Tour de France exposure key to Yelo Velo marketing efforts
Mark Lowenstern, president of Reno bicycle lubricant company Yelo Velo, calls his approach to marketing Yelo Velo products the “Jimi Hendrix Plan.”
Hendrix first gained recognition in the late 1960s for his performances in Europe, and Lowenstern is hoping to follow a similar path after one of cycling’s top teams uses Yelo Velo lubricant during this year’s Tour de France. Lowenstern didn’t name the team, but online research points to Team Sky of Manchester.
Unlike most petroleum-based chain lubricants, Yelo Velo is a plant-based lubricant with ceramic additives. It’s the first time a plant-based lube has been used in the history of cycling’s biggest race, Lowenstern says.
Lowenstern, who formerly owned The Hub bike shop in Aspen, Colo., and organized many large Western region bike races over the years through his sports marketing firm, Mark Lowenstern PR, leveraged his connections in the cycling industry to get Team Sky to try Yelo Velo during a training and riding camp in February. Team Sky has five mechanics and 30 expert riders who tested every type of lube on the market before settling on Yelo Velo, Lowenstern says.
He’s hoping to use media exposure in Europe to boost sales of the product domestically and internationally. Additionally, he’s counting on feedback from Team Sky riders to make minor improvements to Yelo Velo lubricants.
“The fun part is when you have 30 racers putting in hundreds of thousands of miles that can give a lot more high-tech feedback,” he says. “We will be able to tell shops what team was using it and creating credibility. We are trying to get credibility in Europe through media coverage, and then the U.S. media will pick us up — that’s been my business plan from Day 1.”
Lowenstern developed Yelo Velo with a chemist who has a doctorate in organic chemistry and holds a wide range of patents with plant-based lubricants. An avid cyclist, Lowenstern tested countless lots of preliminary products to refine the lubricant before bringing it to market in April of 2011.
Marketing the product in the U.S., Lowenstern says, could cost upwards of $500,000, and there’s simply not enough profit in $10 to $12 bottles of bike-chain lubricant to justify the expense.
Though Yelo Velo is still searching for black ink, the company was a national semifinalist in last year’s Clean Tech Open, a clean-technology initiative designed to foster growth of small companies in that sector. Lowenstern met with several interested angel investors and venture capitalists, but he’s waiting until his small operation has gained more momentum to take on outside investment. Currently, Yelo Velo is a self-funded venture.
The next step, Lowenstern says, is to capitalize on media buzz to release six or seven additional products that he will bring to market once he’s secured additional seed money.
“There are a lot of bike accessory companies that don’t last very long,” he says. “They all have used the same approach. My approach is to let the media grow my company instead of using marketing dollars.”
Yelo Velo is sold and several bike shops in the Truckee Meadows as well as through a national distributor network on online at yelovelo.com.
Tiffiany Howard, a UNLV professor and recent Congressional Black Caucus Foundation senior research fellow, is the lead author of the study aimed at identifying ways banks can help support and invest in Black entrepreneurs.