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The Torqued Wrench: Industry apes

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This whole post was partially spurred by comments in my recent story about the Specialized versus Volagi lawsuit currently in progress in California. A consistent theme popped up in the comments section: that Specialized is perceived as an “800-pound gorilla” in the industry, and is just picking on poor little Volagi because they can. This perception was amplified by the fact that Specialized would not comment for the story, giving Volagi an uncluttered soapbox.

If Specialized is the silverback in this analogy, then Volagi is a pack of lemurs flinging poo with a gusto found only in the thoroughly out-gunned. They’re attempting to stink up the gorilla sufficiently to send consumers (or perhaps just a jury) running. Problem is, lemurs can only poo so much — they seem to face an insurmountable problem of gorilla surface area. But that is beside the point, really. The point is that the whole issue begged a question: just how big is the “Specialized gorilla?”

The short answer is that Mike Sinyard’s California-based Specialized, while impressively large and powerful, is still walloped by a bunch of cheeseheads from Wisconsin.

While Specialized may be a gorilla in comparison to Volagi (which sold 175 units in 2010), Trek is the 800-pound ape in the U.S. market, with total sales estimated at just under $1 billion in 2010.

In 2009, Trek sold an estimated 720,000 bikes through shops in the United States, or about 22% of the total market. Two years ago Gary Fisher had not yet been folded into Trek, and sold 109k units. Now that they’ve been brought into the Trek fold, those sales will count for Trek. Specialized slotted into second with 340,000 sold — less than half of Trek. Giant falls in third, with 320,000 units sold. (All figures come from NBDA research and surveys completed by the Gluskin Townley Group, LLC.)

Outside of these top three, the decline in market share is precipitous. Raleigh’s fourth place earned them only 5%, and brands outside the top ten claim less than 2%.

The top three brands obviously hold enormous power relative to their smaller counterparts, but they are still far from monopolizing the industry. To put all of these figures in perspective, global cycling is a $30 billion industry today. That means that the trade’s largest player, Shimano, makes up less than 10% of the industry as a whole. Trek can claim a measly 3%.

Perhaps it is the aforementioned localized, community-centric focus, combined with the disparate personalities of cyclists themselves, that keeps the industry functioning this way.

We all want something different out of a bike ride, and we select different tools accordingly. There is simply no way for a company to provide products that fit the needs of all. Disciplines are too specialized, and riders are too picky for it to work. Plus, as those Specialized v. Volagi story comments proved, there seems to be a deep-seated mistrust of the largest brands. We still revere independent builders, individual innovation, and small brands that push the envelope. We like companies that seem to be in the sport for the same reasons we are. I hope that doesn’t change anytime soon.

Ten best-selling brands in the US in 2010

  1. Trek
  2. Specialized
  3. Giant
  4. Haro
  5. Electra
  6. Raleigh
  7. Redline
  8. Cannondale
  9. Sun
  10. Felt

Source: 2011 NBDA Retail Survey

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