Words: The decline of Campagnolo? Part II

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.

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Posted: March 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Campagnolo, Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens | 6 Comments »

6 Comments on “Words: The decline of Campagnolo? Part II”

  1. 1 Steve said at 11:34 am on March 3rd, 2011:

    And if you dig deeper you also find that most of the campagnolo components are manufactured outside Italy.

    Anyhow the new electronic campag due in 2012 is apparently awesome! Watch for it in this years Giro D’Italia

  2. 2 adam said at 12:18 pm on March 3rd, 2011:

    I went through a similar thing trying to source Campagnolo replacement parts… which is why I have SRAM on my bikes now. I also haven’t installed a Campy group or sold a Campy equipped bike in some time.

    Something else piqued my interest- “Hey, it’s an Italian company. They do things differently.” On the one hand, I feel like a sentiment like that preys my stereotypes of Europeans hanging around in coffee shops instead of working. But really, I think there must be a different business culture; at present, for example, there does not appear to be an American distributor for Ambrosio, another storied Italian cycling equipment manufacturer. What possible sense could that make? Do they simply not care?

    I admit that there is likely more at play, perhaps making it cost prohibitive. But it still boggles the mind- if HED can sell aluminum rims that retail for around a hundred bucks, I would think a company with a rich cycling history like Ambrosio would be able to justify a cost premium as well.

  3. 3 Frank said at 3:59 am on March 4th, 2011:

    You should take a hard look at the Distributor in your country, not Campagnolo themselves, it would appear thats where the problem is.

    If they have the components to make their product ,they obviously have the parts to supply to their Distributors.

    The comment about Ambrosio is is a bit dull they have a thriving range of rims used through out Europe, perhaps the problem lies within the US not Italy
    One thing I admire about Campagnolo is I can still buy axle and cones for wheels of the ’70′s

  4. 4 Frank said at 4:00 am on March 4th, 2011:

    You should take a hard look at the Distributor in your country, not Campagnolo themselves, it would appear thats where the problem is.

    If they have the components to make their product ,they obviously have the parts to supply to their Distributors.

    The comment about Ambrosio is is a bit dull they have a thriving range of rims used through out Europe, perhaps the problem lies within the US not Italy
    One thing I admire about Campagnolo is I can still buy axle and cones for wheels of the ’70′s

  5. 5 Adam said at 9:52 pm on March 6th, 2011:

    Frank,

    For whatever reason, Campagnolo repair parts can be difficult to find. The scarcity and high price of those parts in the US is a well documented supply side problem; there is no shortage of demand.

    As far as Ambrosio goes, I am well aware they have an excellent product, I am lamenting the fact that I can’t get my hands on them. The last distributor in the US dropped them 4 or 5 years ago, far as I can tell. Why? I do not know. I can’t imagine QBP or BTI or Action or J&B or any other US mega distributor not wanting to carry their product- hell, most(all?) of those guys sell rims shipped all the way here from Australia (velocity)!

  6. 6 Keith said at 11:08 am on March 11th, 2011:

    Had my Scirocco wheel bearing replaced and it took a week which I thought wasn’t too bad.


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