Big bike business meets advocacy at Trek World
Last week I was invited to attend Trek World, the bicycle company’s annual sales meeting at its Wisconsin headquarters. Hundred of bike shop owners and employees gathered to see the newest lineup of products, as well as to hear president John Burke’s strategy on how to improve business for 2011. Central to Trek’s strategy is advocacy: by making bicycling safer and more attractive, more people will ride bikes (and people who already ride will ride more often.) Major bike suppliers like Trek have realized the potential of advocacy—especially at the federal level—for years now. The big guys get it.
What left me astounded was how passionate the dealers were about advocacy. In the past, investing in advocacy has been a hard sell for bike retailers, especially when it came to the far-away land of federal advocacy. Like any small business owner, most retailers lack the bandwidth to concentrate on distant, intangible and—frankly—boring things like the federal transportation bill. However, that legislation is the #1 source for the bicycle lanes, trails, and paths in our backyards, so it is important for retailers to support federal advocacy, because it does come back to the local level.
I’m not sure whether it’s because advocates have done a better job marketing their work, or because John Burke has some kind of secret advocacy decoder ring, but the dealers at Trek World were totally on board. Bikes Belong president Tim Blumenthal presented about peopleforbikes.org in four workshops, each time to a full audience. For the meeting’s opening presentation, a clipboard with a stack of peopleforbikes.org pledge sheets was placed on every chair in the hall. After the crowd filed out, only a fraction of the clipboards remained. When I sat down to eat later that evening, I had the pleasure of talking to a bike shop owner from Georgia. Before I could finish my dinner roll, I had heard about the status of Georgia’s 3-foot bill, an upcoming state bike summit, and the shop’s involvement in their local and state advocacy groups. Not only did this guy know more about derailleurs than me, I think he knew more about advocacy!
Bicycle retailers are the industry’s connection to individual bicyclists, so it is encouraging to see them taking a greater interest in advocacy. The major suppliers like Trek, Specialized, Giant, and Cannondale can make the big financial investment in advocacy, but it’s the retailers who can mobilize the foot soldiers that movements like peopleforbikes.org need.