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Meeting of minds: Frostbike 2012

What exactly is Frostbike? It is a forum with the intention of improving your riding experience from the shop to the road

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For the first time in many years, the name of the event was betrayed by Mother Nature. After all, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’ll be cold in Minnesota in February, but over 1,500 Frostbike attendees saw sunny skies and temperatures above freezing. Test rides on fat bikes from Surly and Salsa took place on muddy trails instead of frozen lakes. But far from dampening the spirit of the event, it likely helped (especially for those attending from Southern California and Key West).

What is it?

If you’ve never heard of Frostbike, it’s easily excused. Quality Bicycle Products, based in Bloomingon, Minnesota, hosts the event to help educate and listen to its dealers. It isn’t a public show, it’s a chance for the industry to meet and learn how better to serve you, the bike shop client.

At QBP’s sprawling facility, warehouse space was split into makeshift classrooms and an expo for vendors to show their latest wares. It may sound dreary, but it was anything but that. Bright, natural light flooded the area and the noise of enthusiastic bike nerds filled the air. Dealers threw schwag-filled musettes over their shoulders and strolled through aisles, keen for face-to-face contact with brand representatives they may have met for the first time or not seen since Interbike.

With Frostbike’s Midwest setting, you don’t get Las Vegas sparkle and manufacturers don’t launch much new product like they do at Eurobike. So on the surface, it isn’t a sexy subject for an article. But what makes Frostbike possibly more important than both Eurobike and Interbike is what is accomplished.

Simply put, QBP is helping the cycling industry and the average shop raise its collective game. Through education and dialog, it’s working to make the cycling industry more professional, more profitable and more sustainable, one customer at a time. It’s a quiet revolution (Minnesotans aren’t prone to boasting), but a revolution nonetheless.

Score one for the little guy

On the Friday night of Frostbike, QBP’s founder/owner Steve Flagg outlined, to a dining room full of well-fed dealers, the next big charge that QBP is leading.

As a champion of the independent bike dealer, QBP, with the help of Smart Etailing, is building a new campaign called, “Buy Local, Buy Now.” It’s a digital program/service that will enable a customer to locate shops near him that currently have a desired component or bicycle in stock.

Say, for instance, that you’ve decided to buy a Deda stem. On Deda Elementi’s site will be a “Buy Local, Buy Now” button. Clicking on that button will bring you to a window asking for your zip code. You’ll then be delivered a Google map-like set of results. Stocking shops will be highlighted. Other shops that can order the item will also get a call out. Once you select a shop, you can then buy the item immediately and stop by to pick it up.

“Buy Local, Buy Now” brings immediacy to the purchase with no shipping wait times. There is also the added value of personal service and professional installation. For shops, the program will help them bring in new customers. It also encourages stores to stock more items because the risk of them sitting on a shelf is decreased with the program pointing customers to a given shop.

With its huge distribution and broad range of brands, QBP is uniquely positioned to create this program. But that doesn’t mean it will only benefit QBP. In fact, the search results show what a given shop has in stock, no matter which distributor the dealer used to procure its inventory.

Flagg and company are leveraging QBP’s position to help the industry and local bike shops compete with online stores. “Buy Local, Buy Now” may be just the ammunition the industry needs to fight the threat by sites like Amazon.

Git some learnin’

Shop owners and employees also got the opportunity for education at Frostbike. Experts in branding, marketing, personnel, finance and advocacy all held seminars to help shops improve. And these weren’t reluctant learners. Every seminar was packed.

I was able to sit in on a seminar on selling fat bikes (4” wide tire offroad bikes that are a blast to ride on trails, sand, snow, etc) led by Justin Julian of Salsa and Greg Patterson of Surly. Over fifty shop owners and employees discussed the barriers to bringing the new segment of bikes into their shops and then worked to find effective ways to overcome those obstacles. Some who attended were early adopters and lent their experiences to others who were curious and considering testing the waters. It was more workshop than classroom and the effect was amazing.

Why does this matter for you, the customer?

Deciding what to sell in a bike shop is not an easy thing. And it’s even harder when the decision is made in a vacuum, by a shop owner or buyer alone in a back room. With workshops, lent expert advice and new industry relationships formed at Frostbike, shops are given tools to succeed.

That’s what Frostbike is all about. It’s an opportunity for dealers, vendors and a distributor (QBP) to come together and discuss business practices and industry trends. Problems are discussed and solutions are explored. Dialogs are begun that make the bike shop experience better (more profitable and sustainable) and thereby make cycling more fun for the consumer. A true win-win by anyone’s standards.