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Sacred Rides Mountain Bike Adventures founder and president Mike Brcic, with his mountain bike (Fred Lum/FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Sacred Rides Mountain Bike Adventures founder and president Mike Brcic, with his mountain bike (Fred Lum/FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

The Challenge

Can biking tour firm expand without diluting its brand? Add to ...

Every week, we will seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue it is facing in its business

For 16 years, Toronto-based Sacred Rides Mountain Bike Adventures has specialized in giving experienced mountain bikers a trip of a lifetime.

But it’s a limited market. To keep growing, the company’s founder and president, Mike Brcic, is for the first time considering offering its services to more novice riders.

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His concern: How to expand beyond his niche without diluting the brand and reputation the company has built up.

Mr. Brcic’s company, which has one other full-time employee and also works with about 25 guides worldwide, offers cyclists the chance to tour exotic locales, from Mexico to Peru to Slovenia.

The trails are tough, so if he were to market to newbies, he’d have to offer much easier courses. And if he did that, he worries that his company would be taken less seriously by experienced clients.

“Our trips are for skilled mountain bikers,” he says. “People come for the adrenalin component, and that’s what people know us for.”

It’s a bind: Mr. Brcic wants to keep growing his company, which this fiscal year expects to bring in revenues of about $550,000, up 26 per cent from the previous year.

He wants to hit $1-million but, with such a narrow market, the only way he thinks he can do that is by opening up to a wider clientele, meaning cyclists with less riding experience.

He’s also not sure how best to turn on new clients without turning off the core customers he already has.

He has thought about creating a separate brand, but that could be a lot of money and work. Another option might be to partner with another tour organization, but then he’d have to split the profits.

“We’re known for challenging trips and, if these beginner trips pop up everywhere, people might wonder if we’re the company for them,” he says.

The Challenge: How can Sacred Rides target a wider range of customers without harming its core brand?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Gail Walker, principal at Toronto-based Atticus Management

He needs to stick to his core message that he’s serious about mountain biking. In other words, he can’t become a bike tour group; he needs to remain focused on mountain biking.

His site already has the ability to search for trips based on experience, and I wouldn’t move that. But put in a message that his company will match riders’ skills to appropriate trips, so the serious riders can be reassured that the couch potato won’t be joining them.

He could recommend that beginners complete a Canadian skills camp – he already offers weekend camps – so his new customers at least have some experience biking. That promotes his local camp, too, while allowing people to assess if they’re up for longer trail ride. Ultimately, he needs to be really clear on what he stands for and talk about specific experience levels and specific trips.

Peter George, chief executive officer of Winnipeg-based branding agency McKim Cringan George

The first thing he needs to do is really understand what his current customer base would think of that. Talk to his existing customers and see if they really would be turned off if he offered beginner rides.

It’s difficult to start a new brand. That means doubling efforts required to promote the company. He’ll need two sets of business cards, two websites, two sets of social content — it’s an awful lot of work.

He could more easily include it in his existing brand. He should use his existing brand as a selling point. Say, we do this for the best mountain bikers in the world, so we know how to look after you perfectly. They also need more information on the site, like videos of rides and pictures of their tours. People can then look at that and know what to expect.

John Gunter, general manager of Winnipeg.-based Frontiers North Adventures Inc.

We’ve been selling high-yield tourism products for almost 30 years. Our core business is offering trips to people who want every aspect taken care off.

After the recession, though, we found that there was demand for trips at a better price point. So now we also sell …discounted trips under our Tundra Inn brand, which is different than our other, higher-value trips. We never offer discounts under Frontier North and we didn’t want to deteriorate the value of the brand.

But here’s where the strength is: We own all the infrastructure, which we use for everything we offer. So we get a good return on our assets. We’ll find ways to use an asset multiple ways.

He shouldn’t scramble to reinvent himself. I’d encourage him to retain the value he’s built up in his existing brand and sell his new stuff under a different name.

THREE THINGS SACRED RIDES CAN DO NOW

Talk to existing customers

Find out from core customers how they’d view a move to open up to less experienced riders and whether business would be compromised.

Clearly differentiate

Keep the core focus but offer rides to match riders’ skills so experienced bikers won’t worry about being joined by less experienced ones. Add pictures and videos to the site to further highlight differences between beginner and advanced trips.

Weigh pros and cons of creating two brands

Using the reputation he’s already established could be a selling point and is a lot less work and money than creating a new brand. But a separate brand allows clearer differentiation. If he does create a separate one, leverage existing assets. Use the same staff and equipment, for instance, to make two companies more economically viable.

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