What’s happening at Bianchi?

Miscellaneous 9 28

By now, most of you have probably already seen the 2007 line of bikes from Bianchi (if not, check out this CyclingNews article). If you regularly check the BRAIN website, you probably noticed that Bianchi was in the news several times last week for other reasons as well. So what is going on at Bianchi, big changes? I have been extremely busy the last couple of weeks, so I am a little late to post about this news. Still, that won’t stop me from weighing in late on the subject with a few opinions.

First, I’ll say right off the bat that I think the new road bikes look great. In particular, I really like the transition between the top tube and the head tube on the 928 C SL. This frame is manufactured using carbon nanotechnology, like BMC’s frames. It may have been engineered based on wind tunnel data in Milan, but it was also apparently designed with an emphasis on aesthetics. Decked out with 10 speed Record, the bike will retail for around 9,000 Euros. Not cheap, but this is Bianchi’s flagship model. I am glad to see Bianchi focus on the high end. The company’s heritage is racing and I think that should shape the core products that they make.

While reading the CyclingNews article, this quote from Davide Brambilla, the managing director of Bianchi International, caught my attention:

“We probably made some mistakes [in the past], understanding the customer needs and the way the customers feel about the bikes. That is why we decided to provide a clear picture of the segmentation, with specific uses depending on the bike.”

Right on Mr. Brambilla. I think that is smart business decision, but not everyone seems to agree. On the mountainbike forums, I have seen a few comments lately that are critical of Bianchi’s current management team. The comments came in the wake of the departure of Sky Yaeger, a prominently known Bianchi USA VP and product manager (for the record, I know nothing about her departure and I won’t speculate about a possible relationship to the changes in Milan as was indicated in the forum posts). Ms. Yaeger is responsible for many nice bikes that Bianchi has developed and I hope that she will continue to work in the bicycle industry. I like the B.O.S.S., the B.A.S.S., and more recently the value priced and “100 percent chick designed” San Jose. In the past few years, bikes like those have been the first ones that come to my mind when someone mentions the Bianchi brand. Nothing against those bikes or the talented lady who designed them, but I don’t think that those are exactly the right products to personify the Bianchi brand in the minds of consumers. I mean, Fausto wouldn’t ride a Big Orange Singlespeed if he were alive today, would he? Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Bianchi should stop making bikes that are not race oriented. The Milano, for example, is a nice commuter bike and I am looking forward to seeing the clothing and accessory products that Bianchi will soon introduce to compliment bikes of that type. Still, I think that clearly categorizing the different bikes will eliminate brand confusion and will ultimately reinforce Bianchi’s image as a top tier bicycle brand. In marketing, as in life, you can’t always please everybody. Nevertheless, I think that if you are responsible for an established brand like Bianchi that it is important to cater to your most passionate core customers first. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out to completely new customers at the same time. With this restructured core product lineup and the new Milano “cycling lifestyle” line, I think that is exactly what Bianchi is doing.

Photo from CyclingNews


9 Comments

  1. Anonymous June 15, 2006 at 7:39 pm -  Reply

    you dont know what you are talking about.

  2. James June 16, 2006 at 7:44 am -  Reply

    I don’t? Wow, it is a good thing that you came along to let me know that before I spout off on more topics that I know nothing about. Thanks Anon, you are a real pal. Seriously though, I always welcome opposing viewpoints, but your comment is more than a little vague. If you think that I don’t have my facts straight, feel free to correct me. If you disagree with my opinions, feel free to express yours. That is why I leave the option for anonymous comments after all.

  3. Tim Jackson- Masi Guy June 17, 2006 at 9:21 am -  Reply

    I agree and somewhat disagree, seeing as to how I have a very similar role to Sky and a similar brand heritage.

    Agree; You have to remember your core. The new road line does look sweet. The new clothing concept is great and very, very Italian. You can’t please everybody.

    Disagree; Though I’ve never even spoken to Sky, she has been a huge figure in the US bike industry. She was really the first product person to gain that kind of notoriety. I believe that Sky made some great choices and drove the brand into a much bigger and more profitable market during a time when the company’s core product, road bikes, weren’t selling anymore. That helped keep the brand alive when other road brands were wallowing in low sales. As the market began to turn back to road bikes, Sky made very smart choices again and put together more great bikes- the Pista is just one good example. Now, it seems to me, the brand is trying to make a much bigger grab at the high-end road market. It might be a little late though, since road sales are slowing down- still going up, just at a slower rate. In Europe, Bianchi is still great, but here it is fighting other issues, but I do not believe it is the fault of the bikes.

    In the end, Bianchi will always have core followers who will only ever buy the Reparto Corse bikes (all designed in Italy), others who will only buy the funky bikes Sky designed and others who will buy all of them. It’s something of a shotgun approach maybe, but it did very well for Bianchi for a number of years, significantly beating the trends of the time.

    (My favorite in recent years has been the Luna carbon road bike. That silver/ white cosmetic outer carbon is gorgeous.)

  4. James June 19, 2006 at 12:06 pm -  Reply

    Tim, thanks for the comment. I appreciate your insight as the steward of a brand with a great history. Anonymous, if you are still reading, this is the way to disagree with the post while adding something to the conversation. I am still curious what you think I was wrong about and I am hoping that will comment again with some specific points of contention. Who knows, you might change my mind.

    After reading Tim’s comments, I realized that my original post might have placed too much emphasis on the departure of Sky Yaeger. I mentioned it because it happened in the same week and I can’t help but think that the events are related. At any rate, the implication in my post certainly seemed to be that her recent bikes were somehow bad for Bianchi. Not true at all. I usually write and post very fast, and sometimes the message may come across differently than I intend it to. To clarify, I will say again that I do like many of the bikes that Ms. Yaeger introduced at Bianchi. On top of that, I respect her as a creative person and a self proclaimed “bike bum”. I think that she, as Tim points outs, has done some great things during her long career at Bianchi. It is not my belief that Bianchi’s image problem is in any way her fault. She obviously has a following and I hope that she can build on that as she continues in the bicycle industry.

    That said, I do believe that Bianchi has really suffered from an image problem in recent years so I was glad to hear Mr. Brambilla address it. For someone outside the industry like myself, it is hard to pinpoint the root of the problems. I am sure there is a lot that I don’t know about the goings on at Bianchi. What I do know is that watching Jan Ulrich race in a celeste jersey for a few years was not enough to reinforce the image in my mind of Bianchi as a top end brand. I have to believe that the problem was simply an inconsistent marketing plan. It is not impossible to sell bikes in several categories and price ranges while maintaining a positive brand overall brand image. Trek, Specialized, and Giant all do a pretty good job of that today. Even if you don’t like their bikes, you have to admit that the marketing messages from those companies are pretty clear. Schwinn had a harder time in the end holding on the positive image of the Paramount name. I think it was a series of bad (and short sighted) marketing decisions that accelerated the demise of that once great brand. The demise of any historied brand is very unfortunate, but is pretty common in today’s business climate. I would hate to see that happen to Bianchi, so I am hoping that a major revision of the company’s marketing strategy will help. It really is all about connecting with customers and time will tell if what they are doing now is right. Maybe I am wrong. If you think so, tell me.

  5. Fritz June 20, 2006 at 5:45 pm -  Reply

    I’m with Tim and think Bianchi has done well to go beyond their core by branching out and designing bikes for ‘urban’ cyclists. I know racing road bikes are selling well now, but over the past couple of years there also seems to be a shift toward city bikes. In the Bay Area, for example, bike shops are having a hard time keeping mid-range cruisers and utility bikes in stock.

  6. James June 21, 2006 at 11:16 am -  Reply

    Fritz, don’t misunderstand me (just because my post was a bit unclear and went off on a tangent). I don’t think that Bianchi should stop making commuting bikes at all. The Milano is a great bike and so are some of the others mentioned earlier. As you know from reading my earlier posts, I am a big fan of midrange bikes geared toward commuters and occasional cyclists. I just think that Bianchi needs to categorize those bikes in a way that makes sense for the brand rather than use the “shotgun approach” to marketing that Tim described in his comment. That approach may have worked well for a time, but I still think that a thorough restructuring of the line makes sense for the company at this point.

    Thanks for the comments. I love the discussion.

  7. blogfred July 11, 2006 at 6:41 pm -  Reply

    The biggest challenge for Bianchi, it seems to me, is finding an identity for a what is now really just a Swedish brand name and no longer a factory in Italy.

    While Sky may have kept profits high in the USA (I owned a BASS) after Piaggio took over the company identity really disappeared as surely as Schwinn disappeared when it left Chicago.

    There is nothing of the Italian soul of Bianchi about the bikes produced in China, no matter how interesting they may be.

    Brand names on bikes are at an all time low point these days, not only do we have French and Italian names on Chinese bikes, but even the European scene is a mess. Very few bikes with style throughout the entire line. Only small companies like Orbea are still trying to keep the faith, but I wonder how long Orbea USA will be able to resist the siren song of the cheap factories in China.

    I am an old guy — my first racing bike was built by Carlton (before Raleigh) the sent me two page to fill out, and still wrote me before they built my bike. If I had been in England they would have suggested I come in for a fitting! I specified EVERYTHING, down to the BB shell!

  8. Little_Jewford September 12, 2006 at 6:30 pm -  Reply

    I really like the bianchi’s road “stylings” but I think they seem a bit overpriced when you look at them on paper (ie tubing/parts/wheels) vs price and I’m not sure I buy that bianchi’s workmanship, especially when it comes to carbon frames (soulless), is any better then those being made in asia.

    Also I’m VERY dissapointed that they are not supporting the womens road market…1 model? Big whoop….Cannondale has 6. I’m going to spend between 1500 and 2500 on a bike for my fiance this year and I bianchi has nothing to offer to a woman who apprecites things like shorter stems, smaller bars, womans saddles or short reach brakes (not to mention a shorter top tube if needed) in that price range.

  9. Ronin March 12, 2007 at 10:02 pm -  Reply

    I am due to receive a 928 SL in the coming week. What motivated me was when my Pinarello Prince racing friend and ex-Litespeed rep buddy both told me in different conversations that the 928SL is like an F1 machine. Solid, light and fast. Pure performance and it does what you want it to. No fighting.

    I have had six bianchis: Chrono TT, Grizzly MTB, Oetzi MTB, San Lorenzo x2 and an FG Lite. The designs are classic and simple. The ride and feel is great. Having owned other brands, the Bianchi’s seem to have the best performance. For pricing, the San Lorenzo – scandium frameset is still a best buy for that quality only Salsa comes close.

    I realize that the indsutry can not sustain on $5000+ high end bikes. But Bianchi is the first widely distributed brand to jump on Nano-technology carbon fiber. BMC may have been the first but that is still a small dealer body and low number product run.

    From the outside, being a cyclist not an industry insider, Sky leaving will take the dealers off of the single speeds, and back on Reparto Corse. The Ducati deal is a distraction – why waste time with that? My guess is that Sky championed San Lorenzo’s and other mid tier units to give the volume the dealers need.

    The shop owners I have talked lead me to think that there is probably independent thinking dealers considering alternatives to replace Specialized and Trek in their “mass-merchandiser” store concept. Bianchi could be an alternative with its wide line up.

    Why Bianchi USA still do not offer the full suspension mountain bike in the North American market mystifies me. Bianchi mountain bikes are the fastest out there – medals and World Champs to prove it.Quit highlighting the damn things at the trade shows only to say “next year…”That is the glaring hole in the line up to me.

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