Sunday, September 21, 2008

Interbike - What Shirt Should I Wear?

Interbike is the trade show for the cycling industry, at least in the US. Although the trade show used to be a purchasing show, due to the manufacturers' efforts to lock in their buyers' dollars earlier in the year, it's become more of a show piece. It's a chance to get shops, consumers, and manufacturers excited about the upcoming year. It's an annual pilgrimage for individuals to see one another, put a face on the telephone voice, to say hi to friends who have moved or moved on.

Ultimately, though, for all its cool new bikes and frames and components and accessories, it's a people show.

When you go to the show you are there in person. You are not browsing on some website, in your PJs, chomping on some left over pizza. You're in the middle of a huge show room, with the potential to run into anyone at any time, star, friend, rival, vendor, even a client or two.

Therefore you must be ready for such occasions.

This leads to a number of quite interesting debates prior to the show, mainly to do with one's apparel.

First and foremost there are the practical considerations:

- It is Las Vegas, and the weather outside will be in the mid to upper 90s. Inside Interbike (or IB as I'll call it), it's closer to 70, but if you are flitting in and out, you'll need to be prepared for the boiling heat outside. If you over dress you have to carry it. If you under dress you will catch a cold in the dry chilly air.

- You will be walking or standing for about eight hours a day for two days, then maybe six hours for a third day, usually on an unpadded carpet on a concrete floor. You must wear comfortable shoes.

- You will have no references to time, so you should wear a watch. Or a cell phone. Or both. The cell phones are a pain, and it's sort of noisy where it's busy, but I would guess texting will be popular. babe n beer at booth 12345. Stuff like that.

- You will get a lot of Schwag. Free stuff. Make room for flat things that can't be bent (stickers), posters that can't be bent (need a tube), caps, t-shirts, brochures, and brochures. You'll be loaded with brochures. Wear a backpack, or at the worst a computer type bag. Messenger bags are cool. Do NOT carry a bag by hand - your hands and arms will be killing you by the end of Day One.
(Note: if you see someone walking around without a bag, they are either a vendor or a VIP - try and figure out who it is before you ignore them. I've ignored guys who ended up being all too famous bike racers because, as we all know, it's hard to recognize even your teammates once they get off a bike and into street clothes.)

- You are not allowed to bring in food or water. So if you do, do it discretely. Since you can get bottles from pretty much anyone out there, and there are water fountains, you can bring mix in and make your own "IB Electrolyte" drinks. You can also hang out by the free beer booths, the food booths (they have tons of samples), etc.

- You will get a cheap badge holder. Cool people bring really nice comfy ones and use those.

- You will get free "hold your brochures in our bag" cardboard briefcases, heavy duty plastic bags, etc. Unless they drape over your shoulders, skip them, or just put them in your shoulder draping carrying device.

- If you can bring a portable stool, do so. There is precious little sitting room out there on the floor.

Next there are political considerations.

These are absolutely critical in setting the proper tone when meeting a supplier/vendor for the first or tenth time. Meeting up with Cannondale? Well, be sure not to wear your Specialized shirt. Since most of the schwag you get at the shop is emblazoned with just one company's name (the Jamis rep gives you a Jamis shirt), you can't wear them.

Therefore you'll see mainly "non-partisan" shirts at the show. These include Life is Good shirts (with a bike, of course), casual short sleeve shirts (think button up skate shirts like Hurleys and such), IT t-shirts ("Bow Down" "I am Root" etc), company shirts (Blah Blah Bike Shop), and old race shirts ("1985 US Pro Championships"). You'll also see shirts that blink, probably the vest that tells you your speed in big glowing numbers, abdominal electro stimulus belts, and other miscellaneous things.

A big decision is shorts or jeans. Well, if you're working, probably khakis. But for normal people (shops) it's shorts or jeans. Shorts work for those blasts outside, but look sort of under dressed when that European guy shows up with a blazer, white dress shirt, and pressed jeans.

Bonus with shorts is that you can show off your shaved bike racing legs.

Subtract the bonus if you don't look fit. Remember that a lot of pros, ex-pros, and Cat 1s roam the aisles. There are a lot of fit looking individuals walking around.

Jeans are good because nice ones are "formal" but they really aren't. You can hang out in them after the show, before the show, and they never go out of style. They also hint at your cycling ability without disclosing them. If someone asks you if you race you can mumble indecipherably in response.

"Yeah, I'm a Cat ThrAhemee"

Khakis are nice but get the non-wrinkly kind. Eight hours of walking around will make you look pretty disheveled.

Of course you can go really wild too. It's Vegas after all. Tux? No problem. But remember, you have to drag all this around, so make sure your wild idea is also light, comfy, and holds up well.

IB means tradeshow means Schwag. How do you score more schwag?

First, cool drinks are a rarity on the floor. They cost a lot of money, and even if the folks working the booths have some cash, they don't have the time to escape. So offering a beer or a Coke is like offering a guy in Death Valley a jug of ice cold water. It may not help them in the long run ("Um, where are the bathrooms?") but it'll be nice at the beginning. Later in the show the vendor folks will have a hard time remembering which of the 8000 shops you work for, but they'll always remember you.

"Hey, you were the guy that brought the Cokes over on Day One. Dude, you need a t-shirt or something?"

Second, if you really want a LOT of schwag, wait till the third day. That's when the displayers have to pack up everything, and the less they pack the happier they are. So if someone has a stack of stickers that third day, ask away. Don't do this on Day One since no one knows how long their stash will last.

"Um, can I take a couple of your 5 hour Energy Gel samples?"
"Well, you want a box? I got eighteen left and I gotta start packing."
"Box? How heavy is that?"
"Ten pounds. It'll fit in your backpack. Really."

Finally, treat each day like a long ride, a century if you will. Start out easy, drink and eat often, and soft pedal a lot. Use line standing to rest, take advantages of rest rooms and food vendors when you see they're relatively free. Use your time efficiently and you won't spend too much time waiting for food or an empty stall.

Bonus: check out other floors of the convention center. One year at Interbike a friend of mine "psst'ed" me over to one of the stairwells, and when the guard wasn't looking, quickly walked down a flight of stairs. We saw hanging curtains 20 feet (or more) high, delineating yet another convention's borders.

We could see through the silky fabric, and after walking around a bit of the perimeter, we decided to give it a shot. Discretely tucking in our badges (but leaving the string visible, so it looked like we had badges discretely tucked into our shirts), we just lifted up the curtain and walked into one of the main aisles like we belonged there.

It was incredible.

We knew there was an RC and scale model type show due to the flyers we saw posted around the building, and we found it.

But this was really cool!

They had an indoor flying area, marked off by floor to ceiling nets. They had a race course area (think Baja), maybe some sandy things for tanks to drive on. We spotted some cool cars (real ones), cool plastic models (I built them when I was younger), and various types of radio control vehicles - tanks, trucks, boats, planes.

After maybe ten minutes we decided we may be missed upstairs so we quickly and discretely pulled up one of the aisle sides, walked into the curtained off area of the floor, and walked back up the stairs.

The guard gave us a peculiar look when we emerged but if you act like you belong, you belong. We conspicuously played with our badges so all had to be well.

It's one thing to go to a show. You see all the cool gadgets, more stars than you can imagine (bike stars, granted, but stars nonetheless), get to talk to the folks that make it happen, see the more frugal vendors in their 10 foot booths (and wonder why some of them bothered to show up), meet all these folks from "back home".

It's another to work one, to see all the set up and break down, to see various company's fancy plans crumbling, desperate vendors looking for help in setting up untried and complicated booths.

But it's a totally different thing to go to the show (a show?) and see its inner workings, to flit in and out like a little spy plane bouncing in and out of an neighbor's air space.


Anonymous said...

I would wear the tuxedo t-shirt.

Anonymous said...

Great inside view of the show.

I thought I was going to read that you crashed a lingerie show or something - I wasn't expecting RC cars LOL!

Aki said...

The tux t-shirt has been done, and probably will be done, every year of the show. But, as you pointed out, it's part of IB.

Yeah, crashing a lingerie show would have been, well, interesting at a different level. The whole scale model show was pretty cool though, and the whole "naughtiness" factor made it all that more interesting.