Marketing the handmade industry: the next step

by | Jan 2, 2012

A lot, lot, lot of people believe that the best bikes out there are those being raced by the pros, and that handmade bikes aren’t among them. Neither is true, but this is the widespread perception that has been created through sound marketing practices by the large mass producers.

So how does the industry continue to increase sales? NAHBS and other shows have drawn attention to the handmade industry in recent years, and this has led to growth in overall sales. But as I point out below, NAHBS, etc. is only part of the picture in growing the industry as a whole.

take this with a grain of salt and then let it go, but –

it might work well to not have a plan or force an issue. while it’s commendable to want to endure and have a career or even a mini career, the very nature of the product, the client(s), and the sport make framebuilding the antithesis of a secure path. throw yourself out there, develop whatever filters you need to fen off detractors, and let the moons line up the way they will regardless. as i told my good pal the other day, according to my opinion, success is not caring where you end up.

As for success being about not caring where you end up, various forms of failure meet that definition too. In both cases, not caring is a type of denial as well as transitory. Of course, success itself is highly transitory.

call it what you want – but it is an attitude. and according to my opinion, one either has it and feels it, or one doesn’t. unlike fitness, or some other goal one can train for and see/measure results, the attitude is more personal and part of the DNA. i think the minute you look across the way and say “…i want that for myself,” or in the case of this thread, try to get for the framebuilder what you (assume) is the domain of another segment of the industry, you’re defeated atmo. everyone has exactly what they need to succeed. a marketing campaign is not going to make it happen.

In my experience, one problem custom builders have is visibility. Most bike buyers don’t even think about custom builders because they are told by larger bike companies with marketing divisions that their bikes are the best. After all, Lance rides a Trek, and so should you. Right? Bicycling magazine says that the latest Felt is the stiffest, most compliant thing since sliced bread, so it must be true, and where’s the nearest Felt dealer’s phone number?
As an independent builder, do you advertise? If so, where, and if not, why not? Do the magazines charge way too much? Do they get paid so much ad money by A and B and C that they don’t need small builders’ ad budgets? Is there a bike coalition or organization whose members could benefit from a small discount on your services?
Marketing is such a tricky thing to do and takes so much time, I don’t blame people for not putting forth the extra effort, especially when you’re on deadline for that ‘cross team’s run of however many bikes they want this time.


only steve c is steve c.

no one here, or at nahbs, or ever before in the history of framebuilding, can do what you do or knows what you know. you have a franchise on your own life and its path. you know what’s in there (finger points to temple) not only more than anyone else – no one else has a clue what’s there. and that’s meant as a compliment. and any name with a torch can be subbed in where steve c’s is here. what you have is your gift. use it.

you want more? you wanna have the clients who are shopping for and paying big bucks for crap from Intergalactic Two-Wheeled Sports Unlimited, Incorporated? then serve up what you have and do it in spades. infect as many people with your enthusiasm as you may need to feel comfortable with the demand for your frames. period.

no org, and no campaign, and no us versus them and steel rocks and imported crap sucks marketing slogans will be doing anything for you that you can’t do for yourself with your own tools, experiences, and intellect.