TransWorld MX All Access: Troy Lee Designs

A visit to Troy Lee Designs is always fun, since it’s a whirlwind of activity, color, and creative energy. A visit there this week proved that it was business as usual. Besides working on their usual array of products, they’d just finished up work on all the bikes and suits and helmets for the Charlie’s Angels movie, and have a potential role in an upcoming Hot Wheels movie. They’ve got 14 NASCAR teams that they’re busy supplying helmets to. They’ve made big forward strides in their apparel line, are working on moving their whole operation to a new building, are developing a new helmet design of their own, and are still turning out eye-catching custom-painted art-as-helmets at a rate of somewhere around 15 a week.

[IMAGE 1]

We stopped by there this week to meet up with Troy and his new partner in crime, Bob Weber, and among the biggest questions we had in mind for them was this: are they an apparel company that paints helmets? Or still a paint company that makes apparel?

New Corporate Structure

Bob is the new Vice President at TLD, and has taken over the general management of the operations and sales. He came to them from White Bros., where he spent a little over a year as VP of Operations. Prior to that, he’d spent eight years with Emap/Petersen as the publisher of the motorcycle group.

[IMAGE 2]

Now that he’s been there for six months, how has he settled in? “We’re having a lot of fun. Troy’s vision and my vision are very much in synch on what the company is and where it can go. I’m just allowing Troy some time to focus more of his energy on the product and design and art, and taking some of the pressures of the day-to-day business off him. It seems to be working pretty well.”

Troy’s appreciative of Bob’s role, which has allowed him to get back to his roots. “Hiring Bob was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m getting to work with my artists a lot closer because Bob’s really working with the numbers and working with the sales teams and inventory. I’m not worrying about it so much, which is a great feeling. It lets me be a little more creative.”

[IMAGE 3]

How does he come up with some of his designs? “The best way is to sit down and have a beer with whoever I’m painting for so that it’s just one-on-one, and you brainstorm. Try not to be so far out there that it just comes across weird, but it’s definitely fun to push the limits a little bit and give them something new that they’re excited about.”

Is it hard to design around sponsor logos? “Really, I like working with the sponsors and the restraints. Sometimes that’s the first thing I’ll put on a work order. Penske goes here, Pennzoil goes here, Marlboro goes here…or whatever. We’re working on Max Biaggi’s helmet right now. The Camel logo is one of my old favorite logos. We’re working around that. Then we started designing a number for him, and the next thing we know we’re designing a number for his bike. You can start working on the helmet but then it turns into a t-shirt, or a logo…like Nicky Hayden, we designed numbers for him, and the next thing you know they’re on his bike.”

[IMAGE 4]

So what inspires him creatively? “Working with the racers is the coolest thing there is, along with the machinery behind them. That pumps me up even more. You’ll see Paul Tracy’s new Indy car, or the new race bikes, the new flattrack bikes, even the new speedway bikes. Putting the two things together, the cool machinery, with the top riders in the world…basically we get to top it off. We put their helmets on their heads.”

The New Helmet

Troy and his crew caused a buzz among new product seekers at the Indy trade show when they quietly showed off a prototype of their own helmet design. So why are they entering the helmet market? Bob explains. “I think it just fits with what Tr’s done over the years, and what the foundation of the business is. It just feels right. It’s something that Troy felt that he maybe should have done before the apparel. He also feels that he has some contribution in that area that hasn’t been done. We’ve got some unique things incorporated into the helmet for both performance and aesthetics.”

“We’ve actually been in the helmet market with our downhill mountain bike helmet for about four years, and we’re fairly confident that we have the resources and the knowledge and the technology to make a difference on the motorcycle side. We see it as an evolutionary step for the company, a very targeted step, and a good business opportunity.”

“For now, they want to keep a tight lid on showing it to the world (which is why you won’t see it for another month or two). They’re mindful that the same communications that make it easy to work with overseas manufacturers make it easy for competitors to quickly copy their designs. But it’s apparent that they’re looking forward to bringing it to market, even though they’re still somewhat tight-lipped about the project. Still, it’s hard for Troy to contain his enthusiasm. “I’m really excited about the new helmet. We’ve been working on it for the last two years and I think it’s definitely going to be one of the best helmets on the market.”

While much of the helmet market features low-cost Korean lids, Troy’s not interested in being among them. “There’s definitely a market out there for that, but I don’t want to be involved in that. We just want to make this a step above everyone else out there.” Bob agrees. “Like everything Troy does, we’re aiming at the top of the market. It’s a premium piece, and it’ll have all the standard ratings from Snell, or DOT or CE. We’re positioning it right where any Troy Lee Designs branded product should be, and that’s right at the top. We don’t want to be an also-ran.”

With Troy’s long history of working with Shoei, we wondered if the new project would affect his relationship with them. “Shoei’s been a great company and they’re very strong in the street market, and our designs have been number one for them for the last 14 years. I think basically we just have to treat each other like brothers.”

Bob’s take on it is similar to Troy’s. “Yeah, I think our relationship with Shoei is very special. We’ve had them in the loop on our project for a year-and-a-half, and they’re completely aware of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I think if anything, it might even further strengthen our potential with Shoei down the road. They’ve seen it, and they’re very impressed by it.”

“It’s made by the same manufacturer that’s doing our mountain bike helmet. They offer exceptional quality and have the latest technology. They’re very involved in aerospace and high-technology products. The communication is great, and the process is rolling along very well.”

Office Space

A visit to the showroom at Troy Lee Designs might be the closest thing (short of the Primm Collection in Nevada, which isn’t yet open to the public) to a museum of motocross. There’s a virtual history lesson among the helmets, riding gear, driving suits, and there are cool bits and pieces stuck in every nook and cranny. The office itself is an eclectic labyrinth of add-ons, with office workspaces scattered throughout.

[IMAGE 5]

While the building on Wild Turkey Circle has been a familiar home for years, they’ve definitely outgrown their current digs, and have decided it’s time to move on. The site of the new TLD headquarters sounds like it will be equally unique, since it will be housed in an old lumberyard in downtown Corona. Bob explains. “”I think it’s going to be hard to leave this place because there’s so much history and culture here in the building, but we are literally breaking at the seams. Troy and I spent about a month looking at available property here in the greater Corona area, and we found just the coolest old building. Quite truthfully it’s very much an armpit today, but we looked beyond that, and Troy could see what we could turn it into.”

“We’ve got some really unique plans to renovate this property and turn it into the future home of Troy Lee Designs. It’s on about four acres of property in downtown Corona. The building is a post-and-beam construction from 1973, and when we’re all done we’ll have about 26,000 square feet, which is more than double the size we have now. Right now we think it’ll do the trick for a couple of years, and then we’ve got lots of room on the property to grow.”

The Final Question

With their roots firmly connected to helmet painting, they’ve slowly watched their apparel business expand at a steady pace. But the final question for Bob and Troy was, are you a paint company that does apparel? Or an apparel company that does paint?

Bob got first crack at this one. “I think we’re always going to be a helmet painting company, and probably a helmet painting company first. If we look at where we want to go and what we want Troy Lee Designs-branded apparel and products to be, I think we really want to pay attention to the core marketplace and to our core consumers. We’re very protective of the brand. Obviously we want to sell more gear. As a percentage of the market share we’re not what we could be, or should be.

“We’re working very hard to develop the sales side of the company. It’s something that’s always been kind of an afterthought. We’ve even, I think, hindered our capability the way we’ve been structured in our sales effort. So we’re putting a lot of energy in that. In fact, Johnny Jump is our sales manager. Johnny’s been here for nine years and he’s grown up with Troy Lee. He’s handled our international sales and some purchasing functions, throughout his tenure here he’s pretty much done everything. Johnny wears a lot of hats. We’re trying to shed all of those incremental or additional responsibilities off his plate, and really let Johnny run as the sales lead. He’s really doing a great job.

“We want to let it run a little bit, let the reins out but we’re not aiming at the top of the market by any stretch of the imagination. We just want to do well and be respected for the product we develop and put out there.

“Troy’s been pretty conservative over the years in how he’s run the business, and we don’t want to step too far away from that. But we also want to do a better job at satisfying some of our dealers’ needs. Some of the dealers have probably had frustrations with us over the years, and we’re just going to work real hard to try to clean that up and be a little more progressive but not get too mainstream here, either.

[IMAGE 6]

[IMAGE 7]

[IMAGE 8]

“It’s flattering to have the quality of athletes that come to Troy looking for paint. To express their vision or message on their helmet is one area that they still have some control over. They know that Troy pretty much does that better than everyone else.”

Troy gets the last word. “I think we’re still a paint company that makes some clothing.” (Laughs)

“I like to keep it that way—kind of small. We can always grow when we want to, but we keep trying to keep a cap on it and not get too big, too fast. We don’t want to blow anything out. We sell everything we make, and it keeps our dealers really happy.

“I want to keep doing what I’m doing for the next 20 years. I’m loving what I’m doing, and I don’t see anything changing.”

seams. Troy and I spent about a month looking at available property here in the greater Corona area, and we found just the coolest old building. Quite truthfully it’s very much an armpit today, but we looked beyond that, and Troy could see what we could turn it into.”

“We’ve got some really unique plans to renovate this property and turn it into the future home of Troy Lee Designs. It’s on about four acres of property in downtown Corona. The building is a post-and-beam construction from 1973, and when we’re all done we’ll have about 26,000 square feet, which is more than double the size we have now. Right now we think it’ll do the trick for a couple of years, and then we’ve got lots of room on the property to grow.”

The Final Question

With their roots firmly connected to helmet painting, they’ve slowly watched their apparel business expand at a steady pace. But the final question for Bob and Troy was, are you a paint company that does apparel? Or an apparel company that does paint?

Bob got first crack at this one. “I think we’re always going to be a helmet painting company, and probably a helmet painting company first. If we look at where we want to go and what we want Troy Lee Designs-branded apparel and products to be, I think we really want to pay attention to the core marketplace and to our core consumers. We’re very protective of the brand. Obviously we want to sell more gear. As a percentage of the market share we’re not what we could be, or should be.

“We’re working very hard to develop the sales side of the company. It’s something that’s always been kind of an afterthought. We’ve even, I think, hindered our capability the way we’ve been structured in our sales effort. So we’re putting a lot of energy in that. In fact, Johnny Jump is our sales manager. Johnny’s been here for nine years and he’s grown up with Troy Lee. He’s handled our international sales and some purchasing functions, throughout his tenure here he’s pretty much done everything. Johnny wears a lot of hats. We’re trying to shed all of those incremental or additional responsibilities off his plate, and really let Johnny run as the sales lead. He’s really doing a great job.

“We want to let it run a little bit, let the reins out but we’re not aiming at the top of the market by any stretch of the imagination. We just want to do well and be respected for the product we develop and put out there.

“Troy’s been pretty conservative over the years in how he’s run the business, and we don’t want to step too far away from that. But we also want to do a better job at satisfying some of our dealers’ needs. Some of the dealers have probably had frustrations with us over the years, and we’re just going to work real hard to try to clean that up and be a little more progressive but not get too mainstream here, either.

[IMAGE 6]

[IMAGE 7]

[IMAGE 8]

“It’s flattering to have the quality of athletes that come to Troy looking for paint. To express their vision or message on their helmet is one area that they still have some control over. They know that Troy pretty much does that better than everyone else.”

Troy gets the last word. “I think we’re still a paint company that makes some clothing.” (Laughs)

“I like to keep it that way—kind of small. We can always grow when we want to, but we keep trying to keep a cap on it and not get too big, too fast. We don’t want to blow anything out. We sell everything we make, and it keeps our dealers really happy.

“I want to keep doing what I’m doing for the next 20 years. I’m loving what I’m doing, and I don’t see anything changing.”