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McGuane tailors Fox Racing in his own image

Published September 17, 2020

A version of this article ran in the September issue of BRAIN.

IRVINE, Calif. (BRAIN) — Jeff McGuane’s credentials fit Fox Racing like a pair of its gloves. From president of Cycling Sports Group to U.S. general manager at Specialized Bicycles, McGuane’s 26-year industry career seems perfectly tailored for someone wanting to restyle the iconic apparel brand upon his arrival as CEO last year.

“I think the brand was punching a little bit below its weight,” McGuane told BRAIN in August after announcing a new Fox Racing leadership team. “The product was not landing with the consumers in a way that it probably could. I just thought there was an opportunity — I’ve done every job, starting with Cannondale answering telephones for $6 an hour as a temporary job. I kind of knew then that the industry was going to feed my soul.”

McGuane said his strengths are growth and innovation and thought a year ago the brand needed to be restructured culturally to fulfill that growth potential. With a background that included working in Europe and Japan and being fluent in Japanese and Spanish, he values diversity. The 10-person leadership team announced in August includes four women.

“Diversity was a big focus of ours, both industry experience, gender equality, really trying to shape both our board and our management team, from backgrounds to perspectives and experience to fill it out,” McGuane said. “Learning through different cultures and perspectives and how those different backgrounds bring more diversity of thinking to the team, it’s just been something that’s always been important to me. It’s setting the North Star and building great teams. We’re at the real early part of that journey.”

Helmet breakthrough

Of course the focus of that leadership team is mountain biking and power sports apparel and protective gear. A win for the company earlier in the year came when the Virginia Tech bicycle safety ratings gave the Fox Dropframe Pro helmet its highest score. 

“I didn’t have anything to do with this — I kind of inherited it, tweaked it a little bit on its way to market,” he said. “Fox in the past hasn’t been the No. 1 mountain bike helmet in its category. It’s been present but not necessary in the leadership role, and winning that Virginia Tech top tested helmet with the Dropframe was a big success because the drop frame design was an unorthodox design. It wasn’t your traditional open-face helmet. It looks different and performs differently. We’re pretty proud of that.”

An element McGuane is more actively involved in is improving the way Fox Racing products are brought to market. He said the company is continuing to work to get inventory right for retailers. “And we’re doing a bunch of stuff there to fix the product life cycle, that seasonal collections aren't stepping on each other. That’s a journey. It’s something we’re working on. We aren’t there yet. There are programs we’re developing to help retailers maintain good levels of inventory straight through the seasons.”

Affecting inventory currently is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and McGuane said Fox Racing is adjusting to changing consumer shopping habits, becoming a one-on-one selling experience.

“I went in to buy tires, and out of respect to people waiting outside (the store), you just want to get the job done,” he said. “It’s kind of a rushed shopping experience. I think it’s going to be an echo boom. Because everyone focused first on the hardgoods (bicycles), I think the softgood sales will come. Retailers need to be prepared for that. I think it’s going to happen.”

Working closely with SmartEtailing

He noted encouraging e-commerce numbers for Fox apparel, with more consumers going online to find its products. Because of this, Fox Racing is expanding its relationship with SmartEtailing so retailers “can power up their direct-to-consumer sales and buy online and pick up in stores.

“The current store shopping experience is going to be like this for a while. It’s a little unpredictable. Retailers really need to invest in adapting to the way they’re merchandising and positioning these softgood categories.”

Ryan Atkinson, SmartEtailing president, said McGuane has earned their respect and understands how the IBD channel works.

“We understand how important apparel sales are for our clients' businesses,” Atkinson said. “We know that retailers want to display the full selection of Fox Racing products online because the brand is so powerful. At the same time, retailers are challenged to stock adequate breadth and depth to be competitive online. That is why this integration is so valuable and why our team also moved all aspects of this integration to the top of our list. We worked very closely with Fox Racing on every aspect of the integration.”

Despite early doom-and-gloom pandemic worries in March, McGuane said sales globally, particularly in Europe, have grown in 2020. “I would say coming out of the year, we’re close to what we came in thinking in terms of potentially being a growth year for us,” he said.

That doesn’t mean it’s been all positive. McGuane said in March the company furloughed a large part of the global team. Fox has brought back some employees, but it’s likely the workforce ends up reduced 20% from pre-pandemic.

“In leadership roles, you never know what you’re going to get,” he said. “Whether it's the pandemic, you name it, you just have to be ready. I would score the team pretty high (in the first year). Working through some necessary furloughs or some of the tough decisions we had to make about compensation reduction across the board for our teammates. I think overall everyone worked in unity toward sustaining the business in the long term. Whenever the team comes together in that type of situation and galvanizes around a challenge or crisis like COVID, you really see what you're made of. And the team really impressed me beyond my imagination.”


Jeff McGuane

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