In a far corner of a vast floor of more than 1,000 Interbike exhibitors, squeezed between fire exits, trade show rookies Lance and Lynn Sisson set up shop early Wednesday morning.
The first-time exhibitors from Las Vegas, who own 11nine Fat Bikes, were nervous. It was 8 a.m. at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on the Strip’s south end, and the married couple had just rolled in six mountain bikes with mega-big fat tires they assembled in their home garage in the northwest valley.
“It’s been extremely nerve-racking,” Lynn Sisson, 46, said of the days leading to the massive bicycle trade show held each September in Las Vegas. “We haven’t slept in days.”
Her 48-year-old husband explained why: “Did we build something that everyone will like, or did we build something only I like?”
Any first-time exhibitor at a big Las Vegas trade show knows that feeling.
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The Sissons paid $1,826 for their 5-by-15-foot floor space at site 1126. That’s big money for the Sissons, who could afford to attend the cycling industry’s premier trade show only because the show is in their hometown. A $5,000 trek to a show in California or Colorado isn’t in the budget, Lance said.
“There are no travel costs,” he said. “We’re not eating out for every meal.”
The Sissons were pleasantly surprised when they arrived at the cavernous exhibit hall. Someone was generous. Their reserved five-by-15 floor space was really five-by-20. At $23.95 per square foot, the free extra feet sweetened the deal.
And Interbike had initially put them in overflow on a lower level, with a health and fitness show. But the budding entrepreneurs were pleasantly surprised to find their space on the main floor. While the last space in the hall several football fields away from the front doors, their spot is in the show’s fat tire bike area, with some big-name fat tire brands 30 feet away.
“Everyone will check out their booths and hopefully they will peak around the corner and see us and see something cool,” Lance said.
The Sissons have yet to sell a fat tire bike — they’re using the three-day bicycle show to launch their brand. Lance Sisson said he hopes to sell 150-200 bikes during Interbike, either to retailers or to distributors.
Interbike is the bicycle industry’s premier show, with 1,400 brands and 25,000 attendees. It’s a business-to-business show, but the general public can attend for $20 on Friday.
Interbike Managing Director Pat Hus said 11nine Fat Bikes is among 200-250 new companies using the trade show to promote new products.
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The Sissons’ exhibit is spartan — their colorful bikes, a black-curtain backdrop supplied by Interbike, an orange rug on loan from a friend, and two pieces of aspen picked up on a recent trip to Utah.
“We found a tree that had some cool funk,” Lance explained.
“We’re keeping it KISS — keep it simple, stupid,” Lynn added.
Like many small start-ups, 11nine Fat Bikes consists of the owners and a trusted sidekick who serves as guru, quality control manager, technical specialist and “all around helluva guy,” as Lance put it.
The guru in this mix is Marvin Besselink, a Dutch bicycle product and brand developer who is advising Lance Sisson on the bike’s technical development.
Launching a new product at Interbike is common — but not easy.
Case in point: Steve Toll knows what the Sissons are going through. Toll and his wife, Laura, traveled from Tampa, Fla., to their first Interbike a decade ago to show off his creation, the ISM saddle seat. The seat caught on — it was the No. 1 bicycle seat at the prestigious Kona triathlon in Hawaii this past year — but visitors at that first Interbike ridiculed his design. At first, the ISM seat’s U-shape design was unusual for bicyclists, but its comfort has since won over millions of devoted users.
“They would pick up the seat and make obscene gestures and laugh and then walk away,” Toll remembered. “Now, we are the No. 1 saddle at Kona and sponsor two cycling teams.
“You have to hang tough, persevere and don’t ignore your instincts.”
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Lance’s path to Interbike would be familiar to many in the massive exhibit hall this week. The former construction superintendent at McCarran International Airport two years ago launched 11nine Fat Bikes on $80,000 from savings. He quit his airport job, but builds convention exhibit booths to help make ends meet while getting his bike business rolling.
An interaction at Interbike three years ago prompted Lance to start his own company. He said he tried to get information about a fat tire bike, but the exhibitor was so rude that he decided to just build his own. What he came up with — and now has on display in his own booth — ranges in price from a $3,199 “hard tail” bike that does not have a frame suspension system to a $6,200 titanium, full-suspension model called, “Direwolf.”
The bikes’ big selling point is the distance between the front fork suspension and the frame’s suspension, which is longer than most bikes to allow a faster but more stable ride over rocky, downhill terrain.
Until Interbike, 11nine Fat Bikes relied only on guerrilla marketing.
Their debut seemed to be paying off. By midday, a number of attendees were checking out the bikes and chatting with Lance.
Contact reporter Alan Snel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.