The North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) is a sight to behold. The artistry, creativity and ingenuity can be appreciated by even the most non-bike of folk. For the unchurched, NAHBS is a combination consumer-trade show, and opportunity for bike industry types to rub elbows with each other and the press, and to party with the natives. Last weekend, the event was on our turf here in Charlotte.
Unless you’re into bikes, you probably wouldn’t recognize most any of the brands or dealers. Even the big, established ones. In fact, very little seen at NAHBS is bike shop showroom material. Most is one-of-a-kind, concept, just for fun creations, or would appear to be more fitting up on a gallery wall than under the burden of daily use.
As cyclists ourselves, we love it for what it is. As marketers, we dig it for a different reason altogether. It’s one helluva real-life case study on how independent brands – both big and small – position themselves. Not just against the household names, but also against each other and to their end users. No one’s trying to appeal to the masses and undo Trek, Specialized or any of the other major players. No one’s searching for factories in China in hopes of bringing more of their product to market faster or cheaper. Everyone, however, is trying to perfect, personalize, or somehow improve upon a product that’s been around for nearly 200 years!
But If so few people ride bikes, and fewer still actually appreciate the bike as a something more than a toy, what’s the draw to catering to a niche-within-a-niche that is the customer for a high-end custom made bicycle? it ain’t for getting rich, that’s for sure, but these guys (and gals) are winning in all the departments in which any and every business is participating: customer satisfaction, brand loyalty and job satisfaction. Rather than attempt to be all things to all people, these bike builders are choosing to offer limited stock, personalized service, and excruciating attention to detail. And they’ve got waiting lists months or even years long! While the household brands will plaster the magazines and bike shops and pop-ups ads telling you the kind of bike you should get, these small builders are asking the question: what kind of bike do you want?
Admittedly, not every one of these builders may be around for the next iteration of NAHBS, but such is the risk of any business undertaking. But by listening to their clients, providing solutions, personalized attention, and actually enjoying what they do, they’ve likely got a better than average shot. They’re not just building bikes, they’re building brands, fans, and the second their of marketer that a legion of satisfied customers can provide. And that’s good business no matter what your business.