BY NICOLE FORMOSA
DEER VALLEY, UT—It seems like a no-brainer to Rudy Project founder Paul Craig. A customer buys a pair of Rudy Project sunglasses and walks away with a free helmet. Easy sell, right? But, only 10 percent of the company’s approximately 3,000 U.S. dealers are taking advantage of the promotion despite support with POP materials and in-store displays.
“Our travesty is we don’t have all our dealers participating in it. We asked ourselves why? A lot of it is education,” Craig said during an interview at June’s PressCamp in Deer Valley, Utah.
To better reach his dealers, Craig revamped his sales force, moving away from the majority of his 40 independent reps and migrating toward hiring eight to 10 full-time company reps in the U.S. and two in Canada. Craig also doubled his inside sales team from four to eight so he has plenty of people on the phones checking in regularly with dealers.
“What we saw is dealers weren’t fully educated on the features and benefits of Rudy Project,” Craig said.
Company reps who are fully committed to Rudy Project can now hold clinics and push promotions. Craig knows that having dealers who are adequately equipped to sell Rudy Project gear is essential if he is going to reach his goal of being the No. 2 helmet manufacturer in the U.S. behind Bell/Giro. Helmets now make up 10 percent of Craig’s business.
He is one of many smaller manufacturers looking to reconnect with dealers, especially in today’s difficult and competitive retail landscape. Efforts to stay at the forefront of retailers’ minds was one talked-about topic at PressCamp, which serves as a venue for small and medium sized manufacturers to introduce new model year product to endemic and non-endemic media.
WTB, for example, has also beefed up its sales force, growing it to six outside sales reps and eight company reps in the past two years. The team now has a specific focus on dealer relations, something WTB didn’t have the resources for in the past, said Marcus Vyvyan, Freedom brand manager for WTB.
Brand awareness is a key initiative for the sales team. Reps will try to do a better job of sharing WTB’s history and focus on advocacy—the company has helped initiate $712 million in programs, but few retailers know anything about that.
“We’ve been so busy doing it, we haven’t marketed it,” Vyvyan said, adding that one goal is to teach retailers how to replicate successful advocacy projects in their own communities.
WTB also recently built a showroom at its main office in Mill Valley, California, where it will host dealers for product introductions, rides and barbecues.
“Times have been difficult. We’ve seen dealers going out of business. We feel it’s our duty to keep dealers alive by offering product education,” Vyvyan said.
Race Face has also changed its sales force in order to better reach dealers. In the U.S. market, the Canadian apparel, armor and component manufacturer has hired 12 independent reps since Interbike and a North American sales manager instead of relying on its distributors to promote the brand, said Julian Coffey, Race Face’s marketing director.
“Our biggest markets are the UK, Germany and France. We established a good foothold over there, now it’s time to start looking at our own backyard a little bit,” Coffey said.
Derek Wills, the new North American sales director, will hit the road this fall with sales reps visiting retailers from California to Boston to talk about merchandising apparel and how to best utilize displays and roller racks.
“Cycling, everyone wants to spend money on bikes. They’ll spend $600 on a crank, but to spend $100 on bike shorts, they won’t do it. It’s tough,” said Race Face’s Wendy Tewnion.
Apparel is an important target area for many manufacturers this year. The category has much potential—one estimate put the North American market size at around $150 million—but it’s one many retailers have historically struggled to properly merchandise and sell.
Specialized recently added apparel-specific courses to its popular SBCU curriculum and developed POP to help educate consumers on how to wear shorts and how they should fit properly.
Sugoi is promoting five key pieces in its catalog that make it easy for retailers to cross-merchandise and has also provided a step-by-step guide to putting a collection together. Women’s apparel is a specific focus for the spring 2011 line.
In terms of product availability, the industry is split 80/20 with most of the booking dollars still going into men’s apparel, leaving a gaping hole in the women’s category. “No one’s really doing an excellent job of that and it’s an opportunity,” said Rob Blair, director of merchandising for Sugoi.
Other new retailer programs include Lazer’s helmet test program; new displays from Dahon and a retail training program through 3Point5; and Speedplay’s fit kit that allows retailers to order custom pedals for customers and generate revenue by charging for fit services.Fox Racing Shox has added a second tech support van and driver to its fleet. The two vans travel the country to teach dealers how to bring in additional revenue by taking care of simple service jobs on Fox’s suspension forks and shocks.
“We always encourage shop service because the stronger the dealer is, the stronger aftermarket sales are going to be,” said Nick DeLauder, outside tech rep for Fox.