FREDERICKSBURG, VA (BRAIN)—Spanish helmet manufacturer Catlike is going direct in the U.S. It recently opened an office and warehouse in Virginia and is building up an independent rep force as it looks to grow its helmet sales.
Christina del Ramo, daughter of company founder Pepe del Ramo, is heading up the new office as director and general manager. She previously worked as marketing manager for Europe. Jorge Pereira is sales manager and will manage the rep force for the U.S. as well as oversee sales in Canada and Latin America.
Catlike products are sold worldwide through 46 distributors. Its helmets were previously distributed exclusively by Serotta Sport in the U.S.
“This is the first time we open our own office in another country,” del Ramo said. “The U.S. market is really big and a really important market for our company. Every time that you open your own office you control every step you make. It doesn’t mean that a distributor will be worse, but you have more control.”
Catlike also markets and sells cycling footwear and eyewear in Spain, and del Ramo hopes to introduce the eyewear in the U.S. in 2013. There are no plans to bring its footwear into the market.
While it sells a dozen helmet models in Europe, del Ramo said it will only bring four of those models to the U.S., since these meet CPSC safety standards. These models include the Whisper Plus, Vacuum, Kompact’O and Chrono. The goal is to add new models to the range every year, she said, adding that the company also offers a custom helmet program with a minimum order of 50 units where teams or stores can include their own graphics, colors or logos.
It currently sponsors Team Movistar and Competitive Cyclist, and in the past has sponsored UCI ProTour teams Phonak, Cervélo TestTeam and Euskaltel-Euskadi.
Catlike manufactures most of its helmets in Spain. All of the models sold in the U.S. will come from its Spanish factory. The Whisper Plus and Chrono are only made in Spain. Its Spanish factory produces 240,000 helmets annually. But Catlike also owns a factory in China, where it has a production capacity of 160,000 helmets.
Former professional road racer Pepe del Ramo founded Catlike 17 years ago in Murcia, Spain. He raced as a pro for five years in grand tours including the Tour de France and Vuelta a España. When he retired from racing he opened a bike shop, which he ran for a decade before deciding in 1996 to manufacture a line of helmets. The name of the company was inspired by his nickname during his racing years. He was known as “el gato,” or the cat.
Catlike US has independent sales reps in New York, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, California, Georgia and Florida, but is still looking for reps in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northwest and South Central regions.
Some 50 U.S. dealers sell the brand, but del Ramo said they’re adding to that number daily.