Ask the trade: Are model years a sustainable practice for the bike business

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In a recent interview with CyclingIndustry.News, Madison Sportline CEO Dominic Langan alluded to a gradual phasing out of model years across some of the portfolio.

“It hasn’t been sustainable for years. I think the days are numbered but as an industry we need to change our mindset. The car industry moved away from it a very long time ago. It’s certainly doable and it is high on our agenda and I expect us to transition in the next year or two,” said Langan.

With one of the UK’s leading bike distributors pondering placing this transition among its priorities, we asked the trade for their feelings on model years:

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John Hoskins, Ealing cycles
The annual model change is now so early that it’s often announced before the current year’s stock has arrived. Frog Cycles – arguably the most successful junior range in the UK – seems to manage without, just installing rolling changes as they’re developed. But I agree that there are some advantages to the principle. It can provide a spotlight on a particular range for a while. It can provide journalists with copy, therefore producing cheap advertising for the importer/manufacturer and it can actually sell the range to that peculiar group of people who always want the latest equipment.

This has to weighted against the inevitable difficulty of unloading the older stock. I believe many dealers are their own worst enemy as they bring this situation to the attention of the customers in their sales techniques, hence forcing discounts. This is highly prevalent in road bike sales, which is why we keep low stocks.

I suspect that Shimano and SRAM are the true cause of the model changes as they bring out new ranges regularly and a small section of the buying public do want the latest Shimano (not always the best). It’s up to the retailer to change the selling methods so as not to instantly make product that may only be a few months old into last year’s model.

Kevin Moreland, Bainton Bikes
I can see this being beneficial for large online sellers who already are able to offer older products to customers at the LBS trade price.

Jon Askham, Kinetic Cycles
We couldn’t agree more that the time has come to shift away from model years. I think the model year encourages short selling windows and aggressive discounting. We would rather put money into high-end inventory that has a longer shelf life than entry-mid range product that we may be forced into discounting.

Mick Murphy, Mickey Cranks
New and different products drive sales, which is a good thing, however if IBDs are forced to hold large amounts of stock for the distributors and there is over supply like in the last 18 months then it is untenable. Perhaps the answer would be to offer more colour options from the start of a longer product cycle, and only changing the product when there is significant technical innovation made to it.

Neil Holman, George Halls Cycle Centre
I personally think it should stop. About 12 years ago Dawes adopted this with their MTB range, just doing minor tweaks, but essentially nothing really changed. We and Dawes had great success. I remember their Watoga model won MBUK or MBR dirty dozen three years on the trot and it never changed.

I know fashion changes and the experts too, but we change for change’s sake, not because it’s necessary and every July you get a taste of what is changing so you start discounting your stock ready for the next buy in deal. It must be a pain for the importers too because they run out of models as early as April in the anticipation of the following year’s models coming in in July or August. If they ran a two or three year range, they wouldn’t get these problems and there wouldn’t be the heavy discounting at the end of every summer.