Posts Tagged ‘Schwinn Cycling & Fitness’

Schwinn Life's Little Pleasures

Check out this article that I wrote that shares some lessons I learned while at Schwinn Cycling & Fitness that I hope help you make this your best year in business yet!

Click HERE to read the article.




My first job after college was with Schwinn Cycling & Fitness. The year was 1996 and Schwinn was trying desperately to shake the image of being “your parent’s bike”. Their market share was way down and several other major brands dominated the mountain bike trails, roads, BMX tracks and bike racks on college campuses. The management team needed to act quickly to change the course of this legendary company.

I learned three important principles during those years at Schwinn that have stuck with me through the years and are instrumental in guiding me as I lead my company today.

1.       Be Willing to Take a Risk: In order to capture the attention of the target demographic; the management team at Schwinn had to be willing to break out of the conservative mold that had guided the company to that point. This meant trying some new and often controversial things. Everything was considered from edgy advertisements (see above) that got people talking, to off the wall trade show booths that were the buzz of the industry and cool swag that everyone wanted.

It’s easy to look back and see how all of these things worked to reinvent the Schwinn image, but at the time these decisions were very risky. Schwinn had been in business for over 100 years and had built their reputation with multiple generations. This new image could have turned off many Schwinn loyalists and still not resonated with their target demographic. However, the team stepped out of the comfort zone and that was an important first step to capturing the attention of the intended audience.

Principle 1: Change will always feel uncomfortable, but it is often necessary to achieve your goals.

2.       Know Why People Buy from You, and Understand Why They Do Not: In the midst of this transition, the management team needed to understand all the reasons why their traditional customers bought from them. However, it was likely more important to understand why people WERE NOT buying from them.

At that time, the people that bought from Schwinn did so because it was the safe bet. The brand loyalists had grown up buying Schwinn bikes and, if they were not enthusiasts, they felt comfortable with the brand. However, the enthusiast view of the brand was quite different. The product line was outdated from both a style and a technological standpoint. If that wasn’t enough, the brand was not viewed as being “cool” by those concerned about image. The team had to find a way to keep their base while attracting the interest of consumers that were not even considering a Schwinn.

The solution came when the product team improved the bike quality and style dramatically. This coupled with the marketing team using some innovative advertising, point of purchase displays, promotions, SWAG and trade show displays. This strategy played off of the rich heritage of the brand while spinning it in a new way.  The combination of great product with terrific marketing forced the entire industry to take a fresh look at this iconic brand. Through it all, the leadership team successfully walked the line of keeping the loyalists while attracting a new market segment that had previously ignored them.

Principle 2: In your efforts to attract new business, don’t alienate the customers you already have.

 3.       Have Fun!!: Probably the most important thing I remember from those years was how much fun we had as a team while chasing our goal. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of hard work, but we found time to enjoy the process. Not that I would admit it at the time, but there were days that I thought “I can’t believe that they are paying me to do this?!”

I think that much of this was a result of two important things. First, the management team hired people that understood the culture they were trying to create and embraced it. Second, the leadership painted a distinct vision of where they were taking the company and got the entire team to buy into that vision. Once we had the right team in place galvanized around a common vision, we were unstoppable!

Principle 3: Enjoy the process, hire the right people and create a vision that people embrace. If you can do that, reaching your goals will take care of itself.

In part, because of the chemistry of these three principles, Schwinn eventually became the best-selling bike company in the United States. They management team re-invented the brand while never losing sight of what the brand represented. As a result, the brand became even more loved by the loyalists and respected by the enthusiasts.

I hope these three lessons I learned with Schwinn help you in your pursuit to achieve something special with your company!