Before I floated the idea, I knew what the guy behind the counter at my local bike shop would say. But I went ahead anyway and said, “I’m building up a bike and thinking about using Campy.” I stepped back and waited for his reaction. He took a deep breath, gave himself some extra time to think of a diplomatic response. “I wouldn’t recommend that,” he said. When I asked why, he said that Campy still makes some of the best components in the industry, but the company’s service is light years behind the competition. He looked relieved when he saw me nodding in agreement as he talked. He shared a simple example. Once a customer needed a spring for a shifter and had to wait four months for it to be delivered. Yes, four months! This didn’t make sense to me. How could this be true in our modern age? Isn’t just-in-time delivery a standard now in most industries? I asked for an explanation, but he said he found it equally as bizarre. He shrugged and said, “Hey, it’s an Italian company They do things differently.”
Speed kills in the business world nowadays, and I think slow, stodgy service is one of Campy’s biggest problems. I don’t buy that crap from the Campy marketing guy quoted in Cycle Sport who said the company is a Ferrari brand that can’t compete on a mass scale with Toyota and Chevy. “We all have to protect our souls, our DNA,” he said. What a butch of bull. It really comes down to caring about customers like me. I suspect inefficiencies, ancient logistics are holding Campy back the most, decreasing its market share at such a rapid speed. It pains me to write this because I’ve long been a Campy fan. I have a Record gruppo on my Moots. I’ve been willing to pay the Campy price because I love the quality and beauty of the gear.
I’m also sucker for tradition and history. It’s hard to find another brand that has played such a big role in our beautiful sport. One of my favorite Campy stories is the one about the World Championships in 1973 when Freddy Maertens was leading out Eddy Merckx in a sprint against Fellice Gimondi. The Italian won and Maertens claimed that Merckx knew he wasn’t strong enough to beat Gimondi but tricked his Belgian teammate into leading him out anyway. Maertens claims Merckx wanted Gimondi to win because they were both riding Campy, while Maertens was equipped with Shimano. (Merckx claimed Maertens botched the lead-out by going to soon). Anyway, few other brands could inspire such passion and loyalty?
Although I’ve long considered myself a Campy man, I’m fed up with the Medieval service and the hassle and worry of finding parts. Since last summer, I’ve been trying to replace the bearings on my Campy Zonda training wheels. Most of the shops will do the obligatory computer search of their suppliers before telling me they can’t find them. One guy spent 30 minutes flipping through thick parts catalogues and surfing the Web before he gave up. Frustrated, I said, “Why is it getting harder and harder to find Campy parts in this damn country?” He told me that my anger was misdirected. The difficulty of finding Campy parts was a problem worldwide. “Shimano’s sales in Italy alone are now bigger than Campy’s global sales,” he said. I haven’t been able to verify that factoid, but I’ve mentioned it to others in the industry who are far more knowledgeable than I am and they found it credible.
The Cycle Sport article makes a good point when it says that Campy is “far from being a stuffy, lagging-behind, retro brand.” It notes that Campy continues to develop products on the cutting edge of technology and design. Campy might have beaten Shimano to the market with an electronic groupset if it hadn’t decided to focus more on developing its 11-speed cassettes. The Super Record 11 Group was voted best product of 2010 in Cyclingnews.com’s survey. So there appears to be a lot of life left in Campy.
Sometimes it’s good to be No. 3. Last year, James Surowiecki wrote an outstanding essay in The New Yorker about this topic. He looked at the top three makers, by market share, of computer games. I’m blissfully ignorant about this stuff and can’t recall all of the names of the companies. Anyway, Surowiecki’s point was that the No. 1 and 2 brands lost a ton of money slashing their prices in a bid to grab market share from each other. They also spent a bunch on marketing and advertising wars. Meanwhile, the No. 3 company mostly focused on refining its existing products and developing really good new ones. The No. 3 company ended up with a superior product line, higher profits and more loyal customers willing to spend more on their games. Could Campy achieve this, too? Is the company doing it already? Again, it would be fantastic if a cycling journalist who also knows how to write a solid business story would take a look at the issue.
In the meantime, I’m not going to buy Campy anymore. I’ve never been much of a gear head. I’d rather be riding my bike than obsessing about equipment. Cost isn’t a huge concern for me because I’m happy to spend money on important things, and cycling is one of the essentials in my life. I’ll brown bag it at work and skip Starbucks to save money for my cycling addiction. What I really care about is durability and availability. My job frequently takes me and my bike to emerging markets where Campy simply isn’t available. I really need to be able to get my bike fixed on the road. So I’m switching to SRAM.wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Campagnolo, Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens | 7 Comments »