TWMX All Access: AXO America

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For most people within the motorcycle industry, the annual Dealernews International Powersports Dealer Expo is simply known as “Indy.” While the show does have its plus sides, experienced exhibitors often equate a trip to the Mecca of motorcycle product expos with a feeling of dread. Booth setup and teardown issues, tired feet from walking miles of aisles at the Indianapolis Convention Center & RCA Dome, along with non-stop business and less than stellar concession stand food (and some after-hours festivities) can make it feel like a long week—all packed into three days of actual show time.

On the other hand, we haven’t seen a group as excited to head to the Indy show as the crew at AXO America, Inc. were when we visited them last week. For example, Chris Stangl, AXO America’s Director of Sales and Marketing, had a an artist’s rendering of their show booth as the background wallpaper on his laptop. But the reasons for their excitement were understandable…they’re experiencing a relaunch in the U.S.

To fully understand it, you have to go through some of the history of the company, which we’ll let Chris explain. “AXO, the original company, was a partnership between the AXO Italian company and an entity here in the U.S. It’s no secret that they had great success in the early 90s. Anybody who has any history in this business knows that AXO is a strong brand name. Even though I don’t think we were ever the number one selling brand, we were always a very premier brand. Higher price points, and really good quality for your money.”

“When I first started working there, we were the number one rated apparel line, and our riders were Erik Kehoe and Russ Wageman. Well, all of a sudden we made this deal with Damon Bradshaw, and six months later we had Jeff Stanton come into it. At the time we launched our AXO HRC line and Stanton was the guy that got thrown into that, and it just all of a sudden went from, ‘Yeah, we like racing,’ to, ‘We are racing.’ We were the dominant player.”

Unfortunately, things weren’t always smooth between Italy and the U.S., and that led to the demise of AXO as a premier brand name in the U.S. Chris continued, “When the two companies were collaborating, they had a lot of success. After that period, everything became licensing arrangements. AXO Italy was on its own, and they had licensing in the U.S. for moto, cycling, and casual.”

“In the meantime, AXO in Italy went through some ownership changes, and experienced rapid growth in the street market. “They used to be 80 percent off-road and 20 percent street. They haven’t lost any off-road business globally, but the street side has grown so much that now it’s 80 percent of the business over there. They’ve had a lot of success, and their road catalog is 160-some pages of street product.”

“About a year ago at the trade show I ran into Alessandra (Zago, who’s Vice President of AXO Italy, and is now Chairman & CEO of AXO America, Inc.). I hadn’t talked to her in about a year, but I had been in some contact with them because at the time I was selling ads for Primedia. As we started talking about the market here, we got into the off-road side…what was working and what wa’t working. Then the road stuff, and all the way to the cycling side. We agreed that one of the problems they were having was confusion in the ranks. So they decided that they needed to clean things up. They needed to cut the ties to whatever licensing deals were still around, and they did that. Kind of took control of the brand.”

“We’re really happy with the way things went at the end of the year. Just from opening an office in late November, saying ‘Hey, here we are,’ and getting sales through Christmas. But our direction now is to lead by design. We’ve got Kenny Safford, who’s the best designer in the industry in my opinion. He’s the right guy for the job. The design of our off-road product and the street product of our U.S.-based products are going to be second to none, and we’ve backed it up with a very aggressive advertising campaign as well. Recently there hadn’t been a lot of advertising, and there wasn’t really edgy advertising. Nothing to really bring image back to the brand. That’s kind of our first goal. We’ve got a 16-page catalog that we’ll have at the trade show for everyone to see and that will let dealers find us again.”

By reuniting with Kenny Safford (who also worked at AXO during their first stint in the U.S.), Chris is looking to bring back some of the magic that the brand had during the 90s. “It was an incredible group of people, a unique environment, and if we could recreate that environment with our place here it’d be phenomenal. We were in a standalone building at the time, and you’d come in and it’d be all Toyota trucks in the parking lot, and everyone had dirt bikes in the bike because they were riding after work. It was great, because everyone was so into it.”

“Back then we were very motocross focused. Even as the parent company was getting into the street scene in Europe, here we kind of said, ‘Don’t even show us. We don’t want to see it, we’re a motocross company.’ I’m a believer in focus. But I think our position in the world has changed. The industry has grown phenomenonally. I think where AXO was motocross before, now we’re moto. It’s motocross, it’s Supermoto, and Moto GP. Of course, the street market there is different, and we’re baby-stepping into the street market with some focused items.”

“The communication between the U.S. and Italy has never been better than it is right now. Alessandra is moving here. That shows the commitment level from everybody involved. We have two people from Italy moving here for multiple reasons…primarily to make this market work for us. Make our brand work in this market. Two, we’re aware that this market leads the world in off-road motorcycles, motocross specifically. What we do here dictates what happens in Australia, Japan, and other parts of the world. They recognize that, and know that we need to be here in a leading role.”

“Of the stuff that the previous distributor has been selling, there is very little carryover. Some knee cups, kidney belts, the largest size chest protector, but everything else is new, and stuff that they never handled. It’s a clean slate. The timing in that aspect was really good.” With that in mind, they’ll be showing off their first batch of new products at Indy.

It’s all designed right here, and Kenny’s the guy putting pen to paper. It’s Nick (Zierden, Field Sales Manager) and I and Alessandra, we kind of talk about what needs to be done. One of the things we want to do is not just build something just to build it. When you look at the history of AXO and some of the reasons we didn’t do things in the past, it’s because we couldn’t do it better than what was being done. It didn’t make sense to go after it. We’re kind of a niche marketing company that grew and grew and grew. We’re kind of taking that philosophy again. We want to build products that are within the various niches. Like our new RC6 boot is a great piece, it’s super-comfortable…I hate to use the term, but it’s literally race-ready right out of the box. You get it out, the buckles are super-easy to use. You clamp it on, go out riding and don’t realize you’re wearing a new pair of boots. They’re in stock now.

[IMAGE 1]

“The RC6 is full-grain leather, and it comes in six colors. We went to a really simple easy to use aluminum buckle. Right now guys are making buckles that bend around and twist, but this was designed to be very simple and easy to use.”

“One of the best things about it is the floating shin plate. AXO is the one who pioneered that and we have a patent on it. What that allows you to do, especially for guys who wear knee braces or knee cups that no matter how big the brace or cup gets, it allows you to get a nice straight pull. There’s a secondary Velcro closure in the front. The boot opens nice and wide when you’re putting it on. There’s a CoolMax liner, which keeps you a little cooler.”

“The new kids boot is the higher-end of the kids boot market…a $105 retail piece. It comes in sizes K10 through adult size 8. The smaller sizes are three buckles, and the three larger sizes come with four buckles.”

[IMAGE 2]

They’re also awaiting delivery of their new Type R vented pant, and Team Issue Air jersey, which will arrive just in time for the hot season. The pant will be a $149.99 retail item, while the jersey will be a $44.99 retail.

[IMAGE 3]

“Rich Taylor is like our in-house product tester. The good thing about Rich is that he does tire testing for Dunlop, bike testing for Suzuki, and it’s not like he goes out and rides a few laps and snaps a few photos. When he goes out there, he rides more in one day than I’ll ride in a year. But he can torture the apparel in a very short amount of time. Rich has a definite influence on what we do. One of the top priorities right now is to have a lot of time riding in product before it ever sees the light of day with a consumer. So what they’re getting is fully evolved, and fully developed.”

Interestingly, the current plan is to avoid big-name sponsorships, one of the tactics AXO had successfully used in the past. Chris said, “To lead, you don’t need to be the biggest in sales number-wise, but you need to lead in innovation and image. Our most difficult task right now is building that image in probably less traditional manners. A lot of guys are already throwing a ton of money after racers or race teams right now. That’s the traditional way. As the market has grown, racing has its place, and make no mistake, we love it, we’re all racers at heart. But just to go out there and throw a bunch of money at one person doesn’t mean you’re going to get sales right out of that. There are some people who still might have that impact. You look at the riders who were actually sold product. The Hannahs, the Johnsons, McGrath definitely did it. Bradshaw was a phenomenal salesperson. People just loved who he was and what he brought to the table. I think as the market has grown, and racing has grown, but it’s in its own little pocket… it has less impact at what happens at the dealerships. What happens at the dealerships is a different fight.”

Nick Zierden, AXO’s Field Sales Manager, agrees. “Instead of plowing a huge amount into the race effort, we’d rather put that sort of flow into strengthening our business relationships at the dealer level, and ultimately with the consumer. There’s no one between us and the dealers. A lot of other companies out here have a company between themselves and the dealers.”

[IMAGE 4]

As we were wrapping up, Chris told us, “For us, it’s about focus. Whether it’s Supermoto, or motocross, it’s finding the niches that are there, and making sure the products are the best out there, bar none. For us, that’s the only way. We’re going to be servicing less dealers, but servicing the right dealers…the trendI hate to use the term, but it’s literally race-ready right out of the box. You get it out, the buckles are super-easy to use. You clamp it on, go out riding and don’t realize you’re wearing a new pair of boots. They’re in stock now.

[IMAGE 1]

“The RC6 is full-grain leather, and it comes in six colors. We went to a really simple easy to use aluminum buckle. Right now guys are making buckles that bend around and twist, but this was designed to be very simple and easy to use.”

“One of the best things about it is the floating shin plate. AXO is the one who pioneered that and we have a patent on it. What that allows you to do, especially for guys who wear knee braces or knee cups that no matter how big the brace or cup gets, it allows you to get a nice straight pull. There’s a secondary Velcro closure in the front. The boot opens nice and wide when you’re putting it on. There’s a CoolMax liner, which keeps you a little cooler.”

“The new kids boot is the higher-end of the kids boot market…a $105 retail piece. It comes in sizes K10 through adult size 8. The smaller sizes are three buckles, and the three larger sizes come with four buckles.”

[IMAGE 2]

They’re also awaiting delivery of their new Type R vented pant, and Team Issue Air jersey, which will arrive just in time for the hot season. The pant will be a $149.99 retail item, while the jersey will be a $44.99 retail.

[IMAGE 3]

“Rich Taylor is like our in-house product tester. The good thing about Rich is that he does tire testing for Dunlop, bike testing for Suzuki, and it’s not like he goes out and rides a few laps and snaps a few photos. When he goes out there, he rides more in one day than I’ll ride in a year. But he can torture the apparel in a very short amount of time. Rich has a definite influence on what we do. One of the top priorities right now is to have a lot of time riding in product before it ever sees the light of day with a consumer. So what they’re getting is fully evolved, and fully developed.”

Interestingly, the current plan is to avoid big-name sponsorships, one of the tactics AXO had successfully used in the past. Chris said, “To lead, you don’t need to be the biggest in sales number-wise, but you need to lead in innovation and image. Our most difficult task right now is building that image in probably less traditional manners. A lot of guys are already throwing a ton of money after racers or race teams right now. That’s the traditional way. As the market has grown, racing has its place, and make no mistake, we love it, we’re all racers at heart. But just to go out there and throw a bunch of money at one person doesn’t mean you’re going to get sales right out of that. There are some people who still might have that impact. You look at the riders who were actually sold product. The Hannahs, the Johnsons, McGrath definitely did it. Bradshaw was a phenomenal salesperson. People just loved who he was and what he brought to the table. I think as the market has grown, and racing has grown, but it’s in its own little pocket… it has less impact at what happens at the dealerships. What happens at the dealerships is a different fight.”

Nick Zierden, AXO’s Field Sales Manager, agrees. “Instead of plowing a huge amount into the race effort, we’d rather put that sort of flow into strengthening our business relationships at the dealer level, and ultimately with the consumer. There’s no one between us and the dealers. A lot of other companies out here have a company between themselves and the dealers.”

[IMAGE 4]

As we were wrapping up, Chris told us, “For us, it’s about focus. Whether it’s Supermoto, or motocross, it’s finding the niches that are there, and making sure the products are the best out there, bar none. For us, that’s the only way. We’re going to be servicing less dealers, but servicing the right dealers…the trend-setting dealers with trend-setting products.”

Contact:

AXO America, Inc.
26740 Ave. Hall #13
Valencia CA 91355
(661) 257-0916

Sponsored by:
rend-setting dealers with trend-setting products.”

Contact:

AXO America, Inc.
26740 Ave. Hall #13
Valencia CA 91355
(661) 257-0916

Sponsored by: