Sunday, February 5, 2012

Red Tower :: Party Like It's 2011... or not?

Apologies in advance for bringing you something other than titillating bike stuff, but IF, and every other small builder out there has been told by the Red Tower that we are not worthy of having 2012 parts in, well, 2012.  Instead, we're supposed to party like it's 2011, and accept it.

My pal Richard Sachs broke this story in the most eloquent fashion in two blog posts earlier this week:
Leap of Faith
This is Leap Year

Like Richard, I have been a long time supporter of SRAM.  I like the product, both the way it works and the way it looks.  I like the fact that they are the underdog, the newcomer, the interloper against the heritage of Campagnolo and the precision of Shimano, and I like the fact that they are the home team, based in Chicago.

So, earlier this Fall, just like last year, they made us a generous offer to purchase kit at reduced prices for our show bikes to be displayed at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), coming up the first weekend in March.  That's March of 2012 to be clear, the current year of 2012... you know, the one that we are in right now.

So, I bellied up to the bar and ordered kit for all five of the bikes that we will have on display next month. Within days of placing my order, one of our customers who is tight with folks from the Red Tower had procured a new, yet to be released, Red group, and had displayed it on one of our bikes... weeks ago.

I immediately rang up our contact at SRAM, and inquired about getting the "new" Red for the order that I had placed, and was told that no one at NAHBS would have the "new" Red based on being "fair".  I said that it was not my place to be concerned about what the other exhibitors had on their bikes, and that I wanted to be sure that IF had the latest and best SRAM, since we support the brand and want to show up with only the best.

Fast forward to the past week, and the new Red is all over the inter-webs.  Luminaries and VIPS were riding it in Majorca, and distributors were already sending out offers to place orders against their incoming allocations, scheduled to ship in the next few weeks.

Clearly, had the Red Tower deemed us worthy, not just IF, but the rest of our little niche, they could have reserved at least a few dozen of those groups to ensure that our 2012 NAHBS bikes had the new kit.  But, as it turns out, they did not deem us worthy.

I'd been quietly having an internal hissy fit over the whole ordeal, progressively getting more worked up as each new tweet or web article hit the interwebs extolling the features of the new and improved Red. The thought of building out our best show frames in March with what was now, by virtue of the SRAM PR machine clearly last year's prom dress, was weighing heavy.

On Wednesday morning when I received Richard's first blog post, I sent him back a reply with my regards for his eloquent, and public statement of exactly how I was feeling.  When I got to the shop later that morning, I was admiring Richard's courage for speaking his mind in public, so I thought that I'd try a bit of diplomacy.  I forwarded his post to the Red Tower, along with a plea that surely they could find a few groups to make available for NAHBS.

I received a call back, and once again, I was presented with the "fairness" argument, along with three other lines of logic.  First, NAHBS is supposed to be all about the "frame", and that it would just be a distraction to have the new parts on it, and second, the Red that we had been sold was in fact carrying over unchanged until September of 2012, and thus it was still current product, even though they would be calling it, wait for it... "SRAM Red - 2011(Black Edition)".  Third, and this is where the smelly stuff ends and some semblance of the truth starts to emerge through the fumes, they needed all of the available new kits for the VIPS in Majorca, the previously mentioned allocations to distributors, and the OEM's with the big order pencils that would be at the upcoming Taipei show.

As a business person, I can understand the last bit, and almost respect it.  That doesn't mean that I agree that it is a smart business decision.  I explained to the Red Tower that I had once been in the position in my previous life of managing new product launches and allocating scarce units.  I explained that my philosophy based on that experience was actually quite different from the one currently being pursued by SRAM. We always allocated hot new product to customers with the most influence, not necessarily those with the most cash.  In other words, don't mistake cash for cachet.

I went on to plead my belief that our customers, and those of our colleagues who show at NAHBS, are often the most influential and discerning cyclists in their respective little cycling worlds, and that those little microcosms add up to some serious numbers. I firmly believe that you focus on cachet first, and the cash will follow.

Alas, all to no avail.

The Red Tower has allocated it's units, our ilk didn't make the cut, so what of it?  Should I care?  Should I dump the investment that I made in SRAM parts to recover the $ and scramble to move on to something else? I really don't know, but it sucks to be told that you don't matter.

So, I'm left pondering.  One thing that I do know for certain is that putting lipstick on a pig doesn't change the fact that it still a pig.

XOXO, Red Tower.



DMC said...

it is not SRAM Red but get a hold of David @sunrace and use his Driven Product,,, talk about underdog.. Good stuff light weight and looks and works to perfection. And as adjustable goes it wont drive you crazy like sram.

Andy said...


At least there is no room for misunderstanding as far as your business and NAHBS is to SRAM in terms of importance, now and in the future.

Always hurts when you're let down by the one's you love.

Indy Fab said...

It does hurt, because I genuinely like the product.

The whole situation has stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest online, and some folks just don't get it. They posit that it's about ego, but it's just my POV that it is a dumb move by SRAM to not have their latest stuff at a show where 7000+ consumers will pay to ogle the finest hand crafted bicycles in the world.

Aaron Queefout said...

I never liked the way SRAM stuff works, and of the Big Three it's the biggest PITA to work on and most likely to have a major shiftgear or drivetrain component fail. IMO they bank on their image as the little guy/outsider against the artisans at Campy and the Shimano behemoth. They've really hurt their image by shafting the NAHBS.

Justin Faircloth said...

refer to my TiFLW with Super Record for my opinion on the matter. Red-Black!

Adam Jones said...

Make it truly black, find someone to treat the components and black them all out. (okay, maybe a little extreme...)

I agree, bad move by SRAM, but maybe good news for you. The story by all the bloggers out of NAHBS could have been new SRAM Red instead it will be about the little guy getting screwed by Big Red. On the other hand, more emphasis on the craftmanship coming out of shops like IF.