A bit ago, we invited all of you to post questions for Nicolas (aka Nic) Sims, Specialized’s global marketing manager. We compiled them and added a few of our own. The result is a solid look at what he does to manage one of the largest bicycle brands in the world.
Our own questions kick things off, and reader questions follow, with some great pics from Nic’s global adventures thrown into the mix. Enjoy!
BIKERUMOR: Can you briefly explain what the title of Global Marketing Manager entails?
NIC: Well, I will admit that I do the PR for global marketing although “Global Marketing Manager” sounds great . My job entails working with all types of media although I mainly take care of the bicycle related media plus some of the TV presentations that we will do with people like VS for events like the Tour (de France) and Tour of California. The job is to the get the brand of Specialized out there so it is visible to the public, and to also bring in new customers from other areas. I will also work with a lot of our motorsport athletes to try to build awareness for Specialized in other non bike related magazines and at events like Moto GP etc. (hence the photo above from the 2008 Moto GP. – ed.)
BIKERUMOR: Seems like a tall order for one person to manage the marketing for entire world…many large brands have one or more people per country. How do you manage it?
NIC: The big thing with Specialized is it is very much a family, I work with a team of about 16 people in our Global marketing department , everyone has specific jobs from dealing with social media like facebook and twitter, to keeping the websites www.specialized.com and www.iamspecialized.com up to date with the latest videos and press material. But should anyone need help there are people always there to help. As a team we deal with supplying marketing material to all of our subsidiaries and distributors to use in their own markets. So with such a good group it is fairly easy to really focus on our specific areas.
BIKERUMOR: In your opinion, what’s the most important thing you do to ensure the success and growth of the Specialized brand?
NIC: For me the most important thing is to show people who we at Specialized really are and that we make great riding bikes. We are a big company but if you ever visit it does not have the big corporate feel…we are all about riding, and I think that shows in our products. Doing events like I am currently at (Crankworx) and letting people see and ride the new bikes and to meet the engineers and ride with people from the company, I think goes a long way in showing people our passion for cycling and the thought that goes into each and every part or design. Then obviously getting reviews in the media, if people read a good review then they walk into a store and see that shoe or bike they just read about, they are more likely to look at that product first.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your background? How did you land this job?
NIC: I was a mechanic at a bike store back in England and like most people in this industry it was a hobby as well as a job, so when the manager left he went to work for Specialized(UK) . This was when Specialized UK was just starting back in 1989 and he called me and asked if I wanted to work at Specialized. Well for a young guy in a bike shop who used to read all the US magazines like Mountain Bike Action, plus stocking Specialized in the store I was jumping up and down saying Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hell yes! When, where and what will I be doing?Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã‚Â So I started out doing all the customer service for the UK and was also the team mechanic for the UK Specialized team. After a 6 month vacation to California in 91Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I thought I could live here…all the sports I was into are here and the people seem pretty cool. So I went back to the UK and asked if there were any jobs in the US office. It took 10 years but eventually a position opened in the customer service department and I was able to get a job transfer once they offered me the position. So I did customer service for the east coast dealers for 3 years then I changed jobs when a position opened up running our R&D shop and also doing all the athlete support which meant that I was in charge or building prototypes and giving feedback to the engineers and product managers, plus all our sponsored teams and athletes anything they needed to compete on it was my job to place the orders and get them the what they needed. Then 3 years ago the position in the marketing department became available and I thought well why not throw your hat in the ring and see about that position. I got the job and here we are, the one thing that is great about Specialized is that they like to get the best people but they also try to keep people within the company and promote from within so there is always the possibility to move around and try new positions, as I have shown.
BIKERUMOR: How often are you traveling domestically? Overseas?
NIC: This year has been a lot of travelling whether it is domestically for events like Tour of California, Sea Otter or trips to visit magazines, plus I am at 7 trips to Europe for launches and events so I think have been away for at least a week every month this year so far. I am sure my wife can give you the exact number.
BIKERUMOR: Given the breadth and depth of Specialized’s product offerings, is it tough to keep up to date on every product and technical feature?
NIC: Yes and No. I think that if you love the sport and are just a bike geek like most of us at Specialized you can always remember the things you are passionate about, the hardest part is try to keep up with what year we are in. We are still in 2009 (and) we have just launched 2010 and the engineers are already working on 2011 and beyond.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the best part of your job?
NIC: The bikes and the people I meet . I like to travel to events and share my passion for cycling with people and being able to ride with consumers and the media and to help them out, you see a real appreciation. I have lent bikes to people to race on when their bikes have broken and they keep saying “Are you sure this is OK, this is the S-Works?” And l always say “Sure! Please use the bike, that is why we build them.”
BIKERUMOR: What’s the worst part of your job?
NIC: The travel is a good part but it is a hard part as I am away from my family and with 2 young kids (Molly and Charlie) they grow up so fast you miss things.
BIKERUMOR: How many bikes do you own and what’s your favorite?
NIC: Well I am not sure. Like most bike fanatics I have parts and wheels stashed all over the place, but I have a couple of road bikes as you have to have one in the office and one at home, the cross bike, a couple of mountain bikes because someone might visit so you need a spare, then I have 2 tandems, and the garage would not be complete without a motorcycle. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really have a favorite, I probably ride my road bikes the most, which means every time I ride the mountain bike I am like a kid in a candy store.
1) Regarding Body Geometry, do you have an internal ergonomics team that develops the products, or do you work with outside experts? Do you publish the research that shows how and why the products work?
NIC: With Body Geometry we work with a couple of experts who specialize in different areas, for saddles and grips we work with Dr. Roger Minkow, who has helped design aircraft seats for Boeing, and also Dr. Andy Pruitt from the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. With (Pruitt) we developed our BG FIT system and all the shoes and footbeds. Yes, we have published our findings from both Dr. Minkow and Dr. Pruitt, plus both doctors a have had articles published in medical journals also.
2) With the Globe brand, you developed a product line that catered to specific audiences across the commuter / urban spectrum. Why a new brand? Why not release them under the Specialized moniker?
NIC: The Globe is a good project. The lack of branding is because people in those markets we are after are not about big brands or having large logos on there frames. The commuter wants a practical bike that is fun to ride but has some cool design feature they can appreciate. If you look at a lot of the commuter fixed gear bikes they are all taped up or resprayed with no logos and that is what Globe has done for things like the Roll bike and then for the commuter we have the Live and Haul bikes that again are simple colors that look fashionable are bikes that are fun to ride. So looking at current trends and also talking to dealers and focus groups it was decided that Globe should be its own brand, it still has the quality and good looks and functionality of a Specialized without the large logo on the down tube. (Editor’s Note: The Roll, Live and Haul must be ’10 stuff…they’re nowhere to be found)
3) Any plans for a 650b bike? If so, when? If not, why?
NIC: No, no time soon, because at the moment we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t feel that it offers a big benefit to the rider. (Editor’s note: One of our friends runs 650b wheels on a 26″ Specialized full suspension bike with no problems…)
4) How can someone get a job or internship with Specialized?
NIC: The best way to get a job is to check out the website Specialized.com and contact our HR department or if you know someone in the company that can pass along a resume to the right people. Just keep trying itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a fun place to work, we get paid to ride our bikes.
5) Do you consider the Roval wheel brand a success? Has it met expectations? What’s the future prognosis for the Rapid Star design?
NIC: Roval is still a growing project, has it been a success? I would say yes in some areas. It is hard for any manufacturer to get in to the wheel market from scratch when you have to go up against the likes of Mavic, Zipp, etc. We are constantly learning with the Roval program and with feedback from the Mountain Bike team and also Quick-Step we will continue to develop it. The Star design has a lot of potential in all the windtunnel tests we have done it has come out as one of the fastest wheels we have tested and we have used all the normal competition. Quick-Step use it for their TTÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and also Boonen won a stage of Tour of California in a sprint using them, so I think it will continue in the line, but need to get athletes riding them in TTÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and Triathlon and then people will start to see that benefit.
6) What percentage of Specialized’s marketing budget goes toward mass-market, consumer advertising versus team / athlete sponsorships?
NIC: We have a USA marketing department that spends a lot of money to help our dealers get the brand recognition within their communities with ads and also the in store POP . For the global marketing group we have spend a lot on ad within the media whether it is in print or to do TV ads spots. Sports marketing is a very large budget as we have a lot of pro road teams and individuals to support so all that takes a lot of time and personnel and equipment.
7) Any plans to develop an electric bicycle?
NIC: No plans yet but as a company we are always looking at all the area of cycling within the US and also watching what is happening around the world. We would not just make a electric bike unless we could bring something new to the table or it offered and significant benefit to the rider or was an improvement to what is already out there .
8) Why did it take Specialized so long to bring a 29er to market?
NIC: It was something that we had been looking at for a while and we wanted to make sure that it was not just a passing trend and that we could actually improve on what was already out there. For us if we are going to stick the Stumpjumper name on a bike it must live up to what Stumpjumper is known for quality and a great riding bike. So we bought and test rode a lot of 29r bikes before we settled on the geometry that we thought was right for the bike and I think bikes like the 2010 carbon HT and Epic are showing the thought and time that we have spent on this as they ride and look great, and I am not just saying that, you have to try them. (Editor’s Note: Check out the 2010 Specialized 29ers here and here)
9) What sort of feedback do your sponsored professional riders and teams provide?
NIC: Depending on the athlete it can be suspension tuning in the case of our mountain race guys to sizing and stiffness with our road guys and also the mountain bike guys. It is from working with our teams and athletes that we are able to develop bikes like the Roubaix SL, Tarmac SL2, the SHIV TT bike and also the epic and Demo 8 downhill bike. We are lucky enough to have constant contact and feedback from riders like Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, the Schleck brothers, Christoph Sauser and Sam Hill. So we are dealing with the best athletes in all sorts of fields and hopefully people can feel the improvements that are being made and we are seeing the improvements with race wins.
10) What happens to team bikes if a rider leaves the team…do the bikes belong to the rider, the team or to Specialized?
NIC: Generally the rider will use the bike until he receives his new team bike, you see those early season training camp shots and people are not all riding the same bikes. Who actually owns the bikes depends on the contract. We try to have new bikes in the teams hand by the first camp in January or late December.
11) Is there a higher fail rate among BRAIN shocks than regular shocks? Do you find that the technological aspects of those shocks lead to improper set up, potentially creating a false impression that the shocks don’t work well?
NIC: This is a good question. With the BRAIN shock have had failures like anything has. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know that they have been higher than others, we have had some issues that have been resolved and I think that should anyone have a problem our customer service department will do their best to get it taken care of as quickly as possible. As far as the set up I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think it is any more difficult to set up than a regular shock, if people read the manual or watch the set up videos that we have on the website it is very easy. I do believe that improper suspension set up on any bike will make or break the ride and also possible sale of a bike, so it is important to have a bike set up as close to the set up as you would ride (i.e. with a camelback, etc.) so you can get the right amount of sag. This will allow you or the shop to get the bike in a good starting position for riding.
12) Specialized makes pretty much everything that touches a rider or bike, what’s next? Power measurement device?
NIC: I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s next but I am sure itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be good . As for power meters, our new computer will link up with the current wireless power tap and SRM systems, so that is as close as we get for now.
13) What’s Specialized doing to be more green? Any environmental agendas or programs in place that help reduce your impact?
NIC: The Environmental things of Specialized mean a lot. We try to look at areas that we can improve things. Although some may only be small, it all helps if everyone does their bit, so we have things like lights on motion sensors or timers so that if people are not in rooms lights donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stay on. We added a lot of natural light sky lights to help save energy, we have a commute club where people van pool in. Plus, if you ride to work you can log you miles and the company pays a dollar for every mile that employee rides. All our old bottles and frames are recycled and we have looked at tire recycling programs (I’ve seen Specialized tire recycling bins in several bike shops. – ed). So we do try to make a effort to be more mindful of what we are doing. We also have someone in house whose job it is to develop programs that can help us and the dealers.
BIKERUMOR: Nic, thank you very much!