DALLAS — Remember Firstgear in the 1990s? The really hot, high-tech, premium-priced apparel brand? It was designed and produced by Intersport Fashions West for that older BMW techie who carried a fat checkbook.
Remember how Firstgear, led by its Kilimanjaro jacket loaded with patented features and premium pricing, was a hit, a big hit? “Firstgear was the Swiss Army knife of apparel, and maybe we even over engineered it a bit,” recalls Eric Anderson, who led the sales and marketing effort for IFW.
“We chose Tucker in 1995 as the exclusive distributor and they were really proactive in building the brand,” Anderson told me. “We kicked butt for six years and really grew the line.”
But then, toward the end of the century, the world began changing. The world, but not Firstgear. IFW was sold to Eurobike, a German company, and then sold again to Fairchild in 2003. While the new owners struggled with the brand, the market passed them by.
There were new products, new fabrics and new competitors. Joe Rocket burst on the scene near the turn of the century and packed the distribution channels with similar, but lower priced products aimed at a younger market. “It really kicked butt,” says Anderson. In fact, the products were so similar that IFW sued Joe Rocket for patent infringement.
Anderson subsequently went on to launch the Scorpion line of helmets and Firstgear continued to slump. Then, last fall, Tucker Rocky bought the brand.
“We saw a real opportunity,” says Bill Carter, Tucker’s vice president of marketing, “to acquire something that had just an incredibly strong foundation, especially if you define its niche as premium, high-quality technical gear. It’s still the No. 1 brand in that category.”
Carter told Tucker Rocky sales representatives gathered here last month for the company’s national sales meeting that the distributor was going to “re-establish the trust and confidence” in the Firstgear brand. “We’re going to return to what made Firstgear a powerhouse: Confidence, durability and safety,” he said.
Steve Johnson, Tucker Rocky president and COO, reinforced that message. “It was languishing a bit,” he says, “but we’re putting resources into it.”
Tucker’s plans for Firstgear call for new products, new consumer promotions and a renewed emphasis by its sales staff, says Carter.
“Firstgear really fits that technical, premium quality piece of the market,” he says, “and we believe we can make it even stronger. That category can be larger if any brand did a really, really good job of meeting those (technical) needs and explaining that that was the piece of the market it was built for. And that’s what we’ve done with Firstgear.”
The new Firstgear consumer advertising campaign features new colors and a new message, and it’s already starting to run in selected magazines. The new campaign emphasizes the quality and functionality of Firstgear and is aimed at the heavy user.
“It’s about people who really want something that’s going to stand up and be quality,” says Carter, “ and do a great job for them when and if they should go down. Visually, we’re trying to drive home that it’s sport bike and it’s cruiser and it’s sport touring.”
Even with new ownership, the flagship Kilimanjaro jacket will continue to be the star of the lineup because that’s what the brand was built on. And, even with added and improved features, it will be priced for retail at less than $300, a significant savings over earlier versions.
“We know that for some people price point is a barrier,” says Carter, “so we’ve created the Kilimanjaro Lite, if you will. It’s the Jaunt Jacket with a few less bells and whistles. It’s maybe for someone who rides in a more moderate climate or more predictable weather where they don’t need that great versatility that the Kilimanjaro provides.”
While the new line up includes textile jackets in bright pinks, blues and greens, that doesn’t mean the revised Firstgear is now a high-fashion line. In studying what’s worked and what hasn’t during the recent past, Tucker Rocky executives saw that the core value of Firstgear was technical, quality, functional garments like the Kilimanjaro. “It was the technical, premium-priced stuff,” says Carter. “It wasn’t the flashy, edgy stuff that had been tried over the last five or six years.”
Here’s the bottom line: Firstgear is on the way back, better than ever. It’s better looking and safer with new armor, but it’s true to its heritage. It’s not a fashion item and it’s not tied to racing. It targets discriminating buyers who demand quality and function.
As such, it rounds out Tucker Rocky’s apparel line nicely. TR offers Firstgear at the top, Moto GP in the racing segment, and River Road in the traditional cruiser segment. Then there is LBZ, the edgy fashion brand Tucker just added to its portfolio. (See related story on Page 74.) “The only thing we don’t have,” says Carter, “is a cheap, inexpensive street apparel brand. But we don’t see much of a market for us to go and play in that.” psb
Joe Delmont is founding editor of Powersports Business magazine. He can be reached at 952/893-6876.