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.
wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Campagnolo, Cycle Sport magazine | 10 Comments »