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UK's Morvelo looks to niche shops in US

Published June 11, 2019

BRIGHTON, United Kingdom (BRAIN) — With designs that owe as much to old school BMX as the Tour de France, UK-based apparel brand Morvelo is ramping up for a go at the U.S. market. The brand established almost 10 years ago sells though some large retailers in its home market, but is looking for a different kind of store in the U.S.

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Morvelo was initially a sideline business for founders Oli Pepper and Dave Marcar, who designed for the action sports industry. Marcar comes from a skateboarding background and Pepper was a BMXer as a kid who had moved into cross-country, downhill and 24-hour mountain bike events as well as road, track and cyclocross racing. Hence the brand's motto: "Ride Everything."

"The first thing we did (in cycling) was just a box of T-shirts. But then we were competing in some events and we decided we needed to race as a team in our kit, so we came up with Morvelo and had some team kit made. And because of the order minimums, we had extra so we had to sell to family and friends to pay the invoice. And this kind of expanded from there," Pepper told BRAIN.

The brand soon grew to offer rain jackets and vests for cycling, then came out with kits for downhill, dirt jumping, cyclocross, track racing and more. In a few years, Morvelo became a full-time effort for Pepper and Marcar, selling to major UK and European retailers including online vendors worldwide.

As the Morvelo product line grew, the common thread was fun designs that include themes borrowed from action sports and pop culture, combined with technical features allowing use by cycling enthusiasts and competitors. Its Overland product line, for example, includes hoodies and shirts that look like action-sports inspired casual wear, but are made with technical fabrics and have features for cycling of all kinds.

"What underpins the whole company is that each week we may be riding a different kind of bike each day ... because of our design background, we like to look at brands like Vans, Volcom, and Burton," Pepper said.

"Rather than spending time in the wind tunnel designing a jersey, or sponsoring a pro race, the overall ethos is that you can be really passionate about cycling but not take yourself too seriously," he said.

Pepper also sought to position Morvelo as a midmarket brand. "In road, especially, there are a lot of high-end companies that are very expensive. And I always think, 'if I wouldn't spend that much on a jersey, why would a customer?'"

With a small staff in the UK, Morvelo initially targeted national retailers instead of specialty shops.

In the U.S., however, the company's agent is building a sales rep force and is hoping to establish the brand with the smaller specialty retailers who like to stock something different.

"We probably won't be looking to the stores that carry the big four bike brands. We are looking for the guys who have the mid-tier (bike) brands and are looking to sell something different," said Niall McAra of Pittsburgh-based Alternative Sales and Solutions, which is the U.S. agent for the brand. AS & S, formerly known as EU Cycle Imports, is in the process of hiring sales reps across the U.S.

Morvelo will not be warehoused in the U.S. initially. Instead, products will be drop shipped to retailers from the U.K.

Morvelo is in the process of moving production from Europe to the Philippines. After that transition, in coming seasons Morvelo will drop ship from the Philippines to U.S. retailers. If sales expand, a U.S. warehouse might be established.

Initially, for the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter 2019 lines, Morvelo will have no minimums for U.S. retailers and there will be no shipping charges to the retailers.

The company is in the process of developing its preseason programs for 2020 Spring/Summer collection, which will be available this month.

"The goal now is to work with a small number of very selective dealers to see what the reaction will be," said Chris Allen, the owner of Coastal Disposition, which handles Morvelo sales on the West Coast. "We have about 10 retailers in California who are very excited about the brand," he said.

"It's a fun brand. It's playful enough to cross over boundaries and appeal to bike riders across the board," Allen said.

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