Image courtesy of Cor Vos
The past two years have seen what many would consider foundation moving changes at BBB, first with the sale of the company to Cervelo-owner Pon and then with the untimely passing of co-founder Frank Moons. Here Global Marketing Manager Frank Van Eck talks exclusively with CyclingIndustry.News about the future and why the company remains true to its roots…
First of all, we should probably start by paying tribute to co-founder Frank Moons who passed last summer – How big a part did Frank play in shaping the BBB of today?
The loss of Frank was a big shock to the whole company. Although Frank and Chris Koppert (the other co-founder) sold the company, they were still involved in BBB Cycling. That involvement after selling the company does say a lot about how big a part they both played in shaping BBB. It can’t be underestimated. They were the soul of the company and they did an impressive job in building up BBB Cycling in almost 25 years from nothing to one of the biggest accessory brands in cycling worldwide. Frank always played the part of salesman and Chris was acting more on a strategic level. They complemented each other in a perfect way. Without them BBB would not be as big as it is nowadays. To ensure the company was able to grow even further the selling of BBB to a big player as the Pon Holding was inevitable. And with PON being the new owner we have found a company with family traditions as a high value, just like BBB Cycling.
How’s business for BBB?
The company has introduced some great products in 2015 which helped us a lot moving forward and growing as a specialist brand in so many categories. This has resulted in many award-winning products, 95 to be exact. Now that we are part of the Pon Holding Group we are one of the bigger players in the bicycle industry, offering us lots of opportunities to co-operate with the other brands. Nevertheless, we see ourselves evolve as a company that stands on its own with the same traditions as before.
So it sounds like expansion has been constant since the Pon acquisition?
Our own headquarters in Leiden, The Netherlands is expanding in a rapid pace. We just finished a completely new warehouse with a built-in showroom where we present our products just as in our dealerships. Here we can train our sales reps and we show clients how a store can look. There we also have a comfortable dressing room with all the things our people need. Most travel to the office by bike all year round. We have state of the art showers and a special system for them to dry their shoes. This way we support our staff coming bike and keep them healthy.
On a personnel level, we just added a new Sales Manager and are looking to expand our marketing department. New products are added each year and we continue to win awards with these products. Our latest win is the Design and Innovation award with our innovative Tithon sprint helmet, developed together with our sponsored pro teams and the Technical University of Delft.
Outside of the Netherlands there’s been some advances too, is that right?
One of the steps forward for 2016 will be the expansion of the company on the North American continent. With the involvement of the Pon Holding this will be a lot easier, because of their presence in North America. They will act as our distributor on the east coast of the USA and Canada.
How many countries will you now find BBB within?
BBB Cycling products can be found in 48 countries worldwide with nearly 1,500 products in over 40 product categories. With the recent addition of Pon.Bike North America as our new distributor for the Northern American continent we keep improving our distribution network.
How else is the brand benefitting from the 2015 Pon investment?
The portfolio contains other strong cycling brands and the knowledge that’s present is shared among all the members. We are already enjoying the benefits of it by our cross-marketing activities with Cervélo and the recently acquired cult brand Santa Cruz.
Therefore the investment of Pon Holding means it’s opening up new marketing possibilities, for example, in sponsoring pro athletes and riders. But also on the level of product development, it means that our developers are able to exchange ideas with their colleagues from world leading bicycle brands. The biggest change is of course Chris Koppert leaving the company. Till the end of 2015 he still was involved in BBB, but at the beginning of 2016 he completely withdrew from BBB. Perhaps it’s important to note that our own company didn’t change at all. Pon Holding believes in taking over good and reliable companies and BBB was one of them. They maintain the existing structures and encourage us to increase our business together. Being part of the Pon Holding opens new doors and provides opportunities we never had before, but on a daily basis nothing changed in the workflow with our dealerships.
When it comes to product development – typically how long are you spending taking a concept from the drawing board to completion and what’s involved?
First of all, it’s good to mention that all our development happens in house at our headquarters in Leiden. We work with a complete department of several product developers and product managers who are responsible together for all our products. Each developer has his own skills that suit a certain group of products. For example, our developer of helmets is also responsible for developing lights and pedals. Developing a new product from a concept at the drawing board to a complete product ready for use by a consumer takes about two years.
A lot of aspects are involved in creating a new product. You can think about raw sketching on 3D-drawing programs on a computer, to 3D-printing of prototypes at our headquarters in Leiden to the production of a new mallet at the factories in Asia. When samples of new developed products come in they are tested by our development team, but also by other fanatic cycling colleagues. At BBB nearly everybody is a cycling enthusiast and we all have valuable feedback to give on the wide range of products we develop.
Some helmets are tested at a windtunnel of the Technical University of Delft, such as our Tithon aero helmet. And when a product is finalised we use our sponsored pro teams to collect valuable feedback to further improve our products. This feedback is carried through in the updated products. Product development never stops at BBB and we always listen very carefully to the feedback of our sponsored riders, but also to that of our customers, for example in our ThinkTank project.
Why should the independent bike shop choose BBB over the competition? And how about the consumer?
What’s important for our customers is also important for our dealerships. BBB products are of high quality at a fair price. We have a very wide range of products spread out from the tiniest bolts for your crankset, to innovative high-end helmets and sportglasses in the market. Our 95 awards for our products are divided over several product categories.
Whether it’s the beginner who just bought a bike, or the diehard racer who takes on the competition each weekend, the catalogue has something. And it’s not only the road cyclist who can find products at BBB. We have a wide range of products for mountain bikers and people who ride city and trekking bikes. That’s also one of the reasons for local bike shops to get involved with BBB. With one brand they can cover a complete range of cycling with high quality products at a fair consumer price.
We have an excellent internal sales department that gives the best service possible to our dealerships. A local bike shop never has to disappoint a customer, because of our wide range of spare parts for all our products. Becoming a BBB partner as a local bike shop is an investment for the long run. We find it very important to maintain a good relationship with our dealerships and distributors and we believe they can confirm this good relationship, because almost all of them are connected to BBB for a longer period.
Your point of sale has always stood out to us – how important is your merchandising to the overall package?
These are the tools to sell the products. Consumers need to be informed in order to make a decision. It is our task to follow up on that demand and therefore we need to provide good merchandising on the shopfloor and make the shop look attractive so consumers feel at ease and are tempted to buy. Besides we need to help a consumer decide what he or she needs when buying a product, or is looking for information online. Digital solutions are getting more and more important. We have so many possibilities to reach out to the consumer now that (almost) everybody owns a smartphone.
With such a deep catalogue of components have you considered OEM business?
Till now we were not involved in the OEM business for our own reasons. This could become a topic for the future, now that we are part of the Pon Holding and we work together with bicycle brands within the company itself.
Image courtesy of Michiel Rotgans.
Tell us about the ‘ThinkTank’ project and how you are engaging customers in product design:
This is exactly what the ThinkTank project is about; engaging customers in the development of our products. Before we started the ThinkTank we noticed that our consumers left a lot of feedback on our products by mail, or on our social media channels. This feedback was and is valuable to us and we thought it would be a good idea for us to collect this feedback and give our consumers a chance to have direct influence on the development of new products.
The ThinkTank projects are very popular and the feedback we receive can be used directly. For example, when we were struggling to choose a colour scheme for our new clothing line for women we asked a panel of women which colours they would love to see and wear. The colours that came out of this ThinkTank were used in the clothing line we developed.
Furthermore, we always like to hear what users think of our products, so it’s an important part of our social media program to get in touch with our followers and users to stay connected to what they think is important. In the end, they are the ones that have to be satisfied with our products.
What’s the split of your business nowadays between components, accessories and clothing – what’s growing the fastest?
A key part of the business is based on impulse purchases. BBB is strong as a brand when it comes down to essentials for when you want to go out and have a good time on your bike. The quality of our products is constantly improving, but so is the competition. Our biggest challenge is the fact that we need to perform in the major league for all those categories, where other brands can focus on just a few categories. The advantage is that we offer so many products that we always have something that interest a certain cycling enthusiast, dealer or specific country.
Clothing accessories are a strong category as we have proven ourselves as specialists when it comes down to winter gloves or shoe covers. Magazines have confirmed that by giving us lots of awards in the last couple of years.
In this internet age, how are you both marketing your products to the cyclists and ensuring the retailer gets their fair margin on sales?
It’s exactly like you say it. We live in a world where consumers buy more and more products online and look up information on products even more. Therefore the marketing of our products is also done online. We use different social media channels, create consumer based actions and involve the press through our products by organising events such as Editor Rides in the spring and fall. But we never lose our main focus and that is we still believe in selling bike products through our IBD’s.
Of course we see it happen that dealers go online, the combination of an online web shop and local bike shop seems to work out very well for a lot of the shops. It’s better for consumers to be serviced by a shop and what our dealerships do best is selling cycling products to consumers and give them face-to-face service.
Anything exciting currently in the pipeline at BBB?
Each year we introduce around 150 new products. For 2017, we will introduce a huge amount of new items in existing product categories to underline our expertise. New colours of our highly-appreciated new aero helmet, the Tithon, will be added. Currently it’s available as a black or white version.
Furthermore, we have scheduled a completely new helmet, new sports glasses, a new cycling computer and new pumps.
Our in-house product development team is a young and ambitious. It is great to have them on the spot with our sales and marketing team so we can ensure building a strong product portfolio for the future.