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March 22, 2023

Highlights from the 2023 Bicycle Leadership Conference

By: PeopleForBikes Staff

Cotopaxi Founder and CEO Davis Smith shares lessons on leading a service-based business and how it's never too late to make a difference.
Cotopaxi Founder and CEO Davis Smith shares lessons on leading a service-based business and how it's never too late to make a difference.

Couldn’t attend the 2023 BLC in March? Check out our recap video and action-oriented takeaways.

Between March 14-16, 275 bike industry executives representing more than 140 brands and organizations from across the industry gathered at the 2023 Bicycle Leadership Conference (BLC) in Dana Point, California. Putting competition aside, attendees came together as an industry under the conference theme — United for the Future of Bikes.

“The BLC is an invaluable asset for industry members not only to collaborate on solving the biggest issues facing the bike business, but also meet and network with fellow industry peers who they would otherwise never interact with,” said Chris Speyer, chair of the PeopleForBikes Board of Directors and senior vice president and chief merchandising officer for REI. “If you did not attend, I would highly suggest putting it on your calendar for next year. For anyone looking to support bicycling and grow their business, there is always an open seat at the PeopleForBikes table.”

Conference speakers included numerous industry-leading CEOs, data specialists, sustainability leaders, transportation planners, legal experts, and more. If you weren't able to attend the BLC, we collected our top action-oriented takeaways:

In Order to Grow Bicycling, We Must Be Inclusive of New Riders

Bonnie Tu, chairperson of Giant Group who traveled from Taiwan to speak at the conference, shared her inspiring story of founding Liv, the first cycling brand dedicated to women. When Tu began riding a bike as an adult (at 57 years old), it was nearly impossible for her to find a bike and riding gear small enough and good enough for her needs.

With more than half of new pandemic-era riders being women, Tu says it is imperative to the survival of our industry that we open the door to these new riders by providing them with the proper gear and support to stay riding. She says while it may take a substantial commitment to change the status quo, everyone deserves a great riding experience, especially those who have already been historically underserved.

We Can Go So Much Further, Together

While this overarching theme was touched on throughout the conference, it was especially felt during a session focused on industry sustainability initiatives featuring Seth Nesselhuf of QBP, Courtney Munch of Trek, Greg Gauswitz of REI, and Theresa McKenney of NEMO Equipment. 

The panel discussed how climate change is the largest threat to the bike industry, and while any company can attempt to tackle issues around sustainability alone, there are already so many other people working on the solution you’re looking for. By joining forces as part of a larger coalition, like PeopleForBikes’ Sustainability Working Group, our collective knowledge and experience can lead to much greater returns.

It is Never Too Late to Make a Difference

Davis Smith, founder and CEO of Cotopaxi, delivered a touching, standing-ovation-worthy keynote speech on building his company with the ethos of serving others at its core. He championed the power of giving and said it is possible to make the world a better place through business. To companies of any size, his message was that it is never too late to build a bigger purpose into your core values as a business and that we should all seek inspiration in our daily lives to make a difference.  

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work Is Everyone’s Responsibility

Tiffany Smith, CEO of Camber Outdoors, and Elyse Rylander, DEI Manager of QBP, discussed how the workplace is a vehicle of change for DEI and that if we want to have lasting change, it needs to be meaningful. By making DEI a key element of your business, you can create a sense of belonging for both your employees and your customers. We must go beyond just giving someone a seat at the table — we need to make sure underrepresented people truly feel like they have a voice in the conversation.

People Are Loyal to Brands, Not Products

With so many new pandemic-era riders entering the market, a large topic of discussion across the conference was how we can keep these new customers on their bikes. Matt Heitmann, CMO at Signa Sports United, and Dustin Robertson, Partner at Direct Response Media Group, discussed how customer data is the secret ingredient to strong brands and lifetime value.

With the average cost of securing a new customer being five times more than keeping an existing customer, the bike industry must capitalize on retaining riders who discovered or rediscovered cycling in 2020 and 2021. A top takeaway from the duo: don’t sell your product, sell the outcome your customer receives from that product.

It is an Incredible Time to be in the Outdoor Space

While all of the conference speakers were reverent of the current headwinds facing the bike industry, there was still plenty of optimism and hope for the future of bikes. Eric Artz, CEO of REI, promoted a positive look ahead during his keynote speech, reiterating how it is such a great time to be a part of the outdoor industry and community. As an industry, Artz laid out our choices — we can wait for the spike of pandemic sales and ridership to come back down, or we can work to influence where that line settles. Acknowledging a room full of influential bike leaders, he reminded the audience that we all collectively have the power to create the change we want to see.

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