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Forbes on Scott Sports Bikes – comeback?

The article below on Scott is from the coming print edition of Forbes. It gives you a brief history of Cannondale (bankruptcy, Private Equity re-emergence) and Scott’s strategy for the future. While I have never ridden a Scott, they are the type of bikes that you see sprinkled around at races with a majority of them crarrying a faster triathlete. I think that losing Cam Brown (he went to Pinarello, which is quite the dream bike for me) will hurt them here in the U.S., just like losing Chris McCormack will hurt Kestrel.

Why is it that the $2,000+ tri bike crowd are so influenced by what the pros are riding? Well because we all think that if they are fast, then somehow we will be a tad slower than them but faster that before. There is a VERY long thread on slowtwtich right now discussing the “slowing times at Kona,” and frankly I’m not enough of a bike geek to have an informed opinion. What I will say is that I completely agree with what Kevin Gear West said on his feature interview on slowtwtich = fit matters. There are so many people on $3,000 bikes with $1,000 wheels that look sooo bad. They look at some pictures in a mag for fit or go to some roadie store that gets them into a TT position and not a triathlon position.

IWILLTRInteresting point: “At the Eurobike trade show in August 2003 Montgomery, still with Cannondale, bought a Scott CR1 frame. He rode it for 50 miles and then had a Cannondale engineer run tests. It was 24% lighter than Cannondale’s best frame. It survived 250,000 rotations of the crank arm, what would come with about a decade of heavy use. Cannondale’s carbon-aluminum frame showed fatigue at 80,000.”

Spinning Wheels
Victoria Barret 05.19.08, 12:00 AM ET

Scott Montgomery wants to make Scott Sports’ bikes a hot brand in the U.S. He also aims to reclaim his family’s iconic status in cycling
Scott Montgomery clutches a diamond-shaped black-carbon bike frame. “First there was Schwinn with steel frames, then Cannondale with aluminum and after that Trek with carbon. This is the next revolution,” he says, running his fingers along the thin layers of perfectly smooth carbon where the top tube meets the stem. The frame, at 790 grams (1.7 pounds), is the lightest on the market. Its maker, Scott Sports, sells men’s bikes made with that frame for $3,400 to $10,500.

Montgomery hopes that this bike, among Scott’s other two-wheelers, will help him engineer a U.S. comeback. He is the son of Joe S. Montgomery, who founded Cannondale, the bikemaker that was among the largest in sales throughout the 1990s and pulled in $22 million in a 1994 public offering. The younger Montgomery took Cannondale into Europe and Japan and was a board member. But a moneylosing foray into motorcycles cost the father and son the company (and paper wealth that once totaled more than $40 million). Pegasus Capital Advisors bought Cannondale out of bankruptcy for $50 million in August 2003. Both Montgomerys were ousted.

“It was devastating,” says the younger Montgomery, 46. Now he desperately wants to prove he can catch up with the biggest names in the industry–without drafting off Dad. “I saw my father work for 30 years to have the money, then he never got to enjoy the spoils,” says Montgomery, who had to sell his Piper Malibu Mirage plane and Arizona vacation home after the bankruptcy. His father, now 69, runs a software outfit. “This is about ego.”

Two days after his firing from Cannondale, Montgomery called Beat Zaugg, chief executive of Scott Sports, a company in Fribourg, Switzerland with $300 million in 2007 sales. Montgomery had already done a bit of research. At the Eurobike trade show in August 2003 Montgomery, still with Cannondale, bought a Scott CR1 frame. He rode it for 50 miles and then had a Cannondale engineer run tests. It was 24% lighter than Cannondale’s best frame. It survived 250,000 rotations of the crank arm, what would come with about a decade of heavy use. Cannondale’s carbon-aluminum frame showed fatigue at 80,000.

Scott Sports had bolted the U.S. bike market in 1997 after a buyout. (The firm got its start in Sun Valley, Idaho ry was the ideal front man. Soon after, Montgomery bought a 1% stake in the privately held firm.

In the luxury bike business, where products sell for as much as $20,000, spin and relationships rule. Differences between bikes are subjective–one rider’s “smooth” is another’s “too soft”–but you can still get a fanatic to pay more for the slightest perceived edge, like a fraction of a pound off the frame. (Of course, it would be a lot cheaper for the rider to go on a diet and lose a pound from his own frame.) The expensive brands compete intensely for floor space in 4,500 small bike boutiques across the country.

Wooing dealers was Montgomery’s first move. In April 2004 Montgomery unveiled Scott bikes at Sea Otter, the earliest racing event of the season, in Monterey, Calif. He targeted Cannondale dealers he knew and asked a favor: Just buy one. “People felt sorry for me, and I played that up a bit. I wasn’t a ham about the past, but buying one bike is an emotional decision, not a rational one,” says Montgomery. Within three months 50 dealers were selling a few Scott bikes; all but five reordered.

Montgomery lobbied Scott designers for a new line of bikes targeted at triathletes. (These bikes are more aerodynamic–with tear-shaped tubes instead of round ones–because, unlike cycling racers, triathletes are prohibited from drafting, or riding single file to beat wind resistance.) The market is tiny, but the kind of people who do triathlons are visible and voluble.

Montgomery tapped former Ironman winner Steve Larsen to help engineers with the design. One selling point: Instead of an adjustable, long stem for a bike seat, Scott’s seat posts are cut and bolted tight (by dealers in the store) to fit the rider. That saves as much as 50 grams and keeps the seat post from sliding. “A slight edge gives you bragging rights to superiority,” says Montgomery. At last year’s most prestigious triathlon, in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, Scott bikes ranked fourth in popularity.

Next, Montgomery wanted to remake Scott’s line of low-end bikes aimed at women, which he says were previously just smaller, “dumbed-down versions” of men’s bikes. The company’s bike chief in Switzerland resisted Montgomery’s idea in April 2006 but relented after Montgomery called the executive’s wife to pitch her on the redo. It worked. A year and a half later Scott unveiled four women’s bikes that retail for more than $2,000 under the label Contessa. The bikes have shorter stems, narrower bars and snazzy graphics. Ladies’ bikes now account for 12% of Scott’s U.S. business.

Scott USA brought in $19 million last year, four years after Scott’s relaunch. Its operating margin hovers around 10%, the industry average. Says Zaugg of Montgomery: “This guy is a pain in the ass, but he is usually right.”

Montgomery also persuaded Zaugg to revamp Scott Sports’ bike marketing. He lobbied for the company, which spends 5% of sales on ads and marketing, to replace print ads that had simple shots of bikes and ad chatter in “weird Euro English” with more eye-catching pictures of Saunier Duval, the Spanish pro cycling team Scott Sports cosponsors. The tagline refers to the weight, in grams, of one of Scott’s frames: “880 reasons to ride a Scott.” Ads now show only bikes that sell for $5,300 and up, because, Montgomery reasons, “you advertise the bike people dream about buying.”

Today Scott has 558 dealer accounts in the U.S., and Montgomery adds 8 new ones a month, on average. Montgomery says he can’t afford to fly dealers in on all-expenses-paid trips to headquarters, but he can call on them often. “VIP treatment? I call them personally,” he says. “I’ll remember the names of their kids and how old they are.”

Rivals Trek, Specialized, Giant and Cannondale compete for space by rewarding dealers with slick displays and swanky trips. Many retailers pledge loyalty–or 80% of sales–to one of the top two brands, Trek or Specialized. But sometimes these “concept stores” are too close to other dealers with the same lead brand.

Buying a certain brand is often as much an emotional decision for dealers as for riders. Stephen Lopatkin, who runs Piermont Bicycle in Piermont, N.Y., peddled mostly Specialized bikes for seven years. But when a tricked-out Specialized concept store opened 3 miles from his shop, after assurances from the bikemaker that this would never happen, Lopatkin switched gears. Unable to cancel orders with Specialized, he unloaded those cycles on Ebay and now devotes a third of his floor space to Scott. Says Lopatkin: “Scott Montgomery is Joe’s son. He’s a person of this world. It’s our chance to get in early on a brand that will be big.”

By the Numbers
Pedal On
Bike sales are flat. The U.S. bike market could use another Lance Armstrong.

$6 bil Total U.S. bicycle sales in 2007, up 2%.

43 mil Americans, age 7 and up, ride bikes.

75 Percentage of bikes in the U.S. sold by big retail chains, including Wal-Mart.

Source: National Bicycle Dealers Association.

http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2008/0519/068.html

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May 1, 2008 at 10:26 am
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