By sheer numbers alone, Eric Anderson knew his fledgling helmet company would have to be different.
When Anderson left Intersport Fashions West to start Scorpion Sports Inc. toward the beginning of 2004, he knew the company would be the 41st helmet manufacturer to operate in the United States.
“Before I ventured into this with my Korean manufacturing partner, I really stressed that we had to be different, in terms of features and benefits,” Anderson said. “Different in the way we branded the product. Different in the way we advertised it. Different in the way we supported customer service and in the way we brought it to market, dealer direct without two-step distribution.”
The different approach obviously has paid off. In just three years, Scorpion has built a network of 2,000 dealers that is serviced by a staff of 60, including 30 outside sales reps.
What’s the biggest challenge for the industry and what should be done about it?
Safety and noise are still huge and growing concerns that will ultimately limit our industry’s growth. Whether it’s alcohol-involvement, loud mufflers or lack of rider training, the industry gets heavily scrutinized by everyone from government officials to mothers who won’t let their child have a motorcycle. Our reputation as rebels is what attracts us to motorcycles, but it severely hurts us too. The one word that Generation Y describes as synonymous with motorcycles is “badass.” It's what makes us cool, but it’s also what limits our growth. The industy has implemented several programs on education and positive public relations, but the next step will have to come from the individual riders. We can’t make them do anything they don’t want to — they’re rebels, remember? They have to WANT to protect their lifestyle, their riding land and their freedoms. Executives in suits can only do so much. It’s time to take responsibility for being a good samaritan motorcyclist who gets along with others in society. Loud pipes don’t save lives — they irritate them. Alcohol consumption while aboard a balance-controlled motorcycle is simply absurd and only contributes to pain, suffering and an increasing accident record we all have to deal with. Don’t go there. Rider training is the future as was driver training in cars. Men were not born with the gene to ride a motorcycle on their Y chromosome. It has to be taught ... and taught by a professional. Would you let your unlicensed uncle teach you skydiving?
What’s been the biggest challenge for you in your current position, and how have you dealt with it?
My biggest challenge at Scorpion Sports is trying to re-invent aftermarket brand-building in this industry and our own distribution channel. We’re small, but in control of our brand throughout the entire channel. Most big brands of specialty products are sold in our industry through big wholesale distributors that buy, sell, pick, pack and ship the products. That system works extremely well for brands in the past when distributors were regional or exclusive, but now after the consolidation of those regionals into two or three national distributors, there are always five to six competing brands within a category of products in one catalog. The lack of focus quickly evolves those brands from specialty items to commodity items. It’s fine for oil and tires, but not specialty branded items. We are trying something different — to control our destiny all the way through the dealer right to the rider — as is done in the sporting goods and bicycle industry. We sell our specialty helmets through independant reps to dealers on a dealer-direct basis and then provide incredible customer support to everyone including the end user and rider.
What’s the best advice you can give to others in the industry?
We all have different roles in this industry — manufacturer, distributor, marketer, sales, support, retail, service, etc. The one big factor missing in this list is “educator.” Everyone in this list will replace themselves easily except the retailers and their staff. A manufacturer, marketer or distributor will sell his business to someone who knows what they are doing or will stay on board until such time that they do. But who is going to train the retailers to replace themselves? Chain stores will take over in this vacuum of education. The reason we have a high turnover in retail people is because we don’t have good, solid schools for them to go to, and as a result they are underpaid and looking for advancement elsewhere. It’s sort of self-fulfilling. University of Phoenix and DeVry Institute, where are you? If we had more well-educated parts and service people to pick from, we might pay more to keep them. The OEMs won’t train their franchised people (except Harley) because all the expense of that training will accrue to the competitive OEMs (and Chinese copycats) also for sale under that same multi-franchised rooftop. My advice if you are in retail, is to go get your own retail education to the next level and flaunt it. Take Harley’s Pace Training if you can. Take Harry Friedman’s Retail Training (www.thefriedmangroup.com). Read his book, “No Thanks, Just Looking.” Go to www.dealershipuniversity.com and take any and all of 128 powersports-specific online courses. Get the RPM management courses under your belt if you want to be a manager. All we seem to push in this industry now is the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute for mechanics’ training. What does the other 85 percent of the store supposed to do if they want self-improvement? Get schooled or be schooled.