Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Real Interbike - Part Two: The Best Little Bike House In Vegas

As I entered the exhibition hall, momentarily paralyzed by the neon lights and smell of new Lycra, I experienced my first flashback of the trip. In my professional life so far, I have somehow managed to find myself at no fewer than eight trade shows, each passing quickly through my mind as I sternly pretended to look at the exhibitor list. These past experiences have varied greatly, depending on vital factors associated with the particular industry, organizational affiliation and, perhaps most importantly, the location of the event. However, none of the aforementioned conditions holds a candle to the importance of whether you experience the show as an Exhibitor or Attendee. It's almost like the difference between being a Prostitute or a Pimp. Or so I've heard...

Considering that this is Las Vegas, it is understandable that one would be so desensitized by the billboard-scale public nudity and fleets of Hooker Trading Card Distributors on every street corner that he or she is either unwilling or unable to identify the similarities between what is going on out in the streets and what is taking place in the air-conditioned rat maze of Interbike. Sadly, this psychological avoidance is understandable, since the majority of people in the bike industry are exploited even more heinously than those within the other, slightly less-dysfunctional profession. But the health and benefits packages are strikingly similar.

Seriously though, this is a town where you can never really be sure if that late-twenties to mid-thirties woman in the mini skirt being paraded around on the arm of the strutting 50-70 year-old schlub in the Tommy Bahama shirt is really his wife or girlfriend or simply a short-term business associate, and there is an unavoidable synergy to the whole Trade Show/Flesh Trade relationship. The fact that Las Vegas proudly boasts a devotion to both excess and the almighty dollar bill acts like lighter fluid sprayed on a stagnant barbecue, exciting the flames of greed and moral sacrifice beneath the Big Burger of Capitalism. Because of this, there really is no better backdrop for an Industry trade show than Las Vegas, although it is unlikely that these observations will ever make the pages of your favorite bicycle-related media outlet or marketing campaign. "Come to Interbike in Las Vegas! Where obscene greed and unsolicited exhibitionism are not only accepted, they're encouraged!"

At this point, it should be acknowledged that I am using this inflammatory analogy in specific reference to the relationship between the Exhibitors (Manufacturers and Suppliers of Goods and Services) and Retailers (Resellers of Goods and Services), since these groups comprise the majority of Interbike participants. Operating somewhere on the fringe are the Media and a handful of Pros and Personalities, doing everything from on-site product reviews and interviews to networking with sponsors and signing autographs. Or just kind of walking around, taking pictures of cool things and occasionally talking to people, like I did for hours on end each day.

Strangely, I have had a full media credential for two years running and have still yet to perform any of the aforementioned activities in a formal capacity while I was there. It seems that anything truly important should be followed up on after the show, so the extent of my on-site analysis was a reckless pillaging of various weakly-monitored booths containing a plethora of substances promising to elevate energy levels. Unfortunately, the lack of a predetermined scientific hypothesis and properly qualified control group will probably render my experiment/overdose unfit for academic publishing but there may be some use within the fields of Chemical Toxicology or Clinical Psychology, depending on the severity of my current laundry-list of post-Interbike, free sample-induced health concerns.

Regardless, it should be recognized that there are two primary goals for most of the people and companies attending Interbike, depending on which side of the so-called Pimp and Ho/Retailer and Supplier Fence you happen to fall on. Understandably, these are often complicated relationships, fraught with potential conflicts of interest and guarded communication. Especially in the bicycle industry. Being dangerously juiced up on Sport Beans and GoFast only exacerbates the tension.

On one side, the Exhibitors go out of their way to make themselves look as superficially attractive as possible, slathering a thick layer of makeup on blemishes in recent product offerings and hoping no one notices the nasty scars and burn marks they have likely accumulated over a lifetime in the business. It's not exactly the Red Light District in Amsterdam but there is certainly a come-hither vibe emanating from many of the booths. After a while I would just refuse to make eye contact with anyone, for fear that they would ask me if I wanted to hear about their latest product line or whether I was looking for a good time.

You see, the Exhibitor's best hope is to align themselves with competent and proactive Retailers, aggressive and reliable business people who will pursue new business while providing a certain level of protection and support when things get a little freaky. The best ones will even step in when some customer needs to get slapped around a little bit, but this is not as common as it once was. It is also important for the Retailers to determine the suitability of a certain Exibitor's Product for his or her market. For example, the big names like Specialized and Oakley know that they appeal to a large audience and can command a premium. But there are always those weirdos and fetishists who are into freaky stuff and like certain features, proportions, colors or recumbents. The Retailer must know the desires of the customer and have the necessary inventory in stock.

While the Exhibitor controls the Product, it is the Retailer who assumes the position of power in the Interbike relationship. As a result, there is a noticeable stench of desperation permeating the Sands Expo, the byproduct of hundreds of businesses realizing that their success or failure is largely dictated by Retailers who may or may not ever consider using their product and may or may not have multiple facial piercings and a neck tattoo. Apparently these features guarantee that you are fit to represent the industry to the general public and are the Interbike equivalent of leather and denim at a Hells Angels rally.

Just as it is difficult to determine if the blonde in the high heels is a wife or an escort, it is nearly impossible to tell if the guy in the ripped jeans and greasy t-shirt is the store owner or some guy who snuck in the service entrance. It has been said that Las Vegas is not all that it seems on the surface, so it makes perfect sense that the same can also be said for Interbike. But after some more thought, all these flashing lights and tight clothing really do remind me of the Red Light District, only with carbon fiber and chrome as the bait. Perhaps there is more truth on the surface than we were told.

Check back for The Real Interbike - Part Three: Attack Of The Bike Clones


Studio-Owens said...

A nice take on Interbike, you have entertained me. Most of the postmortems on Interbike involve product reviews and comments, but not this one... :)

Jason said...

I haven't been to Interbike in a few years, but I totally agree about avoiding eye contact after awhile. How many people are out there selling self propelled hubs and re-energizing wheels? lame!