Words: The demise of Campagnolo?

When the latest Cycle Sport magazine was delivered to my mailbox the other day, I was delighted to see the headline: “Campagnolo: Sad decline of an iconic Italian brand.” I’ve long been hoping someone in the cycling press would write a long feature that would take a deep dive into Campy. What I want is a Wall Street Journal-caliber business story that would revisit the storied brand’s history while also taking a hard look at Campy’s present and future. Unfortunately, Cycle Sport fell short of the mark.

The magazine’s story was a decent start, an OK first draft. But it begged for more reporting. The piece begins by pointing out that the number of pro teams that ride Campy has been dwindling. Only four of the world’s top 18 teams are riding Campy (Lampre, Movistar, Lotto and Quick Step) this season. It wasn’t long ago when Campy and Shimano used to split the pro peloton. Last year, the company only equipped six teams. One of those was Liquigas – Italy’s best team – which recently switched to SRAM after winning the Giro and Vuelta with Campy in 2010. It’s true that sponsorship does not necessarily signal that a company has a great product. Often, it’s a better indicator that a company has a big marketing budget. Still, Campy’s shrinking presence in the pro peloton seems to be a sign that all is not well in Vicenza.

Cycle Sport quotes Campy’s marketing manager, Lorenzo Taxis, as saying that competing with SRAM and Shimano is difficult for a “niche company” like Campagnolo. He compares his company to Ferrari and says the competition is more like Toyota and General Motors. Then he says, “The most famous riders have ridden and won on Campagnolo. And no one can take that away from us.” Sounds like a loser quote from someone who’s stuck in the past. A company with such a history of innovation should be giving a much better answer.

Here’s the story I want to read. I want the journalist to go to Campy’s headquarters and get a good feel of the mood of the place. Do people seem upbeat? Is there palpable energy and enthusiasm? Or does it feel like a sinking ship, a company in decline?  Are there empty desks? Describe the place with lots of detail. I would want the reporter to do long sit-down interviews in offices and over long lunches with the company’s leaders (I strongly suspect the Cycle Sport interviews were done over the phone, a quick-and-dirty quote-trolling exercise.) I would want the writer to press the executives about Campy’s marketing strategy. How is the company trying to shape the brand? How hard is the company pursuing new deals with teams? How much of a priority is it? The Cycle Sport story makes it seem like Campy thinks it’s a lost cause. Is it really? The story should raise the question: As Campy’s relationships with pro teams continue to dwindle, how does it affect the company? How much does a company benefit from getting constant feedback from the world’s top riders and wrenches? I’m sure Campy would say it still has ways to get solid input, so the reporter should seek opinions from respected industry insiders. What are dealers and distributors saying about Campy quality and service? If Campy is doing less to win over the pro teams, is it doing more to win over consumers like me? It would be great to have some basic financial figures. What are global sales looking like? The company might not say, but major distributors might talk about it. Where are most of their products being made now? Eastern Europe? Asia? What is the company’s longterm plan? Will it be satisfied just being a boutique brand? Can it survive this way? What kind of engineering talent is Campy attacting? Are people leaving? What do former employees say about the company? Finally, what are SRAM and Shimano doing right? Why have they been so effective in elbowing out Campy?

It would be a great story.

Posted: March 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Campagnolo, Cycle Sport magazine | 10 Comments »

10 Comments on “Words: The demise of Campagnolo?”

  1. 1 Bingalingding said at 8:00 am on March 1st, 2011:

    I wouldn’t want campagnolo to go the way of SRAM. Bigger isn’t always better!

  2. 2 adam said at 10:53 pm on March 1st, 2011:

    I couldn’t agree more– there is a great piece waiting to be written about the state of campy. FWIW, there is an article somewhere on Embrocation from some time ago that touches on the company’s somewhat weak marketing/branding in the USA.

    I think Campagnolo’s actions in regards to the American aftermarket channel could be read as indicative of weak overall leadership, or at least as a failure to read the booming cycling market in the USA. The cost premiums to ride Campy for the end user in the US is quite high.

  3. 3 wafflesandsteel said at 7:20 pm on March 2nd, 2011:

    Bingalingding: I would like Campy to go the way of SRAM if it meant that like SRAM, Campy parts would be widely available with faster service and delivery.

    Adam: Thanks for the tip about the Embrocation article. I’ll have to search for it.

  4. 4 Offthefront said at 5:37 pm on March 3rd, 2011:

    As far as I’m concerned Campag'(I hate the term ‘Campy’) , is a far superior product to both SRAM and Shima*o.
    There is an old adage; Campag wears in as Shiman*o wears out . .
    Campag has seen many other companies come and go over the years and as far as I’m concerned , their quality has always been unsurpassed. .

    As far as wanting to know the ins and outs of the companies future financial success and wanting interviews over “long lunches”, get over yourself ! As far as I’m concerned that is none of my business unless I’m wanting to buy the company or at least be a major investor . .
    If none of the major teams use Campag or all of the major teams use Campag , is irrelevent as far as I’m concerned . What is of concern to me is , how well does the product work on a day-to-day bassis, does it require a lot of maintenance/adjustment , how long will it last , is it easy to set -up etc. .

    “It would be great to have some basic financial figures” ?? Would it ? Would that really float your boat? Would your bike go faster knowing that information??
    FFS , get over yourself . .

  5. 5 wafflesandsteel said at 8:54 pm on March 3rd, 2011:

    I figured things might get emotional. A few points:

    1. Durability. I used to make the same arguments about Campy until I realized they were largely based on anecdotes and testimony from others who had spent a lot on Campy. It’s highly possible that Campy’s quality is the best. Has anyone done a serious wear test recently? It would be great if one of the cycling mags (or if all of them pitched in on it) hired a firm to test the big three brands. There are plenty of companies that do this type of thing.

    2. I guess my main point – presented in a muddled way – was that if a magazine is going to write about the possible “demise” of Campy, it should do a better job. Campy deserves better.

    3. Long lunches. If you want someone to open up to you, one of the best approaches is to get them out of their building and put a few drinks in them over a good meal.

    4. Financial figures. When I’m spending a lot of money on a product that I plan to use for a while and it may require service and parts down the road, I want to be sure the company is still going to be around in five or 10 years. This isn’t just a matter of being nosy or curious. I wouldn’t buy a Chrysler car just because it works well on a day-to-day basis and does not require much maintenance. I want to know whether there’s a solid company behind the product.

    Cycle Sport was right to raise some serious questions about what’s going on with Campy. I wish the magazine dug some more and presented a more complete story.
    Would you, “Off the Front”, want to read such a piece?

  6. 6 Offthefront said at 4:23 am on March 4th, 2011:

    A few points . .

    Journalists will and do look for a juicy story and whilst I don’t doubt that Campag may have seen some losses to the opposition companies I think you’ll find the company is far from its actual “demise”. .

    If you want a better “story” on the “demise” then maybe you should be buying The Finacial Times as apposed to a glossy cycling mag’ designed more for entertainment than finacial nous . .

    It sounds like you obviously think different from me and get caught up in media hype . A story in a cycling mag’ ISN’T going to put me off using Campag nor will it dent my faith in the company as far as buying from them in the future is concerned. .

    You can either use your judgement or rely on media hype and the merchants of chaos. It todays current finacial global “crisis” , is any company finacially stable long term ?

    Would I want to read an in depth look at Campags’ financial status??
    Well as I stated earlier as far as I’m concerned that sort of info isn’t my concern/business. I’m a cyclist not a Stockbroker . .

    Maybe Campag isn’t doing as well as it has done but my own sense tells me l’m a long way from being left high and dry with products that are no longer supported. If Campag ceased manufacture tomorrow , I know that spares /support at a local level would continue here , easily for a couple of years. One less thing to worry about . .

    It sounds like you are a number cruncher that “likes a good story” . You might get it in Cycle Sport yet but I would suggest you take a longer look in something like the Financial Times. .

  7. 7 dogthyme said at 1:36 pm on March 4th, 2011:

    I think the decline in Campagnolo’s use in the pro peloton is perhaps fueled by the way they treat their market customers. Lower sales, less money to spend on outfitting pros. I used Campy from 1978 on and would use nothing else until I had a problem with their carbon Record cranks and chainrings corroding and they refused to do anything except replace the chainrings. Sent the crankset to them through the dealer and it took 5 weeks to get them back. The crankset was 2 months old and had been carefully cleaned once a week or more. I switched to SRAM and the only problem I have had was a slight delamination of the clear coat on a set of cranks. Dealer returned just the crank arms and in 1 week I had a new set of cranks complete, arms, rings and bolts. Sram parts may be made in Taiwan but the profit and offices are here in the US. They list their phone number on their website and if you call you will get a proper response. Try to get someone from Campagnolo on the phone.

  8. 8 wafflesandsteel said at 10:36 pm on March 4th, 2011:

    Excellent point and another outrageous example of poor service. Many thanks for sharing. I really wonder what they’re thinking? What’s going on?
    Offthefront: I’m not caught up in the media hype. As I tried to say in my postings, I’m more put off by Campy’s poor service. I’m also not a numbers guy, far from it. Great business stories are often about personalities and strategy, who’s winning and losing. I believe if they’re written in the right way, cycling readers will enjoy them. Call me weird, but I think the glossy cycling mags should include more than bike porn, entertainment fluff. It seems that’s what Cycle Sport was trying to do with its thin story about Campy’s alleged “sad decline.” Anyway, thanks for your comments. I’ve enjoyed the exchange. I think we all hope that Campy will eventually work out the problems it seems to be having and deliver service that matches the high quality of its fantastic products.

  9. 9 offthefront said at 5:24 pm on March 6th, 2011:

    Well , what can I say , it sounds like you are having some customer service issues with Campag’ in America. TBH , my personal experience here is completely different and only ever had service issues with Shi*mano . .

    As for SRAM , I’m aware that they are an American company which might be an advantage for you there. I’ve read a few reviews of SRAM also and it does seem that they are quite an innovative bunch too , but the name itself puts me off . However , I’ve yet to see/experience anything that would put me off buying Campag’ in the future . .

    Possibly , once a company has “burnt yer fingers ” so to speak , I suspect they have lost your business for this lifetime..

    As I said , it all comes down to personal experience in the end . .

  10. 10 Woody said at 5:49 pm on August 22nd, 2011:

    A but late, but Rouleur, the mag published by Rapha, has had a long deep two-part story on Campy including factory visits and interviews, in the last four months. Worth looking up.

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