By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
- Brothers Rich and George Hincapie started cycling apparel brand Hincapie Sportswear in 2002. They soon grew it into a multi-faceted organization that redefines the idea of what a sports apparel brand can be.
- The brand operates from three foundations: an authentic love for the sport, a commitment to a premium experience and a desire to be the leader in all things cycling.
- Hincapie carries out its mission in its retail sales, at live events and in a Hincapie-owned hotel, with plans to expand.
Rich and George Hincapie grew up around cycling. The brothers’ passion for the sport took root in childhood, when they learned to ride and trained and competed side-by-side. George later pursued a professional cycling career, and Rich headed to business school while competing as an elite-level amateur.
Hincapie quickly evolved from a straight-up apparel brand into a multi-faceted organization that touches many aspects of the cycling industry, including races. It’s set apart by the brothers’ authentic passion for the sport and a consistent brand image.
Through events like the Hincapie Gran Fondo race and the creation of the first cycling-centric hotel in the U.S., Hincapie is helping to define not only the future of cycling in the U.S. but also the possible role of a sports apparel brand in the lives of its customers.
So, how’d they do it?
They chose the right market.
The Hincapies chose a market with an interested and untapped customer base. Nielsen named the U.S. as one of the world’s 10 most growth-ready markets for cycling in 2017, and Business Insider hailed the sport as “the new golf” in 2015.
They established three brand goals.
As company president, Rich aims for consistency across Hincapie’s many properties. To do this, he refers frequently to the company's foundations: an authentic love for cycling and a goal of providing a premium experience.
They also want to be known as a leaders in all things around their sport. While other companies in the cycling industry are trying to be leaders in soley apparel or solely events, Hincapie takes a more comprehensive view.
“We want to be the leader in cycling, period,” Rich said.
George, center, aims to grow the cycling industry in the U.S. along with his brother Rich.
The brand uses three main channels to establish their dominance.
Channel 1: Retail
As “good stewards for the sport,” Hincapie Sportswear takes pride in growing the cycling community. They give bike model and apparel recommendations to customers of all skill levels. The brothers’ cycling roots allow them to connect with first-time riders as well as seasoned pros, all within an inclusive community environment. They organize community bike races. They have their own branded professional race team and rally employees to support it. This integration into the cycling community helps Hincapie Sportswear grow and attract customers, Rich said.
“People look to us for advice when they’re getting started in cycling,” he said. “They look to us for what clothing they want to wear, or even what rides to take.”
A premium customer experience defines the Hincapie brand, and given the variety of categories within the company, this requires close attention to every project.
“It’s always important that the marketing, the products, and the level of service at every property reflect the larger brand," Rich said. “This holistic approach is what really makes us different."
George models a Hincapie cycling kit designed for the brand's 2018 Gran Fondo race. (credit: Instagram/hincapiesports)
Channel 2: Events
The Hincapie Gran Fondo is a series of cycling races that mixes amateurs and former professionals in a “celebration of cycling” that fits squarely within the company ethos. Through these community races, Hincapie engages cyclists and allows its premium brand to shine.
Because Hincapie is a premium brand, the Hincapie Gran Fondo is designed to feel more enjoyable, high-end and thoughtfully-planned than any other race in the country, George said.
“We are considered one of the best Gran Fondos in the country for our attention to detail,” he said. “The Hincapie Gran Fondo has comprehensive timing, live tracking, live streaming, catered food, bands at rest stops, SAG [support and gear] support and celebrity cyclists in attendance.”
Last year's Gran Fondo cyclists included actor Patrick Dempsey and chef Matthew Accarrino. (credit: Instagram/mattaccarrino)
This thoughtful approach creates a noticeable difference for not only riders but also their family members, many of whom come along to cheer. Instead of solely a race, George said, the Hincapie Gran Fondo aims to be a well-rounded experience that’s memorable for all attendees. This type of experience leaves a lasting impression and builds widespread awareness of the Hincapie brand.
“The Gran Fondo Hincapie series helps to grow the brand in that it brings in a variety of riders—everyone from the casual cyclist to the racer and the retired pro,” George said. “It also attracts those who don't ride at all but want to be a part of the excitement and the surrounding events. In this way, we believe it helps the sport feel more accessible and fun.”
The races also develop marketing content at a fraction of the price.
“Other companies are spending $50-100,000 to produce marketing content without any idea of the final impact,” Rich said. “We make a little money off these events, create our own content at each race and can track the spike in brand adoption in every city we visit.”
The Hincapie Gran Fondo started as a single race held in Greenville, SC in 2011. Now, it has expanded to include races across the U.S. The 2019 schedule includes races Fort Worth, TX; Chattanooga, TN and Boise, ID. The goal is to grow to 10 total races in the next five years.
Now that’s smart business.
Channel 3: A hotel
Another example of Hincapie’s boundary-pushing brand is Hotel Domestique, known as the first cycling-centric hotel in the U.S. Located at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Greenville, SC, the hotel has a European style and proximity to cycling routes that are similar to those George rode professionally in Europe.
Even the name, Hotel Domestique, has cycling roots. In professional cycling, a domestique is a rider that selflessly works for the benefit of the team or team leader rather than trying to win the race. The hotel name refers to George’s career as a professional domestique, during which he helped teammates like Lance Armstrong win the world's top cycling events, including the Tour de France.
The brothers picked up the property in a foreclosure sale in 2012, then quickly got to work creating a hotel that felt like a community, with world-class facilities, activities like yoga and swimming and all the elements of a one-of-a-kind cycling vacation.
George leads morning rides for hotel guests. (credit: Instagram/hotel_domestique)
Again, the goal of this Hincapie endeavor is to give more cycling access to more people.
“This area offers world-class cycling, so I wanted to attract people from all over the world to experience it,” he said.
And, like other Hincapie projects, Hotel Domestique is a notch above the competition.
“We took the existing property, gave it more of a European flair,” said George. “We also included aspects to make it more cycling-friendly, such as on-property mechanics, bikes to use, kit laundry, massages, gourmet snacks and guided rides with on-site pros.”
The only problem is a lack of rooms relative to demand.
To solve this issue, Hincapie plans to build villas around the hotel and sell them to individuals who want to live there full-time. The goal is to create a community like you’d find at a high-end ski resort or golf club, but for cyclists. This concept is unheard of in the U.S. But as with every industry, someone needs to step up, set new standards and push the boundaries of what is possible.
The bottom line:
Hincapie continues to grow because they stay focused on the future of both their company and their sport. They consistently look for ways to wow their customers, and instead of following trends, they define a new standard in cycling.
To become a leader in your industry, you must move beyond trends and play an active role in defining the future.
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