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Memory Pilot makes necessary adjustments in uncertain economic times

Published June 4, 2020
Owner Erik Saunders alters retail strategy and enjoys e-commerce surge.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (BRAIN) — Erik Saunders structured his small domestic manufacturing business as practical as possible to get established.

It's paying off now in challenging economic times.

Despite Saunders having to make changes on the fly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Memory Pilot has had a successful first 18 months. His company began in January 2019 offering custom mountain bike front and rear fenders and compression socks. While the socks are manufactured by a Korean vendor, the fenders are made in Santa Barbara.

"Firstly, I am lucky enough to be able to make a long term, unconditional commitment to my brand," Saunders said. "So I was never thinking about how I would go about hanging it all up. Secondly, I am small, and from the outset, I have structured the company as sustainable as possible to give myself time to get my feet under me."

Because of the pandemic, stay-at-home orders that began in March and shops curtailing foot-traffic, Saunders ceased providing socks for his IBD accounts.

"It was pretty clear that existing accounts were not going to put resources into re-orders and that potential new accounts were going to focus on things that did not include bringing on a new tiny brand like mine selling socks," Saunders said. "I have great outside guys in the areas I have them, and I have no doubt I would have hit my targets for new accounts, but the best decision I made was to read the writing on the wall and get my cash back ASAP. I made the call and didn't look back."

Saunders, who previously worked 10 years as VP Components’ U.S. office manager, said he learned a lot about his consumers' tastes sooner than he would have. That led to expanding his website traffic and brand awareness. Largely due to the pandemic, Memory Pilot's web sales are up 800% year-over-year.

"But in fairness, I am only 1-year-old, and some big increase was going to happen as folks caught on," he said. "And especially since I have not really directly focused on D2C, I had nowhere to go but up. I have a great product, a killer offer, and a lot of people at home looking for retail therapy. It was a lucky circumstance. In turbulent times, there are dangerous currents and deadly undertows, but also calm eddies, and some unexpectedly good waves."

Custom OEM fender projects almost finished with other brands were put on hold, Saunders said, but direct-to-consumer custom fender sales increased. Orders through BTI and KHS independent bike dealers were stable, said Saunders, who added bike shops with existing accounts can order through normal channels without having to open a new account.

"Last month, my fender orders were such that I have brought on an employee to guarantee production dates are met as I focus on the relationship with my customers and expanding both my product line and my production capability," Saunders said.

Saunders said the pandemic has caused him to rethink his approach to supply the retail market.

"With softgoods, I was stuck in the typical long supply chain that takes a lot of time and a lot of inventory and a lot of money," he said. "In the case of socks, what really are people looking for? What are they getting out of it, rather than just acquiring a needed commodity? Some excitement, fun, expression of their agency as an individual? Pride in a smart purchase of a great product? There is a better way to deliver those kinds of things than I have been doing.

"Thinking along those lines, I have a few ideas on how to emulate other brands who have escaped supply-chain prison. I would like to coordinate more closely with my bike shop customers to figure out how we together can deliver exciting things to the market that make people go, 'Yes!' Knowing what people want and delivering it in a targeted way is better than me ordering a bunch of socks and then sitting on them until people buy. Some shops are thinking along these lines, too."

Saunders said neither his business, community or customers were affected by looting or damage in the wake of the George Floyd protests as of Wednesday.

Erik Saunders has rolled with the changes in the past 18 months.

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