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Felt president: Rossignol and Felt are 'a perfect match'

Published February 3, 2017
Bill Duehring

IRVINE, Calif. (BRAIN) — The coupling of a 110-year-old French winter sports brand and a teenaged American bicycle company was a perfect match, said Bill Duehring, president of Felt Bicycle.

Duehring and partners Jim Felt and Michael Müllmann announced Friday that they had agreed to sell Felt Bicycle to Rossignol Group for an undisclosed amount. Müllmann, who owns the German distributor Sport Import and is the president of Felt Europe, plans to step away from the brand after the sale is complete. Jim Felt and Duehring will continue, with Jim Felt focusing on sports marketing, athlete relationships and product development. Duehring, currently president of Felt's U.S. operations, will become president of Felt globally after the sale.

Duehring told BRAIN on Friday that the partners had been looking for an investor in part because of Müllmann's desire to step away from the business. He said Rossignol — which dipped its toe into the bike market with its purchase of Time Sport in 2015 — approached Felt last fall.

"We had multiple different directions we could go with private individuals, investors and VCs. But after meeting with Rossignol and looking at the similarities, we saw this as a perfect match," Duehring said.

"We are both seasonal businesses and we build the same way, using athletes and pushing technologies. We work with small dealers in the same way. They understand the long dating you have to give. And in many ways our consumers are very similar: Many times if you ski or snowboard, you also ride a bike."

Duehring said the purchase is not a merger — Felt will remain a separate brand underneath the Rossignol umbrella, along with its other brands, which include Lange ski boots, Look bindings, Dynastar skis and Raidlight, a trail running brand. Felt will remain headquartered in Southern California, where it is preparing to move into a larger facility this year (a move planned before the acquisition).

Felt currently has about 45 employees in California and 75 globally. It works with about 700 U.S. dealers and has 36 international distributors. Sales are "more than $60 million," Duehring said.

Duehring said he expects Time Sport and Felt to coexist as very distinct brands, despite their overlap in some areas.

"Time is a stone's throw from Rossignol in France, and I think they saw an opportunity there. But the brands are very different. We are very American in our engineering and our look and the essence of our company. I think Time and Felt can live side by side in many ways."

He said the acquisition will give Felt access to Rossignol's expertise and financing to expand global distribution and marketing.

"They are a great marketer of product and we can learn a lot from them. ... The relationship is so new we still need to sit down at a table and look at everything."

Jim Felt, who had his start in the motorcycle industry, began welding triathlon frames in the late 1980s and soon went to work for Easton Sports developing bikes. He founded Felt in 1991.

For several years, Answer Products manufactured and distributed Felt frames, but when Answer sold, Jim Felt took back the brand and partnered with Duehring and Müllmann to launch Felt as a complete bicycle brand in 2001.

Today the company has more than 120 models in most categories, including road, triathlon, mountain bike, cyclocross and e-bikes.

In a statement from Rossignol announcing the purchase, Duehring remarks that, "It's never been a better time to be part of the cycling industry," a statement that some might doubt after a difficult 2016 for many parts of the bike industry.

But Duehring, who has been in the industry since he began working in his father's Florida shop in 1972, stands by the remark.

"I've seen the industry go up and down at least four times in my career. Looking at it now, I see cities making improvements, even shutting down (traffic) for bikes. I look at what e-bikes are doing for the world and I see the mountain bike industry growing again. I see innovations like disc brakes on road bikes, with riders winning stages on discs just this week. ... It will rebound and come back stronger. Bicycles are always going to sell," he said.

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