I don’t come from a bicycle background, I come from the tech industry and in my 13 years as a technology journalist I’ve been to a lot of trade shows. I’ve pounded the floor and spoken to a lot of people on Day Three as they lean against the dividing wall separating their stand from the next, struggling to muster enthusiasm. I never thought much about what it takes to be ‘front of house’ before now, but today I have a newfound respect for anyone who regularly exhibits at trade shows. You guys are heroes.
I have my exhibitor badge from Spin LDN’s inaugural Christmas event hanging in my flat now. I’ll always remember the show fondly because if this gig works out, Spin LDN Christmas 2013 will be where it all began.
On Friday evening as the doors opened to welcome the press in, I was pretty much bouncing off the walls with nerves and excitement. It was my first show – the first time I would be pitching my bicycles to the public face to face – and I was completely freestyling it. I’d bought three models along (bicycles not booth bait) to try and cover all bases and thrown a makeshift stand together from ‘vintage’ crates (it means you buy them rather than get them free) and wall stickers. I’d cobbled together a bit of decoration by mounting some handlebars on a wooden taxidermy mount and they got so much attention that if bicycles don’t work out I might go into interior design.
By Sunday – Day Three – my voice had almost gone and if I had a thousand yard stare as I was talking to you it’s because I’d learned to develop a sales patter in order to get all the information across. Problem is, half way through your pitch you suddenly wonder if you’ve already done this bit and you’re repeating yourself. I also discovered that in those situations the best thing to do is just keep going. It was exhausting but an incredible experience. What an excellent crowd and a real mix bag too – from Hackney hipsters to country retirees, via families, kids and dogs (my fake grass flooring proved really popular with our four legged friends, fortunately none left me a steaming present).
My main aim was to promote my brand and basically announce my existence to the world. I was expecting, and prepared, to defend myself. Despite the cycling boom, it’s still a crowded market and I knew people would be asking why my bicycles start at £500 when there are plenty of people who will sell one for £200. So I drew attention to this and talked myself hoarse explaining where the money goes.
There’s a lot to be said for transparency and people seem to appreciate that. In fact a fair few suggested they would be happy to pay a couple hundred quid more, which makes me think I might be too cheap, but hey, my main consideration at the moment is building a presence so those who support me in the early days deserve a better deal. People also listened to my explanations about component selection – why I really like Sturmey Archer and why I think sealed cartridge bearings are essential in England. One girl even stopped me in my tracks, pointing out that if I was making bicycles designed to be ridden in English weather why did they not come with mudguards as standard? It’s a fair point and one I shall be addressing.
I was really flattered that a lot of people commented on my arrangement and selection of parts – even a couple of the journos, who I thought might rip into me. I’ve even got Stoker into a path racer group test next spring, so that’s something to look out for. It felt like I was doing something right and paying close attention to detail was really paying off.
What made the experience though were the other exhibitors. What a nice bunch of people, all doing really cool stuff.
I was really pleased to meet James from Kennedy City Bicycles. I think he’s got a great business, which I’ll be watching closely as he’s several months ahead of me. Yes we’re going after the same audience but coming from different angles. Besides, the market’s big enough and a bit of friendly competition fosters innovation – that’s something else I learned from the tech space.
Across the way from me were beautiful clothing items from Otto London, Ragpicker and Chapeau (who get props because they also have a bowler hat in their logo), all making nice bits of clothing that aren’t quite like anything on the high street.
Across the way I had fancy, high end frames from Malcolm Custom and lovely luggage from Hill & Ellis who works with leather and does really classy pieces. Then there was Simon from Green Oil, who I chatted to quite a lot. Despite the fact the bicycle is a ‘green’ machine and while Simon didn’t even push his product on me, it has got me thinking about how unfriendly all the lubricants and cleaning solutions we use in bicycle construction are to the environment. I’ll be getting some green stuff in and I suggest you do too.
Next door I had Anthony Oram and Rebecca J Kaye who both do beautiful prints and cards and had a bit of friendly competition going on. Very pretty things. Then we had the world’s nicest anarchists – Black Spoke Collective. I was half expecting it to all kick off down there but they are lovely, lovely people, with a Berlin-Liverpool collaboration going on and some really cool imagery in their designs.
At the end of the row was Rachel from Michaux who I was really keen to meet – another maker of beautiful bags and leather goods with some really clever tech that makes some of her leather goods reflective.
There was also a tech company called Chilli Technology who had a really well priced helmet cam on offer. I’ll definitely be picking one up at some point as the picture quality also looked great for the price and I’m a big advocate of ‘black box recorders’ for cyclists.
Around the corner was sports drink brand Nuun, who I’d heard a lot about via the LFGSS forum. They do an electrolyte replenishing sports tablet that doesn’t have sugar, so it’s not syrupy and doesn’t give you that sugar crash. The guy also told me it’s great for hangovers. I tested it last week. He’s right.
Finally a big shout out to my stand neighbours Divine chocolate. Not bicycle related but they make some damn fine tasty chocolate and their company is majority owned by the farmers in developing markets who grow the beans. They kept me going with some tasty treats.
All these guys were independent brands and startups and I’m hoping that I can do some collaboration with them in future. We’re all part of the nation of shopkeepers after all.
Great experience Spin, looking forward to my next one.