ANTWERP, Belgium (BRAIN)—In the 10 months since Sean van Waes and Peter Steenwegen branched Lazer bicycle helmets into its own company, the business partners have focused on laying the foundation for the small company to grow its market share in the U.S.
As a result, preseason orders are up six times over last year in that market, and the sales team has landed accounts at several top retailers including the 16-store Eric’s Bikes chain. The company expects to double sales next year, as it looks to compete with helmet heavyweights like Giro and Specialized, Steenwegen said during an interview with BRAIN last week at Lazer’s offices in central Antwerp.
“We are doing great in the U.S., but we should be able to do much better. That’s why we have the new setup,” Steenwegen said.
That setup includes three employees in the U.S. working on behalf of Lazer, and support from a new independent sales rep structure through Quality Bicycle Products—Lazer’s exclusive U.S. distributor. The new field reps, set to be in place by January, will focus on selling brands like Lazer, Ridley, Salsa, Civia, Surly and All-City to retailers in six key regions.
Ten additional employees work from Lazer’s headquarters in Antwerp, where van Waes and Steenwegen moved after purchasing the helmet division from parent company Lazer SA last January.
Last year, Lazer sold 400,000 units worldwide with its top markets in the U.S., Australia, Japan and Germany.
To support anticipated future growth, the company has worked to solidify its relationship with its manufacturing partner in China, moving 90 percent of its business to one key factory in the past three years.
With the backend in place, Lazer has also stepped up its product offerings with a full line of mountain, road, triathlon, urban and kids helmets. In 2011, Lazer added four new models and sold its patented Roll-Sys technology in the $60 range for the first time.
One important success has come in the triathlon/TT market where Lazer’s Tardiz helmet is positioned. At last year’s Ironman World Championship in Kona, a helmet count showed 18 athletes used the Tardiz; this year that number jumped to 86.
Moving forward, Lazer will focus on urban and women’s helmets, both categories Steenwagen pinpointed as poised for growth. Next year, Lazer introduces Kiss, its first ever women’s specific model, and has hired Celia Santos, formerly of MET helmets, to head up graphic design. It also recently signed on to sponsor three top women’s teams in Italy, the U.S. and Belgium, and continues to support select individual female riders.
Next Lazer plans an expansion into eyewear and brought on Brian Key, a past Tifosi Eyewear employee, to develop a line of sunglasses for 2012, which will debut at Frostbike.