Designing The Future With Dale Davis
While you may not recognize the name “Dale Davis,” you are familiar with his products. Davis has been part of the industry since a young age and was at the helm of one of the largest motorcycling-based casual companies in history, Xtreme. His latest project is designing the aesthetics and function of the all-new 6D helmet, which will make its debut on the entire Geico Honda 250 team. Davis’ story in the industry is one of the more interesting, as the always changing market took his brand from iconic to now unseen.
What is your involvement and influence in the 6D helmet?
I have designed graphics and products for the motorcycle industry for years, and this is one of the most exciting projects I have been involved in. I have known Bob for years and knew he had something going, but he couldn’t share it with me at the time because it was not patented. I kept after him and one day he said it was time to talk, so he brought me on board and challenged me to design what “Would be the helmet of the future. Not like anything else, but what the next generation will look like.” It was a great challenge and he gave me totally freedom of design, and we would get together so I could bring him designs and layouts. We would put a dozen designs on to the table and he would pick out what he liked, and we would go on from there. I started with a clean slate of paper and could do literally anything that I wanted. What I am surprised at and what most people don’t realize is that every single part on the helmet has to be designed. The visor screws on the side, the adjustable screw underneath the visor, the visor, the mouthpiece, the vent in the mouthpiece, whether it will be embossed or debossed. I have a four-inch file of drawings and designs. I have never done so many drawings in my life. They were all fun. The designs include the shape, the look, the texture, the feel, and the pattern. It has been a great project.
You previously owned Xtreme, which had T-shirts, gear, and helmets in the previous decade. How was the market 10 to 15 years ago?
It was great. Xtreme was a big part of my life. I started right out of high school with Malcolm Smith and MS Racing, and it was a great company to learn with. When they were purchased by Tucker Rocky, a good friend of mine who happened to be a top distributor for MS Racing and I started Xtreme. That was in 1991. We started with T-shirts and then it went crazy. We never expected the kind of success that we had. We would go to races and see that nearly every car in the parking lot had an “X” sticker on it. When we went into the stands, we would sit in a crowd of people wearing Xtreme shirts. It was a fun time because we were both motorcycle enthusiasts and there was nothing better to see our shirts at Supercross and Nationals. We swore that we would never get into gear, but because of the popularity of the brand, we had people requesting it. We made pants and jerseys, and that was the time the first helmets were being licensed. KBC Helmets approached us and we did a licensed helmet with Xtreme for a few years. That is when I started to get involved with helmet design. With those helmets, I never had the ability to actually design it. I was just doing graphics on existing shells. We never had the luxury to do our own shell, so we just did the graphics.
What happened with Xtreme? It seems to have disappeared in recent years.
That is an interesting case study. Our market has changed dramatically since we first started. When we started, there were lots of small distributors that made up the industry and dealt with dealers around the country. That slowly went away. A distributor like Tucker Rocky purchasing Malcolm Smith is a good example of that. The big distributors began to take over, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Tucker Rocky and Parts Unlimited became the monsters of the industry and the small distributors went away. We, much like several other companies, had to either go dealer direct or through a distributor. Xtreme was a dealer direct company and we sold around the country. As a California-based company, you tend to penalize your dealers on the East Coast or Midwest because they have to pay shipping and because they could only get Xtreme products from our warehouse in Carlsbad. As the industry evolved, more dealers would buy from our distributors because they could get things from the multiple warehouses and cut down on shipping costs. It makes it more difficult for small independents to compete because they have to go dealer direct. But what has changed the most has been the independent sales reps. When we started Xtreme, we had 25 independent reps around the country. As the distributors grew, they would hire those sales reps. If you had a very good sales rep in a large territory, the distributors would recognize that and try to hire them away. AXO was the leader in apparel at the time and they were the first to make their independent reps employees. By making them employees, they had control over what they could carry and sell. When that happened, the companies would say, “No more Xtreme shirts, because those guys are getting into gear.” Tucker Rocky was the first distributor to make their reps employees and where before they could carry multiple brands, they no longer could. A lot of our reps were working for Parts Unlimited and were made Parts Unlimited employees, which cut into our ability to sell because we lost our reps. We worked to find a rep in a territory, work with and train them, and when they would get good a large distributor would come in and offer them a job. It became more difficult to be dealer direct and Parts Unlimited approached us to carry Xtreme, which we did for a while. We jumped ship from dealer direct, but it wasn’t a good fit. Over time, it lost its visibility in the marketplace. A couple of years ago we sold Xtreme to Motovan, which is a large distributor in Canada. Unfortunately, they do not have a distributor in the US and you don’t see it here, but they do very well in Canada.
With a long history in motocross, do you see any future trends coming soon?
I was very fortunate that with Xtreme, I was able to run an independent agency in marketing and worked with companies like AME and Pro Amour, so I have always stayed involved with the industry. I think that the trends are rapidly changing because things can be prototyped, created, and changed so quickly. With CAD, things have evolved much quicker than before. So I do not think I can predict what the next trend will be, but it will happen fast and change quicker than before.