In the bicycle business, you have not just one, but three viable ways to get a foothold in the market. Here they are:
1.Get coverage in a trade magazine. Lai estimates that new product reviews make up at least 50 percent of his magazine's content. That's good news for inventors like Carl Winefordner (see "Crankin' 'Em Out.")
Winefordner always sends samples of new products to publications in hopes of scoring press coverage. "We've never spent a dime on advertising," says Winefordner. "The product reviews work out better than advertising because [they're] viewed as impartial."
Erik Koski also relies on magazine reviews. They were a big help in establishing his initial product, DuraTrac. "Bike manufacturers read the positive reviews and then decide to test inventors' products," he says. Winefordner and Koski say there are between 10 and 20 key bike trade magazines focusing heavily on new products.
2.Attend a trade show. That step alone helped Winefordner build an instant distribution network. "We went to the Anaheim, California, Interbike show [now held in Las Vegas] in 1997," he recalls. "We'd given out samples of the Speed Lever to magazines and some distributors before that, but we were overwhelmed by the incredible response at our show. We had distributors from all over the world asking to see our product." Another good trade show guaranteed to give your invention exposure to worldwide distributors is the CABDA (Chicago Area Bicycle Dealers Association) Cycling Expo held every October.
3.Set up booths at races. That allows racers to try out the newest innovations firsthand to see if they'll help them gain that coveted 1 to 2 percent speed advantage over their competitors. Although racers are always anxious to find new products, they're also hard critics who expect high performance. Says Koski, "Many more inventors fail than succeed by displaying their products at races."
Frank Hermansen, 41, and Carl Winefordner, 40, may own a business called Crank Brothers, but they're not actually brothers at all. In reality, the name stems from the fact that people used to constantly mistake the friends as siblings and refer to them as the "Crank" (Carl + Frank = Crank) brothers. When it came time to name their bicycle accessories designing and manufacturing company in Laguna Beach, California, the nickname just seemed a natural choice.
The pair introduced their first product, the Speed Lever, in 1997 at the Anaheim, California, Interbike show. They made quite a splash with distributors by giving away 4,000 units for free. Inexpensive to produce, the product removes bike tires or installs them on the bike rim in mere seconds.
But there were more inventions to come. In 1998, the company introduced the Power Pump, a 5½-inch air pump that can be easily carried while biking. It has a unique feature-an air switch that allows the pump to go from high volume to high pressure. And then, in 1999, the company added a Power Pump Alloy, a 9.3-inch aluminum pump with a gauge.