia and assumed my center seat location. I had received and plan to heed the 2 bits of advice I had been given.  The first was no make NO appointments,and just wander unencumbered.  I was mostly successful, although I couldn't resist an informal meeting with Harry Schwarzmann at Bell/Giro.  The second piece of advice was to take a roller luggage bag to gather and collect the many catalogs I was sure to attract,

I arrived in Vegas and spent my only 10 minutes outside waiting for a taxi. I had planned on arriving on Tuesday evening and leaving late Thursday night. My uneventful taxi ride (the driver was from...where else? Brooklyn!) deposited me at the Venetian.  For some reason, I received an upgraded room.  Never was such an amazing room wasted on someone who would never use it to its potential.  It had a sunken living room, leather couches and many flat screen TV’s.  The bathroom even had an annex.

I spent Tuesday evening getting my bearings and playing text tag with a few NYC shop that I was trying to connect with.Being independent  small and relatively new, I don’t have the cadre of bike buddies that I hope to have in 10 years.  Consequently, my first evening was spent wandering around the casino floor, losing money in small batches.

After a great night sleep in my oversized suite, I awoke with a mission.  I hadn't picked up my registration tag, so my plan was to hit the registration area when it opened at 7am. Being a morning person,jumped back 3 hours in time-zones  I was up at like 5am (right when I am sure my more hardy brethren were turning in for the night),  I had breakfast, and made my way over to the sands Expo Center, when my worlds collided.  A few years back, I had attended an architecture/computer conference (please dont laugh) in the same exact location...same exhibit halls, same registration area.  It was a sign, but I am not sure of what.

Being first on the registration line, before the doors open, I made a few friends.  A PowerBar rep here, and journalist from Taiwan there.  Registration went smooth, and I had my first industry specific hanging name tag; I felt like such a player.   Dampening this flush feeling was the fact that I had assumed that the main hall opened at 8am, but in fact had to wait until 9am for the main opening.

The waiting area swelled with hundreds if not thousands of people as it approached 9am.  I tried making sense of the paper map, but I found it too unwieldy. I then downloaded the Interbike App, and actually found it quite useful. Many people in the holding area seemed poised to make a mad dash to various swag-laden booths when the doors flung open.  Mine was a more measured approach; I wanted to see a man about a spoke cutter.

As the smart phone chirped 9am, people walked briskly through the main hall doors.  It was the kind of quick walk you do as a kid when told not to run. Consulting my app, I calmly strolled up to the Phil Wood booth and purchased Spoke Cutter #1837 from Leroy. I arranged to pick up my new 32 pound bundle of joy later that day, and set out to explore the floor proper.

Being an architect (and having been in this “room” before), I decided on a systematic “up and down every aisle” approach not unlike a sonar-towing destroyer in World War 2. I forced my way to ignore booths on my way to my jump off point in the back corner as I didn't want to loose focus.  The system works I kept reminding myself.  
I arrived at my jumping off point, took a deep breath, and embarked. Up and down the rows I went, stopping at booths that looked interesting.  I made a point to stop at vendors who gave me a shot early on, as I wanted to make connections with the folks I had only talked to on the phone up until this point. I got to shake hands of idols such as Paul of Paul Components and Brian Thompson of Thompson.

What did strike me was how out of place I felt.  In walking by mega-manufacturers booths, where there were rows of desks and chairs, it reminded me that this is the place where
big pre-season deals are struck by massive stores.  Maybe we’ll be at the table someday, maybe that’s not what I want.

There were moments when I felt like a minor big shot...at the QBP and JB booths, I was instantly recognized for the film made about us a few moths ago (“The Inverted Bike Shop”) that was screened by both respective companies for their employees (who wouldn’t like hearing “you’re the guy from the movie”).  Yeah, I felt like Brad Pitt.

In checking off the items from my initial list as compared with the reality to what the show offered, I wasn't that successful in finding what I was looking for. By being relatively naive about the show going in, I think I set myself up for a little disappointment.  I cemented relationships IO already had with vendors that we deal with,but didn't really make any new ones.

Realizing that I represented such small potatoes to many of these vendors was sobering...but my biggest and most encouraging takeaway was the feeling that there aren't many shops out there doing it the way we do it. Will I go back next year? Its a resounding “maybe”