Feb. 13, 2006 – A brand new direction for TR

DALLAS — What could be an interesting relationship to watch in the aftermarket market surfaced at the 2006 Tucker Rocky sales show.
Tucker Rocky announced to its sales force in Dallas that it acquired the license to LBZ, an apparel line known for its punk-rock fashion and enthusiastic young followers who populate the company’s Web site with pictures of their LBZ tattoos.
The announcement, which some Tucker Rocky sales reps called surprising, was the first item on the agenda in the company’s first general sales session. The announcement included a video and culminated with LBZ owner Mike Russell, donned in a white LBZ jacket, running down an aisle with his hands raised over his head.
Created by Russell more than 20 years ago, LBZ was distributed for several years through Parts Unlimited. But Russell said he soured on the long-term relationship.
“All of the focus is going to their own brands,” he said. “They’re not taking care of other people.
“We did our research,” he said of the change in distributors. “It’s an excited crowd here (at Tucker Rocky.) The excitement level is 10 times greater here than what it was over there.”
Greg Blackwell, vice president of sales for LeMans Corp., which owns Parts Unlimited and Drag Specialities, disputes Russell’s assertion that Parts Unlimited is focusing more on its house brands than other suppliers they distribute. Blackwell said the proof is in the company’s catalogs, inventory and fill rates, and the “dedication in our dealerships that we’re promoting all the products that we carry.”
Blackwell said LBZ’s move away from Parts Unlimited was a joint decision made by both parties. “Together with Mike, we took the decision not to take the line any longer,” Blackwell said. “Mike wanted to take his focus in other areas.”
In Dallas, Russell said the move to Tucker Rocky allows him to further concentrate on the entertainment side of his business. LBZ has produced several popular extreme sports videos and is currently working on similar deals.
Russell, in a later conversation, agreed with some of Blackwell’s comments, saying the decision to leave Parts was mutual.
“It’s a business decision,” he said. “You make decisions for the best interest of who you are. They’re pursuing their best interest, and I had to do mine. That’s all it is. No hard feelings. I love those guys. Honestly, I’ll party with Blackwell and those guys until the day I die.”
In purchasing the LBZ license, Tucker Rocky now will handle the production and distribution of the product line.
Russell will remain the designer of the apparel, which seeks to capture the “Orange County punk flavor” and heavy metal look with, among other things, barbwire graphics and metal studs. Will the new relationship mean a toning down of the design?
“We have our own style,” Russell said. “We are what we are. And we’re never going to fake it.”
Which means Russell, and not Tucker Rocky, will continue to be the creative force behind LBZ.
“They don’t really want to because they don’t understand the animal,” Russell said. “I know every rider. I’m out there with these guys. I do the bike nights. I live and breathe it. So who’s going to tell me I’m not going in the right direction? They’re smart enough not to do that.”
But that total freedom of creativity didn’t quite come across from Tucker Rocky officials at their press conference held later on Jan. 20.
Steve Johnson, Tucker Rocky’s president, had to pause before answering a question over the possible uncomfortable aspects of dealing with a young, punk-rock product line.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions about that,” said Johnson, before discussing what he believes will be a positive relationship.
Bill Carter, Tucker Rocky’s vice president of marketing, said the company hopes to “tone down the triple-X nature” of the brand while still keeping it hip to the younger consumer.
Carter doesn’t think that idea is farfetched, calling Russell “a genius” when it comes to designing apparel that attracts a segment of the younger audience. Carter said Russell has constantly been in the forefront of apparel trends as he has moved from surfing to snowboarding to freestyle motocross products.
Carter also sees the new relationship as “an exciting evolution” for the brand as the LBZ line will include more safety features and be more focused on motorcycle sport gear.
Russell also was confident about the new relationship, saying he understands that Tucker Rocky will get involved if he designs something offensive.
“At the end of the day, we have to understand they’re spending the money,” he said. “It has to make sense financially.
“They have a big advantage because I ran LBZ as a stand-alone company for so long. I’m just not a designer guy. I’ve worn every hat in the business, so I understand all of it, not just the creative, but the financial and the profitability.” psb

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