Life During Lockdown: Blair Clark
I’ve known Blair for almost ten years. We were introduced by our mutual friend Russ Pillar, which seems to happen a lot for me. He’d been in Sun Valley for many years working for Smith Optics, but when he moved to California in 2017 as the President of Canyon Bicycles we started spending more time together. We’re both lifelong bike people and outdoor sports enthusiasts, we have kids the same age, and we’re fascinated with growing businesses. He’s hired me as a consultant on a bunch of fun projects at Canyon, and I love seeing Canyon — one of the original DTC brands — thrive in the new world of retail.
Give me some highlights and lowlights from your first month in lockdown mode.
Events: We planned on attending 72 events for this bicycle season. Many of those events have been cancelled or moved until the Fall. At most of those events, it is a face-face opportunity to expose customers to Canyon, hear their interests/concerns and allow them to demo our bikes. While we offer all of our consumers 30 days to try the bike and return it for a full refund, including freight, the lack of events is a set-back to our customer engagement.
Teams and Athletes: The cycling community is inspired by riders results and by riding in groups for the social interaction as well as the increased speed of the Peloton by sharing the work: drafting. Since the events have been cancelled athletes have creatively turned to doing online races via Zwift or producing riding technique videos to train others. Unfortunately, the economics (read: cash flow) of the teams/athletes/event promoters has declined and some will not be able to manage to return to the sport.
While the team at Canyon US showed their resiliency and competence by adapting quickly to work from home under the shelter in place orders, many of them miss the interpersonal interaction of the office and it is challenging to maintain good communication/feedback in spite of the great communication tools that Microsoft Teams, GotoMeeting and other online communications systems offer. While most of the positions can work from home, we have a facility in Chino where we do quality audits, bike returns, bike customization etc…that require mechanics to be in our facility which is allowed because the bicycle business is covered by being an essential business of transportation and for a healthy outdoor activity. The team in Chino has done a remarkable job under the duress of maintaining the social distance, wearing masks and gloves while still producing world class bicycles. Not surprisingly, many of the staff are struggling to cope with the uncertainty of when the CDC standards of social distance and shelter in place will be relaxed.
Given that we are a disrupter of the bike industry by selling direct to consumer, we have had tremendous sales activity. Much of that increase in business is due to the fact that people are allowed to ride bikes. Since surfers, golfers, tennis players and dozens of other activities are banned, when cyclists casual or core don’t ride in accordance with CDC cycling social distance guidelines, we as cyclists are hurting not only our public image but selfishly risking not flattening the curve. Most core cyclists are riding alone and have shown more friendliness…giving a wave or a nod when in the past they wouldn’t so there is a sense of being more connected, in spite of our physical disconnection.
How have you grown personally and professionally during this disruption?
I am reminded and touched by the grace and courage that many minimum wage workers are showing by simply going to work at bike shops, take out restaurants, gas stations, etc. I have reached out to friends whom I haven’t spoken to in months/years to make sure they know I think about them, and to more often tell them I love them. Weekly at Canyon US we have a one hour all employee town hall, a video conference teams meeting where I present company results and praise their incredible performance under duress. We also have a single topic, like a marketing update, for discussion, and then we follow up with a 30 minute Q&A on any topic. During one of those sessions, an employee asked, “How can we work to prevent what happened in Italy, France, and Spain where cycling was banned?” My quick answer was to lead by example with social distance cycling but the question inspired me due to a book I’m reading. It’s called The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday, and it it motivated me to do more.
Below is a review of the book from Inc.com, and its message is a perfect philosophy for the coronavirus fight:
“[This book] is a modern take on the Hellenistic philosophy of Stoicism. I loved this book as it’s a compelling reminder, too often forgotten (myself included), that the challenges in life are what make us stronger, better, deeper human beings. In fact, with the right perspective and approach, challenges turn into opportunities, leading us down newer, fresher paths that we would not have found had it not been for the adversity we faced. This doesn’t mean it’s easy; but facing and overcoming challenges, including perseverance through failure, is ultimately what makes human existence most rewarding. In business as in life, we encounter obstacles, big or small, everyday, which is why this book is always by my bedside and why I start my days recalling its instruction that the path to success is rarely a straight line.”
Bicycling Magazine, a terrific media partner of ours, donated a free two page ad to us oriented around public service. I told them I’d like to donate it to People For Bikes, so they can promote their message of #RideitOut, a campaign to help cyclists and bike shops through the coronavirus crisis.
Ultimately all of this has taught me to express myself to my friends and colleagues in a more compassionate way.
Has your relationship with your work changed as a result of being home alone and not collaborating in person with your colleagues?
Yes I miss the face to face interaction, the chats in the hallways, the consumers in the showroom, the ad hoc meetings that resolve unanticipated problems.
What permanent changes do you see coming out of this crisis? Any things that will change forever?
The CEO at Purell can do no wrong! I think the idea of masks, gloves and pacing the number of people in physical retail spaces will be more prevalent in service face-face oriented jobs. Additionally I am glad I am not a retailer in a mall or a commercial real estate broker as I believe malls will collapse because of fewer people visiting and office spaces will have significantly less absorption because many companies including us will continue to let more people work from home.
Can brands like Canyon create positive change in the world during the pandemic? If so, how?
Yes, we should be VERY grateful for what we have and continue to support the greater good that bicycling provides via non-profit advocates like People for Bikes (PfB) that work tirelessly on behalf of cycling interests nationwide; addressing access, safety, trade/customs issues and retail commerce. If you are a gun owner you know the NRA protects your rights to own a gun, so you donate to them. If you are a surfer, you know that the Surfrider Foundation protects your access to surf breaks and clean water, so you donate to them. In 2019 PfB accomplished the following and if like me, you want this to continue, together we need to support them.
· Successfully lobbying for more than $120 million in tariff exclusions.
· Convincing government leaders to invest more than $2.5 billion to build safe bike infrastructure, resulting in thousands of bike projects.
· Dramatically improving nationwide e-bike access on and off-road.
· Developing programs to improve youth bicycling participation and retention.