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Breaking through

By Steve Bauer
Managing Editor
Creating a successful product today is no easy feat, even for manufacturers firmly entrenched in a market in terms of name recognition and sales growth.
And for those with a vision to build on a product’s growth, success in one market doesn’t always guarantee the same results in another.
Several companies entering the powersports industry are facing those challenges head-on, as they determine how to adapt and market their product to a new consumer base, find the right price point and find their niche in an ultra competitive environment.

Innovative technology
So how do companies without major brand recognition or powersports ties compete for sales? It’s all about creating products that encompass cutting edge technology with practical uses for consumers.
Frogg toggs, an outerwear company that caters mostly to fishermen, has taken its patented lightweight, waterproof apparel and is promoting heavily to motorcyclists who want a dry ride without being weighed down by heavy material. After launching a line of motorcycle gear in 2007, the company has found success with its Road Toad pants and jacket combo.
Frogg toggs’ Daniel Graham says although its product is sold in large retail outlets such as Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, it’s still difficult to reach the motorcycle audience without good word of mouth and exposure from dealers. In fact, Graham notes the biggest obstacle for the company has been to show dealers and consumers that its products are not exclusive to outdoorsmen anymore.
“I think that the hardest thing any outside company will face will be that initial reaction from dealers and distributors who worry the products will take up inventory space,” he said. “There’s no easy answer as to how to break through, except that if your product can find that niche audience and you can effectively market to them, your chances of success are that much better.”

Name recognition
One company cross marketing its product has been Shock Doctor, a Minnesota-based company that mainly deals with protective mouth gear for athletes in the NFL and NCAA, not to mention other traditional sports markets. Shock Doctor believed its products could be effective for ATV enthusiasts, and last year unveiled new products at Dealer Expo in Indianapolis. So far results have been positive, with the company stating both distributors and dealers are showing interest in the technology behind its products.
Even with its early success, however, Shock Doctor representative Jim Theilen says a lot of research, development, marketing and economic resources have made the transition smoother than normal.
“Without a doubt the biggest challenge we had was researching the powersports market and figuring out if our product was a good fit for that market,” Theilen said. “The impacts on a rider’s jaw are different, the consumer demographic is different, and we needed to figure out a way to show powersport consumers that not only is our product value-priced, but it also provides protection unavailable from any other manufacturer in the industry.”
Theilen says one advantage Shock Doctor used in its marketing campaign was its ties to major sports, such as the NFL, not to mention that it holds a dominating market share in areas such as high school and college hockey
and football. Instead of being an unknown
trying to make a name in the industry, the
company was able to lean heavily on the
name recognition it had developed in other high-profile segments.
“There are a million mouth guards out there,” Theilen said, “and we stand above them all because of the technology in our product that provides unmatched protection. The fact that major sports stars are using our product on a daily basis only reinforces our reputation.”

The ties that bind
Another company that’s successfully crossed over into the powersports industry says it owes its sales growth to a commonly overlooked facet of marketing: one industry’s close ties with another. In the case of Stearns, it’s the company’s success in the hunting industry that has allowed it to cross over to powersports.
Stearns, which provides hunting outerwear and hunting-related ATV accessories, is branching out to provide more gear for ATV riders and their vehicles, and the company attributes its new growth opportunities with consumers’ familiarity with its products on the hunting side.
“In many cases ATVs and hunting go hand-in-hand, and we’ve been able to take advantage of that to further grow our product line in the powersports industry,” said Ken Bower, public relations representative for Stearns. “We have hunters who have used our gear for years, who then purchase an ATV and are calling us to find out if we can accessorize not only their vehicle, but themselves as well.”
Bower says he knows of several hunting companies that are using the same approach to expand their product lines into powersports.
“Major manufacturers like Mossy Oak, Realtree and Wolverine are all developing apparel and footwear lines that are specific to ATV, and in some cases motorcycle, riders,” Bower noted. “They’re betting that riders familiar with those name brands will chose them over other manufacturers because of the trust factor and familiarity they have had with that company in the past.”

Gearing up
Kathleen Meyers of Wolverine says her company, a major footwear manufacturer in the hunting industry, has been developing riding gear for years aimed at powersports riders and is nearly ready to launch its first products.
“We already have boots available for hunters who ride ATVs, but we’re looking well beyond that,” Meyers said. “Sport and utility footwear is also in high demand, and the biggest challenge for us is deciding how fast we want to delve into the marketplace, and exactly what type of footwear consumers are most interested in. We’ve even mocked up riding boots for motorcycles, although we’re concerned about the name recognition not being as strong for that segment.”

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