TWMX All Access: Motonation’s Bill Berroth

Motonation handles all the U.S. marketing and distribution for Sidi, as well as the lower cost Set Up brand. This week we stopped by Motonation’s El Cajon headquarters to check in with Bill Berroth, their President/Potentate (it says so on his business card¿and most of the staff’s business card are equally humorous). As you’ll soon see, Bill’s a guy who has made the transition from rider to industry veteran, and he’s got plenty to say. Read on.

PERSONAL HISTORY

“I started working at dealerships for years, and also competed. I did two Six-Days. I could have done three, but I wrecked my knee and sort of ran out of money and had to get a job. I had some sponsor help, but certainly not enough to pay for that kind of thing. I ended up going to work for KTM from there, and came out here with a job from KTM.”

“I wrenched for John Finkleday out of Connecticut, Dave Hollis from Michigan, and Jeff Hicks before he rode for Honda. Back then we had to drive from race to race. We had to decide on gear ratios and change them ourselves. We had to do the suspension ourselves and valve it ourselves. We had to make motor mods ourselves. KTM was like the farm team at the time. We had a lot of work to do. Now it’s maybe a little easier for mechanics. Mechanics now are parts changers, they’re not mechanics.”

“Whenever Kees van der Ven came to America they’d stay at my parent’s house and we’d go to Unadilla and I’d kind of babysit him through there. But then his mechanic got in a car accident and compounded his leg. Kees knew me and how we worked together, so they sent me over there to finish the season. Then the guy’s leg was really bad, so we did the ’83 season together. We won three 250 GPs together, so that was a good experience. We also won Unadilla. Later I worked at the KTM factory with Kurt Nicoll, whose first race in America was at Carlsbad in ’84. I was his wrench there, and we did testing out in the hills of El Cajon. We did a few 500 GPs together. I also worked with Heinz Kinigadner when he’d come to the states to ride the Golden State Series, I was his wrench for that. I really worked for more Euros than I did U.S. guys. It was a good experience, and I saw how people interacted.”

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“Later, I spent almost two decades working at Acerbis. With an Italian guy we started Acerbis USA around 1985. When we started there were roughly five or six Acerbis employees in the entire world. When I left there were over 500, with offices in Italy, Belgium, Hong Kong, and the U.S. A lot of the growth was in OE stuff, like the gas tanks Acerbis made for Triumph motorcycles, and some stuff for Ducati¿guys like that. The aftermarket, where I was involved with, did really well too. But it was time for a new challenge.”

MOTONATION’S BUSINESS AND DISTRIBUTION

“When we started in ’99, we took over from Acerbis, who used to be the boot importer. From a distribution point of view, they did it the classic way. They had the boots in the warehouse, took the orders in, they did everything. We were starting from scratch, so we had a chance to try some new ideas. We put the boots in a public warehouse where they have the staff, the forklifts, the shelving¿they do everything related to touching e product. The warehouse guys, they ship our boots, Champion die-cast collectible cars, and some software stuff. We only go to the warehouse two or three times a year.”

“At our office here, we just do sales and marketing. Our job is to create boots, and we’re very involved with Sidi, especially on the off-road side. I share some patents with the owner of Sidi. We create different models together, so we’re very involved in product development for the world, as well as sales and marketing in the U.S.”

“Without having the warehouse here, we’re not distracted. We can just keep moving forward. There’s no inventory here to sell. We do ship spare parts and accessories from here, because if someone needs a buckle, you need to know exactly which buckle. Yeah, you check the part number, but it’s good to look at it and we’re all riders, so we know what we’re looking at.”

“We don’t sell to every single dealer. We give the dealers a protected sales area, so we only want about 500 dealers in the country. Those dealers are required to have more product in stock, and in return we give them a protected region where we won’t do any other dealers. Malcolm Smith Motorcycles sells our boots, and he has the Riverside area. So Kawasaki of Riverside can’t even call here and order a boot strap. If they need any little thing, they’ve got to buy it from Malcolm. Malcolm’s our partner, he’s our guy. There are others like that throughout the country. So we sell to a very small niche of dealers that we kind of hand-select. We don’t work with them like customers, we work with them like partners and friends. If they need something special we do it for them, and we might ask them to try a different model or color, and they generally say, ‘Send me five, I’ll give it a go. It works well. There’s a program for dirt dealers, a program for street dealers, then there’s a program for the big guys that do both.”

“In Superbikes, we’re the number one boot in that market. Where Alpinestars is the number one off-road boot, we’ve got the number one road race street boot. So naturally we get a little more coverage out of that.”

BOOT DESIGN

“The first prototype of Force SRS boot with the hinge and the plastic upper was made at the workshop at my house. We got out fiberglass and cardboard and took the prior model, and made this upper, and adjustable calf idea. It’s now patented, and no one else can offer an adjustable calf.”

“The bolt-on shin plate is also a patented idea. We create a lot of this here, and the key difference is that Sidi is very much a technology-based company. We first come up with the technology of the adjustable calf. The first prototypes were ugly, but then we try to make it good looking. We don’t do graphic design first, and technical design second. That’s our strength, and I think it’s unique. Most of the other boot companies do it the opposite way. Like Fox is a good example. Fox is an apparel company. They’re in the fashion business. Fashion and marketing is what Fox would do. We know how they build the boot, which is typical of how most everyone does it. They get out a piece of paper and design a boot for looks. When you’re designing something technically and dealing with a small hinged piece or something, and thinking, you don’t make this big aesthetic drawing of how the logo is going to flow and how the buckles are. You don’t work like that. You work on the detail of how this is going to clip and adjust. For example, this strap type of system with these ratchets, you see it in a lot of people’s boots. Sidi pioneered that. Then we recently added a little clip that locks it in place at the proper adjustment. That’s a very small detail that you’d never see on any drawing. On our buckles we also have holes so that mud can escape when you buckle the boot. If you’re making an artist’s rendering of that, you’ll never see that hole. That’s the type of stuff we focus on, then we go to the designers and say, ‘Okay, that’s the technical aspect that’s going to be in that product, no compromise. You make it look as good as you can.'”

“We work that way, which is virtually opposite of everyone else. Those things are hard points to get across in an ad, with a journalist, to a rider. It’s the little attention-to-detail things. It takes years and years of plugging away to get that point across about the details.”

“In our opinion, the dirt riders are more influenced by fashion and trends than substance. They take much longer to grab hold of what is offered. The street guys are exactly the opposite. They don’t want to feel like they get sold. They want to feel like they’re smarter than that. They’re generally older, they’re generally better-educated, they generally have a higher income, so they look at things a lot differently. They look at product features and benefits first, and then whether Nicky Hayden uses it, or Loris Capirossi, or someone else. That’s like fifth, where on the dirt it’s first. That’s one reason why Sidi has risen to the top in street, because we have a lot of the same technical attributes like we offer in the dirt. We’ve gone from virtually nothing in the street market when we took over¿a couple thousand pairs a year, which is nothing, to tens of thousands of pairs a year in the roughly four years that we’ve been doing street. We’ve taken over the number one spot by storm. We’ve got a good product and the clientele tend to look for that more, so the customer’s viewpoint and Sidi’s philosophy are a little bit better matched in the street market than the dirt market.  The dirt guys are certainly not dummies, either, but they’re just influenced by a little different thing.”

“They do come along. Like if Yamaha had a new YZF300, and it was the ugliest thing in the world, but it worked the best, eventually they’d have to be on it because it’s the best. David Vuillemin and Stefan Everts are the two biggest guys that we have, and they’re the best example because by boot standards we drastically underpay them. But they know that over time they will score more points in that boot and hence make more money from everyone else than they will by riding in somebody else’s product. Now they say that they’re spoiled, because if they put on anyone else’s boot, it feels like a shower slipper. It’s not stable, it’s not comfortable, they feel like they can’t charge as much.”

“We have that philosophy in the street and the dirt. We sponsor very few guys, but the guys that we do sponsor they’re part of the family. We pay them fairly, but we don’t just throw money at them. We don’t flock around them at the races. But if David Vuillemin needs something, he gets it. Every rider from David on down in the States, our support rides are limited, but everyone’s treated the same way. Many people take on support riders and the rider can’t get a new pair of boots, a t-shirt or a sticker. We look at it like, ‘What’s the point? If you have the rider, support him.’ So getting a Sidi support ride is much more difficult than getting anybody’s else’s support ride, but we think we do it properly. We hear lots of complaints from other riders from other companies. We just wonder why they even sponsor a guy if you’re going to give him one pair of boots and the guy rides every day. If we can fully support 200 guys, we will. If we can only fully support 150, it’s going to be 150.”

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“We ask all the riders that if they get free product from us to send the boots back so we can evaluate them. They certainly put on way more hours than any of us do. Then we can see just see what they’re rubbing, what they’re breaking, where their wear points are. Some of it’s particular, like we know some riders, just how they are on the peg, they’ll wear out the inside part of the sole. So we know that’s a rider style iof stuff we focus on, then we go to the designers and say, ‘Okay, that’s the technical aspect that’s going to be in that product, no compromise. You make it look as good as you can.'”

“We work that way, which is virtually opposite of everyone else. Those things are hard points to get across in an ad, with a journalist, to a rider. It’s the little attention-to-detail things. It takes years and years of plugging away to get that point across about the details.”

“In our opinion, the dirt riders are more influenced by fashion and trends than substance. They take much longer to grab hold of what is offered. The street guys are exactly the opposite. They don’t want to feel like they get sold. They want to feel like they’re smarter than that. They’re generally older, they’re generally better-educated, they generally have a higher income, so they look at things a lot differently. They look at product features and benefits first, and then whether Nicky Hayden uses it, or Loris Capirossi, or someone else. That’s like fifth, where on the dirt it’s first. That’s one reason why Sidi has risen to the top in street, because we have a lot of the same technical attributes like we offer in the dirt. We’ve gone from virtually nothing in the street market when we took over¿a couple thousand pairs a year, which is nothing, to tens of thousands of pairs a year in the roughly four years that we’ve been doing street. We’ve taken over the number one spot by storm. We’ve got a good product and the clientele tend to look for that more, so the customer’s viewpoint and Sidi’s philosophy are a little bit better matched in the street market than the dirt market.  The dirt guys are certainly not dummies, either, but they’re just influenced by a little different thing.”

“They do come along. Like if Yamaha had a new YZF300, and it was the ugliest thing in the world, but it worked the best, eventually they’d have to be on it because it’s the best. David Vuillemin and Stefan Everts are the two biggest guys that we have, and they’re the best example because by boot standards we drastically underpay them. But they know that over time they will score more points in that boot and hence make more money from everyone else than they will by riding in somebody else’s product. Now they say that they’re spoiled, because if they put on anyone else’s boot, it feels like a shower slipper. It’s not stable, it’s not comfortable, they feel like they can’t charge as much.”

“We have that philosophy in the street and the dirt. We sponsor very few guys, but the guys that we do sponsor they’re part of the family. We pay them fairly, but we don’t just throw money at them. We don’t flock around them at the races. But if David Vuillemin needs something, he gets it. Every rider from David on down in the States, our support rides are limited, but everyone’s treated the same way. Many people take on support riders and the rider can’t get a new pair of boots, a t-shirt or a sticker. We look at it like, ‘What’s the point? If you have the rider, support him.’ So getting a Sidi support ride is much more difficult than getting anybody’s else’s support ride, but we think we do it properly. We hear lots of complaints from other riders from other companies. We just wonder why they even sponsor a guy if you’re going to give him one pair of boots and the guy rides every day. If we can fully support 200 guys, we will. If we can only fully support 150, it’s going to be 150.”

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“We ask all the riders that if they get free product from us to send the boots back so we can evaluate them. They certainly put on way more hours than any of us do. Then we can see just see what they’re rubbing, what they’re breaking, where their wear points are. Some of it’s particular, like we know some riders, just how they are on the peg, they’ll wear out the inside part of the sole. So we know that’s a rider style issue. Some guys have broken a leg, so one leg is longer than the other by a centimeter or some minor thing. When that happens, the longer leg wears out soles faster than the shorter leg. The riders don’t even know it. But we can look at a rider’s boots and say, ‘Your left leg is longer than your right.'”

SERVICE

“We don’t have many technical problems. We have guys that’ll catch an edge of plastic on something, and rip off a panel because they crash. Or they might have a frame guard that isn’t bent in properly and it catches the boot.”

“We do offer soles. Some of the models have a bolt-on system, so a guy can do it at home. But others are classic stitched-on soles. We don’t do that here. We have a guy in town that we work with. We just run over to the cobbler. Honestly, a rider can do it himself, too. We probably send out far more soles that they do themselves, than we do here. You get any good cobbler and they throw them right on. It saves the rider a lot of time. But our philosophy for repairs and spare parts is we price them out very close to cost. We want the guys to be happy. On the top end street and dirt boot, the whole boot is virtually replaceable. Like a pair of soles, for example, on either style, I think they retail for only $17.00. If you look at anyone else’s, they’re up to $30.00. We want them happy in the boot. We’re not going to keep the doors open here by selling soles. So we just want the guys to be pumped. We don’t have technical problem. We just usually have oddball situations. We maybe ship a half-dozen boxes a day out of here for the whole country, and many times it’s just guys changing colors. Like all the buckles are replaceable, so some guy might like the white, but wants to put red buckles on it. So we do things like that. All the spare parts are available, and all of them are listed in the catalog.”

JOEL ROBERT BOOT

There are old bikes scattered throughout the Motonation offices, including a cool DKW (which Bill’s dad bought new), one of Bill’s Six-Days KTMs, and a Hodaka Dirt Squirt. The also have a small museum of Sidi products, including the original Joel Robert boot, a style they’ve recently revived.

“I’ve been buying some of these older model Sidi boots from eBay, so we have some old classic boots. We do a lot of development with riders on their boots, and we ask them to sign them and send them back. So we have boots from Guy Cooper, David Vuillemin, Destry Abbott, Mike Kiedrowski, Larry Roseler, and Stefan Everts.”

“This is an original Joel Robert boot with the original sole. I think it would have been 1972 or so. It’s hard to say, because at that time Sidi was very small and the boots they made in March were different from the boots they made in April. Now we do model years and we save any change for the next year unless the change is so compelling that we can’t wait. Generally we save it for the next model year so the catalog is consistent, everything looks proper and we don’t confuse the consumers or dealers. Back then, every production run would be different.”

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“The new Joel Robert boot uses the same construction, same patterns as the original, the only thing that’s different is we put on a modern sole and new buckles. The old soles were very pliable, so just in the interest of safety we used the modern technology on the sole and inner sole. Everything else is exactly the same as in 1973.”

“We had the capability to do it, it’s cool, why not do it? We’d been talking about doing it for years, but last October the owner of Sidi came over for a trail ride in Mexico. We just got him pounded with margaritas and made him promise to do it. So then a few weeks later we had the boot and it’s in the catalog.”

“We’ve only shipped these for less than a month, and the customers to date are older vintage motocross guys. Although they’re a pain to put on with six buckles, it takes forever to put on, but because it’s all leather and padded the way that it is, it’s super-comfy. Really, we started it for fun, because very few people know that Sidi made this boot. It was sold in the U.S. under the Full Bore name. It has quite a history between Joel Robert with what¿five