Welcome to the Merchants of Dirt Podcast Episode #10, hosted by Reckoneer.com founder Kyle M. Bondo. This is your insider’s guide to practical recreational engineering where I teach you the art and science of building, promoting, and directing off-road races. In this episode, we’re going to talk about why you need to understand the reality of market forces, competition, and customers before you decide to base your whole racing business on another fad. Then we are going to test that what we’ve learned by looking at Snowshoeing and Fat Biking — two of the latest off-road sports to enter the market — and see if they have what it takes to be worth your time to promote, or are just more marketing spin.
In This Episode
Understand market forces, competition, and customers
Applying market force thinking to the real world
And Now You Know
On the next Merchants of Dirt podcast
Call to Action
Understand market forces, competition, and customers
You can be a fan of a fringe sport and love that sport like no other. But make no mistake, it will not make you a bunch of money. You could love a race discipline. It could be the greatest challenge you have ever experienced, and be the reason you started getting into racing in the first place. But if nobody else wants to do it, you will never make any money building it. This is why you need to ask yourself this honest question: Are you ok with building races based on niche or fringe race disciplines that make no money? If the answer is, No, then you need to understand how the market forces of markets, competition, and customers for the trifecta of why things do and do not sell.
Some fringe race disciplines will eventually make money. But if the market is not there, then the market is not there! When you are first starting your race promotion business, you do not have the luxury to conduct promotional experiments. Promotional experiments take a long, long time, and some serious dedication before they turn into something that makes money. And that is the wrong way to build your new race promotion company. When you’re big and profitable, you can experiment with niche sports. However, when you’re starting out, you need to focus on keeping everything simple.
#1 — What are your market forces?
The easy way to describe market forces is to say that they are the economic factors affecting price, demand, and availability of something that you buy or sell. Whatever sport you’re thinking about starting with has a core discipline, and this core discipline is the key to directing your passion into something that you CAN make money doing! What is the discipline you are most passionate about? Is it a core discipline, or a fringe sport that nobody has ever heard of? Whatever it is, find it’s core and write it down. That is your market.
#2 — Who are your competitors?
Once you have established what market you are in, you need to know who else is already promoting that race disciplines. Particularly in the areas you want to operate in. The word competitor is treated very strangely in the world of race promotion. Most race promoters say they like friendly competition, provided it doesn’t take away from their customers base. They see competitors as helping increase the demand of the sport by providing a variety of race options. The more races there are of that discipline in the area, the more demand will be generated.
Unfortunately, where race promoters part ways with the “friendly” part of competition, is when it comes to their perceived territory. They do not want any of their competitors encroaching on the parks they use, the established routes they have created, and the dates they like to reserve. They see more races as a good thing, so long as it happens someplace else. Which is why you need to know who these people are, and what businesses they run, before you select an area to set up shop in. You do not want to pick a fight with them right out of the gate. There is plenty of parks and private lands in the United States for you to consider using for your first race. Consider exploring those areas first. Once you know who those people and business are, make a list of them. These are your competitors.
#3 — Is there a potential customer base?
Customers are your goal. Without them, your race will not make money. This means you need to pick a race discipline that has a potential customer base in the area you want to work in. How do I know this? Research! There is literally a race for every weekend on the calendar in the United States, with most of them posting start lists and results. Registration sites, forums, blogs, social media, and sport organization websites are all great sources for finding out what kind of events are happening in your area. But customer demand can really become a reality if you can get your hands on your competitor’s historical race results.
With this data, you can find out what their turnout was year-to-year and analyzed the trends. Knowing that you can now look up the results of your competitor’s races, it’s now time crunch some numbers! Make a chart, plot the points, and start to visualize the data by comparing apples-to-apples, trail runners to trail runners, or mountain bikers to mountain bikers. Chances are, the customer trends will appear right away. And you will get an idea of just how big or small that particular competitor’s market share really is in that discipline. Do not to hyper-analyze your competitor’s race results, only attempt to understand the size of the potential customer base within that market. All your research needs to do is prove that customers actually exist in your chosen market area, and are willing to spend money on races.
Applying market force thinking to the real world
Before you base your racing business on niche off-road sports, you need to first learn about market forces, competition, and customers.
We’ll first define what Snowshoe Racing is. According to Jim Morrison at smithsonian.com (The History of Snowshoe Racing, January 11, 2011, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-history-of-snowshoe-racing-3509/) many of us think of snowshoes as the traditional webbed tennis-racket looking boot attachments created by the American Indians so that you can go on the snow without sinking into it. The American Indians in Snowshoe tribes each had their own show design. One would have a bear paw shape snowshoes — short and wide — that worked well in forested areas. Others would have canoe shaped snowshoes — long and thin — that would be good for cross country travel. Then there is The Michigan snowshoe — the classic snowshoe that has the tennis racket shape, allowing hunters to carry heavy loads. Morrison points out that the forerunners of snowshoe-racing associations were the snowshoe recreation clubs that began in Canada and the northeastern United States in the late 18th century. Outings in places including Montreal and northern New England towns were major events. Then someone challenged someone else to a race in their snowshoes, and snowshoe racing was born.
Now, according to a couple of hours of research online, it appears that Snowshoe racing has become an increasingly popular sport — both in the United States, Canada and in Europe. So let’s ask our first Market Forces question — Is there a Market for Snowshoe racing? Well, according to our friend Mr. Morrison from the Smithsonian again, in the United States, a season can begin with a race in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Truckee, California in December, and ends in March with the National Snowshoe Championships in places like Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Europe has races like the La Ciaspolada Snowshoe Race have more than 5,000 people competing. Race in the Italian Dolomites, a ten-kilometer event where former Olympic marathoners are on the podium. The rise of snowshoe racing parallels the rise in popularity of snowshoeing.
According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, over 3-million Americans traipsed through the winter wonderland on snowshoes in 2009, a 17.4 percent increase over 2008. That was 7 years ago. Does that data still hold up? The closest I could find on that was The Outdoor Recreation Economy 2012 (https://outdoorindustry.org/resource/the-outdoor-recreation-economy-2012/) Outdoor Industry Recreation Economy Report 2012 [DOWNLOAD PDF] (https://outdoorindustry.org/images/researchfiles/OIA_OutdoorRecEconomyReport2012.pdf). The report stated that Americans spend nearly as much on Snow Sports ($53 billion) as they do on Internet access ($54 billion).
Meanwhile, One of the Outdoor Industry Association’s members — SIA — Snowsports Industries of America completed a Snow Sports Participant Study in 2014 (
http://www.snowsports.org/research-surveys/sia-snow-sports-participant-study/). They saw growth in retail sales of snowshoes from 2008 to 2011, but in 2012, that growth has started to decline with a 10-percent drop in sales going into 2014. So Mr. Morrison’s article from 2011 was correct, only in 2012, the snowshoe industry started showing a decline in sales. So in a Snow Sports business that makes $53 Billion a year, snowshoes could be on the decline.
That could be a risk. It could also be due to some seasonally warm winters and a lack of snow. You would certainly need to find the data from the last two years to make any solid judgments. However, it does appear that there is still a market for Snowshoeing.
Clearly, there are competitors. In the United States, the United States Snowshoe Association (USSSA) (http://www.snowshoeracing.com/) the governing body for Snowshoe racing shows that dozens of races still being held in most regions of the country, including the Snow or No Snow Race in southern areas like Arizona. These races have courses vary from 10-km to half and full marathons. Some of the bigger events include the Granite State Snowshoe Series (http://granitestatesnowshoeseries.org/) held in New Hampshire that runs from January thru March 2017. This series started in 2009 with 3 races, now has grown to 9 races in 2017. They claim that Snowshoe racing is one of the fastest growing winter sports in the northeast. With each of their races averaging between 50 and 200 snowshoe racers each. Additionally, the race promoters are using snowshoe racing to augment their trail racing. The parallels are obvious — snowshoe races occur on the same trails they trail race on from April through December.
What about customers? The Granite State Snowshoe Series averaging between 50 and 200 snowshoe racers each shows some good demand — but in New Hampshire! What about where you live? Virginia is not exactly a snowy place — at least not snow you can depend on for a race. Well, that’s where the media helps us out. Now this is not exhaustive, but just some quick research and we find:
Runner’s World — 12 Snowshoe Races to Run This Winter (http://www.runnersworld.com/races/12-snowshoe-races-to-run-this-winter)
Outside Magazine — Snowshoe Running 101 – Everything you need to get started in winter’s most underrated endurance sport (http://www.outsideonline.com/1929611/snowshoe-running-101)
Outside Magazine — The Best Snowshoes of 2016 (https://www.outsideonline.com/2023906/best-snowshoes-2016)
Trail Runner Magazine — How in the World Do You Train for a Snowshoe Marathon? (http://trailrunnermag.com/training/cross-training/2060-training-for-a-snowshoe-race-the-basics-for-trail-runners)
Snowshoe Magazine — (http://www.snowshoemag.com/)
With all that very basic and minimal amount of research, we’ve determined that
1. There is a market for snowshoes and snowshoe racing. The sales part might be declining, but we know the racing part is still very active
2. We know there are competitors who are promoting races, we know there is a governing association, and we know there is a National Championships every year. And a quick search found The 2017 World Snowshoe Championships that will take place Adirondacks of Northern New York in February.
3. And there is a growing customer base of racers that are interested in reading about snowshoe racing, are paying registration fees, and showing up to races.
Based on this research and this research alone, you might conclude that snowshoe race promotion might be good for your business. Unless you live in Florida. But even the No-Snow Races could be interesting — but that might be too fringe for the Everglades. There is a rise in No-Snow off-road events. Go over to Reckoneer.com and read my article on No-Snow Biathlon if you have an interest in No-Snow options. But for the most part, No-Snow Snowshoeing and Biathlon are both fringe sport. However, if you live in an area that gets reasonable snowfall for part of the year, you could safely assume that you could build a following based on snowshoe racing. Just remember to start small, stay simple, and do more research than I did for this show. And that is all there is to understanding the basic market forces that are involved in Snowshoe racing.
Fat Bike Racing
Now let’s try a tougher one. What are the market forces lurking within the Fat Bike craze? Like before, we’ll first define what Fat Bike racing is: Fat Bike racing is simply mountain bike racing with really big tires. How big? Easily 3-inches to 5-inches wide, although they can be wider in some cases. Most Fat Bike riders like the tire dimensions because the wide, grippy tires require less handling skills that normal mountain bikes need. They can brake, corner, or climb much easier than their skinnier cousins. In addition to better trail handling, they can handle snow and ice far better than average bikes. Some riders find the handling in just about any terrain to be so stable that they wear flip-flops and go helmetless.
So is there a market for Fat Bikes? Well, that depends on who you ask. Most mountain bikers will tell you that it’s more popular than ever. Invented in the mid-1980s simultaneously by desert riders in New Mexico and “Iditabike” racers in Alaska, fat biking has evolved to become one of the fastest-growing trends in cycling. According to Fat-Bike.com in their article titled “Global Fat-Bike Day and The Art of Bicycle Chillification” (https://fat-bike.com/2016/11/global-fat-bike-day-and-the-art-of-bicycle-chillification/). They claim that Fat Bikes have experienced a large amount of worldwide growth in the last five years.
Yet, for every “Fat Bikes are growing” article, there is a BikeRadar.com article like the one they recently posted titled “The death of fat bikes?” With the subtitle: Kind of, sort of, not really. It’s a bit complicated (http://www.bikeradar.com/mtb/gear/article/the-death-of-fat-bikes-48630/). In that article, I thought that Russell Eich had written what amounts to as click-bait, since the last line of the article reads: “So it’s clear as mud, the fat bike’s days are numbered. Well actually they probably aren’t.”
But his article did raise a great question the market of Fat Bikes. Eich was looking at a survey completed by Bicycle Retailer of about 300 bike shops in February 2016 showed fat bike sales for the winter 2015/16 season were 51 percent not as good as expected. Bicycle Retailer also reports that fat bike sales have declined by 24 percent since the start of 2016, while inventory is up 107 percent. That does not sound like good news for Fat Bike sales overall. Eich cites the reason is Plus Size bikes. These are bikes with plus-size tires (2.8–3.0in) and are now cutting into fat bike sales. Why? Riders apparently don’t want super big tires on their fat bikes. Could that be a bad sign for Fat Bikes overall? Maybe.
How about Competitors? Are there race promoters racing Fat Bikes? There are Fat Bike racing all over of the United States and in Europe. Races like the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series (www.greatlakesfatbikeseries.com). They sport the largest Fat Bike racing series in the United States. Additionally, Fat Bikes have their own National Championships backed by USA Cycling
(http://www.usacycling.org/fat-bike-nationals-back-to-ogden-in-2016-move-to-grand-rapids-for-2017-2018.htm). Sounds like good growth, especially for Fat Bike racing, right?
What about customers? Fat Bike seems like a more of culture choice than a racing choice. Especially with events like the “Global Fat-Bike Day” (https://fat-bike.com/2016/11/global-fat-bike-day-and-the-art-of-bicycle-chillification/) and the advent of words that accompany Fat Bike culture like “Chillification”. Meanwhile, The Great Lakes Fat Bike Series (www.greatlakesfatbikeseries.com) hosts over 200 riders in some of their races with a good 20-percent of them women.
Outside Magazine continuously published articles on Fat Bikes like “How Fat Bikes Became the Hottest Trend in Cycling” (https://www.outsideonline.com/1997971/fat-bike) and “Best Fat Bikes of 2016” (https://www.outsideonline.com/2023531/best-fat-bikes-2016) that talks about the “crop of impressive newcomers” in Fat Bike technology.
That again is very basic and minimal amount of research. But what have we’ve discovered?
1. There is a market for Fat bikes and Fat Bike racing. The sales are declining just like snowshoes, but we know the racing part is still very active
2. We know there are competitors who are promoting races, we know there is a governing association, and we know there is a National Championships every year. And a quick search found The 2017 World Fat Bike Championships that will take place Crested Butte, Colorado in January.
3. However, the customer base is more cultural riders than racers. They are interested in reading about Fat Biking, but it is unclear if they are interested in paying registration fees, and showing up to races.
My own experience has been that Fat Bike riders are small in number, especially when it comes to mountain bike racing. In a mountain bike racing experiment, I ran earlier this year, the most I ever had was 4 Fat Bike riders on the start line. Does that mean that Fat Bike racing is not a good fringe market to invest your time and money into? In this case, the jury is still out on Fat Bikes. And when you discover a race discipline where you have to use words like “the jury is still out”, then you need to steer away from it until some stability can be observed. Fat bikes might be balanced machines, but as a racing discipline, it needs more time to grow.
This is the power of doing some targeted research using market force thinking as your guide. As the buzz around each fringe sport you focus on dwindles, you will see some of your customers gravitating towards the next new buzz. Some will declare that their special off-road sport is not dying. Even if the bigger picture shows sales are still falling or even leveling off. One day, they will announce that pavement is dead. The next they will say that trail running has run its course — total pun intended. Sometimes, it is international markets that still have the potential to grow a sport. Then what was thought to be dead in the United States, suddenly comes back to life. This can be said about surfing, backpacking, and hunting — all off-road sports that are just now finding the value in the market again.
You will be successful in your race promotion efforts by keeping a constant eye on the market forces that impact your discipline. When the time comes, your fringe off-road sport just might be the next one to explode in popularity. And you will be right there with a race promotion offering before anyone else, and you’ll know when it’s time to not treat your sport as fringe anymore.
Get your FREE 90-Day Roadmap and companion eBook
Speaking of enjoying what you are building, would you like to get a Head Start building better races?
What if you didn’t have to figure out all out all the steps it takes to build just the race part of the business?
What if you could follow a simple map — a roadmap — that showed you what each of the steps… and in what order to take them?
Wouldn’t that free you up for other things?
Couldn’t you then go work on the things you really like to do: like course design?
Or getting out there and selling your race to actual racers?
I’m almost finished writing a short eBook that will help you identify the steps, structure, and timelines you need to create your own off-road racing roadmap. But with it comes a premade, easy-to-follow roadmap that you can use right-out-of-the-box. This eBook — together with the roadmap — will show you the exact path you need to use to build a race in 90 days.
Yes, 90 days! It doesn’t sound like a long time, but it is the minimum amount of time you need to get a small race off the ground. All you have to do is follow the steps laid out in my 90 Day Roadmap eBook, and you can build your first race in just twelve short weeks. But it’s not only for beginners. This is for you Serious race promoters out there too!
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Are you already ready start building better races?
If you are, go to Reckoneer.com/roadmap and sign up with your email address.
If you register before December 31st, I will give you $10.00 off the 90 Day Roadmap eBook. Just in time for Christmas holidays, pre-register at Reckoneer.com/roadmap and get the 90 Day Roadmap eBook for only $29. After the first of the year — this eBook will go on sale at its full price (expected to be $39.00). But if pre-register at Reckoneer.com/roadmap, you get the 90 Day Roadmap eBook for only $29. This deal will expire on the last day of the year!
Act now and get $10.00 off your 90 Day Roadmap eBook today!
And now you know
Do not assume your passion for building a certain kind of race, will be carried by those whom you want to race in it. What you think is not always what the market thinks. But do not think that your love for a fringe sport will always steer you wrong, either. Your passion is an advantage, and a great advantage to have! It will help you keep going when the building of races becomes hard. And it will from time to time. Your passion could be just the thing that inspires others to find the same joy in your fringe sport as you do.
Think about it. Inspiring others in weird sports describes just about every famous sports success story there is. You can be the catalyst that gets a race discipline from out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Just ask the race promoters who were the first to pitch a 100-mile trail run or challenged mountain bike riders to do five downhill events in one day. They could have easily quit when only 20 racers show up to their first race. But it was their passion, just like yours, that helped them discover what kind of market interest their fringe sport had. Nobody really knows until you — YES, YOU — create something for others to experience for the first time.
Who knows. If they like it, they could ask for more, and that could be just the thing to push your race business from the hobby you do in your past time, to the race promotion business you do full time.
And Know you know.
On the next Merchants of Dirt podcast
It’s the last month of the year. Do you have a strategy for picking your race dates? Have you even started planning your race dates for next year? If you’re thinking you need to pull out your calendar and a pen and start making some guess.
Don’t do it until you listen to the next Merchants of Dirt podcast on how your business strategy greatly impacts your race date choices. You’re not going to want to miss this episode!
Call to Action
Thank you so much for listening to Merchants of Dirt Podcast. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to me @MerchantsofDirt on Twitter.
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