Last Week BOSS covered many of the hardgoods companies at Interbike, which for the most part are the main attraction. While softgoods still only account for roughly 15% of the average Independent Bicycle Dealer’s annual sales, there is a growing opportunity to expand this market, and a few vendors are beginning to take advantage of it. The business opportunities present themselves in four major areas – performance, licensing, custom, and the emerging casual apparel market. Currently it seems that no single player is addressing all of these areas, but several are carving out a niche in one or two markets.

All eyes continue to follow Pearl Izumi, who has a dominant market share in the industry. While some competitors are predicting an open door as Pearl continues its integration with Nautilus, the company seems to be fielding some impressive product, and is the only performance apparel company to begin to address the emerging casual/fashion market. Their efforts are certainly netting results and exposure as well – dozens of vendors throughout the show outfitted their sales teams in Pearl’s western-inspired performance top with custom embroidered logos. The company is placing a heavy focus on visible technology in its apparel with different colors highlighting the wicking features inside its various cycling shorts.

Pearl continues to pursue its footwear initiative and is beginning to see some success. The line at the outdoor demo to ‘test’ the brand’s newest models stretched out of the tent, and the buzz on the trail was all positive. The latest models of road shoes are also seeing some considerable improvements with a new carbon-titanium sole spearheading the line at the highest price-points, now inching up over $400.

Descente continues to set its sights on taking market share from all of its competitors and pursue its goal of becoming “a strong number two” in the bike apparel industry. Now featuring a full line of bicycle, triathlon, running, and MTB apparel, the company is well on its way. Descente will also be marketing and selling a new line of wetsuits designed by Lamar Fitness and elite triathlete Matt Reed. The company is focusing its design team on creating product with cleaner lines, less “grunge” and more fashion.

Craft is also stepping up its product development efforts with the new addition of Tony Rominger to the design team. Huub Valkenburg, president of Craft’s North American division told BOSS that 2006 is “the first time Craft has had apparel that is as good as its base-layer offering.” The company is going after the premium end of the market and equates its positioning to the Assos brand, which offers $200 shorts as its price-point model. The company is also beginning to import Karhu running shoes into the U.S. market and all of the colors and designs will be cross merchandised with Craft’s tri and running apparel lines. North America has not seen the Karhu running shoe brand since the former distributor evolved into the Merrell brand over ten years ago. Craft is also working with Verge to create a branded line of custom team and club apparel.

Little Devil Apparel made its mark at Interbike with a very different offering, catering mainly to the BMX crowd. The booth felt more like a Lucky Jeans store than a bike apparel showcase with western shirts, denim, hoodies, and polos. While the product offering is decidedly casual, and does not offer much in the way of performance fit or function, the brand speaks to the BMX crowd and offers retailers a lifestyle softgoods product that customers can only buy at a bike shop.

>>> Now, can IBD’s learn how to sell the lifestyle they live?