The Holiday Season has not got off to a good start for American bike brand Specialized. A social media storm blew up over the weekend with such force that it threatens to engulf them throughout the ‘gifting season’ and have repercussions far beyond.
My modest twitter feed is jammed up with assertions from tweeters that they will never buy from the company again. God only knows what it’s like at their end. In fact, one is forced to assume that their entire email, telephone and internet system has buckled under the weight of disgust which has been cyber-spat in their direction. No other explanation would make sense of the total silence which has so far emanated from Specialized’s HQ.
What’s causing the collective internet ire? Specialized – known in the trade as the ‘Big S’ – have been throwing their considerable weight around ‘protecting’ certain words that they have trademarked. One of these words is ‘Roubaix‘ – the name of a higher-end bike in their vast range. They have threatened to sue a small Canadian bike shop called Cafe Roubaix unless the owner changes his business’ name. He can’t afford to fight them legally and was about to reluctantly cave in when the story, which was originally covered in the Calgary Herald, went viral.
Click here for the story:
Roubaix, as most keen cyclists will know, is not some novel invention conjured up by Specialized’s marketing department. It is the name of a small town in Northern France that hosts the venerable, and venerated, Paris-Roubaix bike race each year. Also known as the ‘Hell of the North’, the race is about as steeped in cycling folklore as you can possibly imagine, and has been around a Hell of a lot longer than a certain American bike brand. About 80 years longer in fact. And the town has been around since the 1700’s. As you can probably imagine, cyclists are not taking kindly to Specialized’s assertion of ownership of the word.
Not many people mind a company being successful or getting big. But no-one likes when a big company becomes a corporate bully. Specialized’s lack of a response to the social media backlash suggests that they either don’t know or don’t care that thousands of Christmas sales are slipping away as they sit on their hands. And the damage being done long term as people turn away from the brand is even greater. They need to face up to the situation immediately and do some serious bridge-building with the online community before the damage spreads even further.
I own a Specialized bike. I have owned another previously – you can read about them here. I also happen to like their shoes. But this is making me, and thousands like me, feel very differently about them. Unless I see something very soon and very genuine, I won’t be buying from them again. Given their litigious history I am probably waiting in vain.