BLOOMINGTON, MN (BRAIN)?Temperatures dipped into the single digits as the industry?s largest distributor wrapped up its annual three-day expo yesterday in Bloomington, Minnesota. A blizzard?the second biggest storm of the season to hit the state?blanketed the region with four inches of snow on the eve of Quality Bicycle Product?s aptly named gathering, Frostbike.

But the snowy weather?and the nation?s chilling economy?didn?t temper the spirits of vendors and dealers in attendance, who though fewer in number remained seemingly upbeat about 2009.

?I?m amazed at how positive and excited people are given the global economy and news,? said Mark Graff, co-founder of SmartEtailing, who led a couple of retail seminars on online marketing strategies. SmartEtailing also had a booth in the vendor expo area.

Talk about the dreary economy abounded at the expo, which saw lighter retail traffic this year. As of yesterday, organizers were still tallying attendance figures, but expected a smaller turnout.
?It?s down a smidge, but we?re pleased with the caliber of dealers who came out,? said QBP director of sales and customer service Todd Cravens, at close on Saturday. ?We brought in more dealers that hadn?t been to Frostbike before.?

Vendors were hopeful that traffic would pick up Sunday thinking staff from shops within driving distance might come just for the last day.

Suppliers also are taking a cautious approach this year as evidenced by a few who opted not to exhibit, but QBP was able to fill their spots, said marketing director Jo Wright.

Steve Flagg, QBP?s president, said recent polls the company conducted indicate a majority of dealers (67 percent) still expect to see moderate sales increases this year, but many have scaled down their growth forecasts.

?My sense is that dealers are feeling OK, but they?re of course cautious,? Flagg said, adding that average order size has decreased a little. ?But it?s too early in the year and a bit premature to predict [how much sales will grow or decline],? especially since winter is still in full swing in many parts of the country.

In addition to seeing some of the new product vendors will unveil this spring and summer, as well as production models of prototypes shown at Interbike, retailers had the opportunity to attend more than 30 seminars. The business seminars, which covered store management, merchandising, consumer financing, hiring, leadership strategies and the impact of new lead legislation, continue to be a major draw for shops.

Tim Farmer, longtime owner of S&W Sports in Concord, New Hampshire, said the seminars motivated him to come out for the first time. ?They offered a lot of good ones, but the one by Kathryn Jeffers on leadership was incredible,? he said. ?I can?t wait to go home to start implementing some of the things she talked about.?

Friday?s workshops, which are typically lengthier and available to a select few top dealers, were opened up to more shops this year. QBP also shuttled retailers to Freewheel, a local shop that has undergone a complete remodel as part of QBP?s newly launched ReTale program. Announced last fall, QBP officially rolled it out at Frostbike with several examples of modular and customizable fixtures.

Another change this year: QBP combined its dealer and vendor dinners, previously held on separate nights, into a single gala at the Milwaukee Road Depot, a former train station. Following dinner and drinks, attendees listened to a leadership presentation led by the Brave New Workshop, an improv comedy group.

?It was a great setting for vendor/dealer interaction,? said SKS USA?s Crystal Trout. ?I?ve been to Minneapolis for many years but never been to the downtown area. I thought it was a great time.?

For more Frostbike coverage, be sure to read the March 15 issue of Bicycle Retailer.

?PHOTO and story by Lynette Carpiet