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IRC looks to rebuild its brand in the US market among younger riders

Published March 23, 2017
IRC's display at Taipei.

TAIPEI, Taiwan (BRAIN) — For mountain bikers over 40, MTB tires from IRC were a "must have" back in the 1990s. But the Japanese company and its bicycle tires disappeared from the U.S. market after a disastrous fire at its South Korean factory pushed the company out of the market.

The company shifted production to its Japanese factory. But the sudden drop in manufacturing capacity caused IRC to lose a number of OE accounts as well as its U.S. distribution. No tires, no sales.

But, according to Bruno Suttles, IRC — short for Inoue Rubber Company — is rebuilding its presence in the U.S. and will amp up its marketing efforts to re-establish the brand’s image among the cycling community.

Suttles, IRC’s account manager with an office in Davis, California, said many people don’t know that IRC, with headquarters in Nagoya, Japan, is a $5.5 billion company with a global portfolio of sales including motorcycle tires, auto parts, polyurethane foam, composite materials, insulation and other products. “You could build a house out of all the things that we manufacture,” he said.

Founded in 1926, IRC is the oldest department in what is now known as the INOAC Group.

Suttles graduated from the University of California at Davis. While at UC Davis, Suttles, a Cat. 1, raced for the university and at the national collegiate level. IRC sponsored his university team, and that led to a job with the company.

“Right now the brand is just not known among younger cyclists, but it’s well-known among older riders,” he said. From a marketing standpoint, IRC is working to rebuild relationships with distributors. Currently, BTI and J&B distribute the brand. The company tiptoed back into the U.S. market several years ago.

The company also wants to re-establish a stronger presence among IBDs and reintroduce the brand to consumers. But Suttles admits the U.S. tire market is highly competitive. “IRC started out with mountain bike tires and we have a lot of heritage in the category,” he said.

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