Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Scott USA climbing to the top

Ketchum-based bike division gains footing in market

Express Staff Writer

Sturtos bike mechanic Cruger Thomas says Scott USA bikes are ?at the cutting edge of technology. Photo by John Duval

For an afternoon in mid-September, the back of the Scott USA parking lot in Ketchum's light-industrial center plays showroom for the company's high-end road and mountain bikes. The scene is a cyclophile's dream. Molded pieces of carbon fiber that come closer to artwork, both in aesthetics and price, than a two-wheeled mode of transportation.

The dozen or so bikes, ranging from approximately $6,000 to $11,000 each, were being prepared for Interbike, North America's largest cycling trade show, which took place in Las Vegas Sept.24 through 28. While it's no surprise that one of the fastest growing bike producers in the country would be attending the event, that's not the case for the impact they've made since they reentered the U.S. bicycle market in 2004.

"We're in the top 10 in road bike sales and top 15 for mountain bikes," said Scott Montgomery, the general manager and vice president of the company's USA Bike Division. "And I honestly think we should be in the top three, but this will take another five to 10 years of hard work."

The result of that effort to date has been evident in the high demand for their bicycles.

"The reality is, if you have the lightest bike out there, you dominate," Montgomery said, adding that Scott USA now claims title to both the lightest road and mountain bike frames in the world.

With approximately 500 dealers around the country, Scott USA still has a ways to go in terms of volume when compared to cycling giants such as Trek and Specialized, the pair of which Montgomery estimates to have 1,500 dealers apiece.

"We don't want to flood the market," said Adrian Montgomery, Scott USA's marketing and public relations director for the bike division. "There's a lot of scarcity to our product. We want to remain innovative and in demand."

This strategy includes a very strong focus on the company's high-end products, and Adrian Montgomery said they don't advertise for any bikes that retail for under $5,000. He said that while they continue to grow in the U.S., Scott bicycles have been voted by readers of two large European cycling magazines as No. 1 in terms of both best brand and largest percentage owned for road and mountain bikes.

"They're at the cutting edge of technology," said Cruger Thomas, a bike mechanic at Sturtos on Main Street in Ketchum. "Of course, this means they're one of the more expensive bikes."

In addition to the Sturtos store in Hailey, this is the only retailer in the Wood River Valley that carries Scott bikes.

"There's a lot of local loyalty," said Ken Edward, part of the sales team at Ketchum's Sturtos branch. "They know the company is based here and want that product, even if they don't necessarily realize exactly how good it is."

Of course, the company has a longer bicycle history overseas than at home. While the company began selling bicycles under the Scott name after acquiring the Schwinn bicycle company in 1993, it discontinued bicycle sales in the U.S. in 1997, selling off Schwinn that same year. Based out of its European headquarters in Switzerland, Scott's bicycle division began to thrive with a very strong engineer and production team.

"Over there it was a very German-centric view where bike production is very racer-oriented and weight-conscious," said Scott Montgomery, who was a longtime senior employee at Connecticut-based bicycle manufacturer Cannondale. "It was obvious that we had a better product, and that's the time to enter the market."

For the Ketchum-based company, 2004 ended up being a very important year. Scott introduced the country to the company's flagship one-piece carbon road bike, the CR1; hired Scott Montgomery to head up the U.S. bike division; and moved its headquarters into a new 15,000-square-foot building on Lewis Street, where management of the division's sales, marketing, and administrative functions occurs. In addition, the company began sponsoring the Saunier Duval professional cycling team.

"Having a pro tour team makes you instantly legitimate," Adrian Montgomery said, noting that for the approximately 173 bicycle manufacturers worldwide, there are only 20 teams on the tour. "To be a major manufacturer you have to have one, both from a marketing and research and development standpoint."

Back home, Scott continues to expand, introducing the new Gambler full-suspension downhill mountain bike at Interbike. Scott Montgomery said that after three years, the company is starting to phase in American cycling preferences, which value comfort for the recreational rider, as opposed to simply saving grams.

"I like to think that the heavy lifting is done, but you're never done in this industry," Scott Montgomery said. "There's never been a perfect bike that I've been involved with. There's always something to improve."

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