New apparel brand launched at V-Twin Expo
Trying to get 10 minutes to chat with Howard Kelly at the V-Twin Expo in February was nearly impossible. There’s no doubt the Black Brand portion of the Biker’s Choice booth was one of the hottest spots inside the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati.
Kelly, the brand manager for Black Brand, was busy throughout the weekend talking to dealers after unveiling the new apparel house brand from Biker’s Choice.
“It’s a new brand based on the idea that not everybody that wants good riding apparel wants Harley [brand], and when you look at the cruiser market, you have Harley, and you have the stuff you can buy in the tents at Daytona. There’s nothing in the middle that’s both cool and has quality, which led us to decide to introduce Black Brand,” Kelly told Powersports Business.
Kelly and the crew at Tucker Rocky/Biker’s Choice developed the brand as an alternative for cruiser riders who don’t ride Harley-Davidsons, or who ride Harleys, but want an option other than OEM branded gear. The goal was to create good-looking gear with high-quality construction.
“I’ve been riding for forever, like since I was 8. I’ve been an editor at magazines, stuff like that, so I know the apparel,” Kelly said. “I know the stuff that works and what doesn’t, so we engineered all of our stuff to have all the things that bothered me removed going forward. So we have stronger straps inside the jackets. We have labels that are big and prominent, so it’s easy to see the size of the jacket. We have functional vents. We have pockets that don’t interfere with the vents.”
The line includes leather and non-leather jackets, vests, chaps and gloves for men and women. The base model non-leather jackets start at $160, while base leather jackets run $275-$300, and Platinum Series jackets run upwards of $400. Leather jackets, chaps and vests come with a six-year manufacturer’s warranty, while non-leather jackets, chaps and vests have a three-year warranty, and gloves have a two-year warranty.
“With YKK zippers and well-thought-out engineering, we can stand behind the product because we took all the common failures out before we built the first one,” Kelly explained.
Black Brand also carefully considered women when developing its gear. Women’s gloves, for example, have been designed based on the shape and size of a woman’s hand, rather than just making a men’s glove smaller. And jackets range from simple leather pieces to the metal-studded Sheared Beaver, featuring beaver fur on the collar and wrists.
“We know when a woman sits down, her hips are shaped different than a man’s. All of our women’s jackets have a relief on each side of the jacket, so when they sit down, they can unzip instead of buying a bigger-sized jacket,” Kelly said.
BlackBrandMC.com also has been designed, so it’s just as simple to find all of the women’s gear as it is to find the men’s line.
In addition to jackets, chaps and gloves, Black Brand also introduced The Cheater, a half-shell or three-quarter helmet. The Cheater .50 was a 2016 Powersports Business Nifty 50 Award winner because it’s the smallest DOT-certified half shell helmet on the market and is priced at $99.95. (The Cheater .75 retails for $130.)
“The manufacturer that we used to make them uses individual-sized shells, so a small helmet starts out small; an extra large is extra large. It’s designed to fit the person,” Kelly explained. “Instead of taking one shell and varying how much foam you put in it, we’ll take five shells and make them fit. That’s why we call them The Cheater because on your head they look so small, it’s almost like you’re cheating the [Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards].”
Though the style, high-quality and varied price points should be enough to draw a customer to Black Brand, the group has also partnered with Homes for Our Troops, offering a donation to the organization for every jacket, vest and set of chaps sold. A patch inside the gear tells the consumer about the donation, serving as a daily reminder when they wear the apparel.
“We wanted to do something for vets. The most loyal V-twin rider, loyal cruiser rider is always a vet, so why not do something to give back for them?” Kelly said. “Of the charities that we looked at, Homes for Our Troops is one of the top-rated charities we’ve ever come across when it comes to getting the dollars back to the troops.”
He added, “The idea is if we sell enough jackets, chaps and vests, we can build a house for somebody, a mortgage-free home for someone that gave up their body, so we can be standing here having this conversation. How cool would that be? So that’s why we did that.”
Though Black Brand clearly had the consumer in mind when developing this line, the group also had dealer profitability front and center.
The high-quality construction paired with a warranty give dealers the assurance that customers won’t return with a product they’re unhappy to have purchased. And price points were designed not only to appeal to a variety of consumers but also to allow for deep margins. Jackets, chaps, vests and helmets come with 40-point margins for dealers, while the gloves offer 50 points in margin.
“Now a dealer can bring in actual money with that footage in his store,” Kelly said. “What it was designed to do was to incentivize them to want to make money. The apparel business has fallen off, with nothing cool about it, nothing exciting, nothing new or better. Now there is.”
It was clear from the conversations overheard at the V-Twin Expo that dealers were interested in the product and the opportunities that carrying the line will deliver to their bottom line. Kelly said he was happy with the response he received during the weekend-long unveiling.
“When I go over the three things that matter to the dealers — margin, price point and warranty — everyone is like, ‘That’s great. I’m in.’ Because we took away all the pain that the dealer has,” he reported.