TWMX All Access: SHIFT

The building that houses SHIFT in Morgan Hill, CA, doesn’t really stand out in the way that some other companies do. There’s no big icon out front to attract attention, and it’s nestled among a row of other businesses. In fact, it definitely ranks one of the more low-key headquarters in the MX industry. You could easily overlook it if you didn’t notice the SHIFT sticker on the door.

Once inside, you work your way through a small reception area, and into a large open area that houses the design department. Along one wall, offices house the people who build print ads, tend to sponsored riders, coordinate photography, and run the whole operation.

SHIFT got its start in late ’96, as a baggy pant idea for Fox. The crew at Fox didn’t think that it fit well with their brand image, so it was launched under its own label, SHIFT. It evolved into more of a risk-taking MX brand, with Jeff Emig as their marquee racer, and Seth Enslow handling the same duties on the freestyle side.

But while there’s some shared heritage between Fox and SHIFT, there are scant signs of a current connection, other than the occasional visit from a Fox employee who’s make the 2.2 mile journey to the SHIFT headquarters. In fact, the gang at SHIFT seem particularly proud of maintaining their own identity. According to Rich Leonetti, who works on products as varied as MX gear, street textile goodies, and karting suits, “I think the vibe here is that we really just want to make great products. It seems like a lot of companies are vying for being number one or two, and we really just want to come out and just make great products that people look at and go, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.'”

It’s also apparent that there are few barriers to communication, since the wide-open design and development area features few walls. Jason Barnes, who’s one of SHIFT’s product designers said. “It’s so nice not having cubes and it’s easy to yell across the room and try to figure out problems. Problems do arise, but as long as we can keep them to a minimum, it definitely helps out the process.”

Jason laid out how the design department works. “We’ve got one industrial design guy who does mostly the gloves and shoes and protection three-dimensional work. Then we’ve got two product designers that will work on most of the moto gear and some of the motorsports gear, and one person for most of the sportswear stuff. Chris is a developer, but he does a little bit of design, too. With the broad spectrum of the line it’s a little heavy, but it all works out. People pull together and help each other out. Everybody kind of has their eyes open to trends. We’re in the sport, so on the weekends we come up with great ideas, then come back into the office and run with it. It’s great. It’s nice having a job that runs hand-in-hand with what you’re into.”

So what inspires the designs at SHIFT? As Jason tells it, “I think it’s really important to look outside moto a little bit, because if you look back into moto you recycle the same thing over and over again. So by looking at other design influence like automotive and architecture to graphic design.”

“Everybody helps each other out, and checks them if they’re going too far out of where they should be going. We all try to keep tight and focused. Sometimes we do get a little out of hand, but it’s good to push the boundaries a little.”

There’s no doubt that a diverse range of design influences are required, since SHIFT’s interests are far-flung, from karting to NASCAR, with plenty of two-wheeled activity in between. Brian Price cringes at his Brand Manager title, but has been the driving force since starting work on the SHIFT brand in the latter half of 2001. “If I had to describe what we are now, I’d say we’re a motorsports brand, but motocross is still really the core. Now we’ve launched a street line. It’s going really well so far, and it’s a lot of fun. The street market in a lot of ways a little bit older. Wee trying to come into it with more of a motocross look and feel. We really want the younger customer that knows us.”

“Karting is something that’s just really fun. It’s cool because there are a lot of kids involved. It’s the point of entry for four-wheel motorsports, and it has a lot of similarities to motocross. It’s actually a pretty challenging sport, but it’s also really safe. It’s not something that you need a lot of skill and experience to get into, you can get into it and do reasonably well, whereas with motocross, the learning curve can come with a price.”

“The NASCAR thing kind of fell into our laps. We got contacted by the Evernham Motorsports team, which is the factory Dodge team, almost two years ago now. They were looking for an apparel sponsor, and they were really looking for someone who could make more technical apparel so that their tire changers could move more freely and feel more comfortable. The owner, Ray Evernham, is fanatical about performance, and he looks at every single aspect. He wanted an apparel partner that would give him some edge. Give him more of a performance type of clothing. They just picked up a new driver this year, Kasey Kahne, and he’s just killing it in that series.”

But whether it’s a product designer, product developer, or brand manager, they all point to SHIFT’s in-house production department as being one of the biggest advantages over their competitors. Brian explains, “Our prototype room is probably the coolest R & D luxury that we have. It’s neat because we have every type of sewing machine, a lot of space, and we keep a good stock of materials so we can prototype products in a lot of different fabrics or types of construction. This is cool because we’re able to take a design or drawing from Illustrator in the computer, and put it into our CAD system and come out with a pattern in about a day, and have a prototype in another two days. What that does for us is that typically with a lot of the manufacturing we’ve done do in Asia, you send your drawings over there and wait six weeks or sometimes longer for the first prototype to come back, and you make revisions and you don’t get a lot of opportunities to do that and still have your products come out on time. But here, because this prototype room is in the same building, we’re able to make…instead of one or two or three prototypes, we’re able to make six or eight or ten…however many we need until we’re happy with the design.”

“What this does is also allow us to continue the design process after it’s left the design phase. We can move seams around and make them look better, or make things function better, or bend better…make it more durable.”

“The other thing that it does is really allows us to build a good fit base or fit block. We can really study the fit block so we understand it…not just at arm’s length, but we really understand how the fit and function need to be. Because we own it here in this building, we control it a lot more. And because we control it a lot more, the final product is a lot better.”

Of course, SHIFT is famous for their ride, race, live ads. How did they get engrained into the SHIFT image machine? Brian explains. “That was actually started by Eric Johnson. He was talking to Greg Fox and myself, and was saying that there were so many ads out there that are just the, ‘Here’s our pro, buy our gear,’ look…a photo of someone with a logo on it, and that we should try to do something more deep and soulful. It took probably four or five months at least to really get the concept clear in our heads. We started talking about it, working on it and refining it. We figured that we didn’t want to do shots of anybody on the track during a race. We wanted to do black and white. We wanted to preferably shoot people with their helmets off, and we wanted to catch people’s facial expressions a lot more.”

“The tag line was partially created by Eric. He said, ‘Let’s do, ride, live, SHIFT.’ One night literally in the middle of the night I sat up and said, ‘Ride. Race. Live.’ Actually, I came in at like 5:00 that morning and wrote it down, and wrote this big description of the concept. We really took our time in developing it before we launched it. We had three or four ads ready before the first one even ran. The first one was of Jeff, and I think it really captured the stage of life where he was at. It comes in and out of use, but it’s sort of become a defining part of us. Whenever we see the opportunity to tap into a person’s emotions via a photo we have or an event, that’s what we do.”

Shelly Pippin also works on the advertising and catalogs…not to mention all the other workbooks, photo shoots, some events, dealer marketing stuff, and she showed off their new sportswear catalog, which is a little racier than their normal stuff. When quizzed as to whether they were pushing the envelope a little, she smiled and said, “Maybe. This is actually new for us. We’ve never done a sportswear catalog. We’ve never broken it out on its own, but we felt this was a good opportunity to do it because the photos came out really well, and we had a good line of stuff to show. It kind of has its own look and its own feel. We couldn’t really put this in with the MX stuff, because we have kids reading it and parents reading it, and we didn’t really want to put that in there. We’re just going to get our core sportswear stuff going and kind of expand from there.”

While wrapping up, we asked Brian to describe where SHIFT is at today. “It’s a good time to ask us, because we’re in the middle of defining it. We’ve gone through a three-year business plan and we’re working on the next one. The first thing that I think I should say is that we really are not trying to be the biggest MX apparel company out there. We’re not trying to sell the most gear. We’re not trying to run the most ads. We’re trying to be a great company. We want to make really great products, and to do great ads. Not trying to be the biggest actually offers you a lot of luxury in not being obligated to do certain things, including not being obligated to being overly commercial.”

Contact:

SHIFT
18400 Sutter Blvd.
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
1-888-SHIFT-IT
www.shiftmx.com

‘ One night literally in the middle of the night I sat up and said, ‘Ride. Race. Live.’ Actually, I came in at like 5:00 that morning and wrote it down, and wrote this big description of the concept. We really took our time in developing it before we launched it. We had three or four ads ready before the first one even ran. The first one was of Jeff, and I think it really captured the stage of life where he was at. It comes in and out of use, but it’s sort of become a defining part of us. Whenever we see the opportunity to tap into a person’s emotions via a photo we have or an event, that’s what we do.”

Shelly Pippin also works on the advertising and catalogs…not to mention all the other workbooks, photo shoots, some events, dealer marketing stuff, and she showed off their new sportswear catalog, which is a little racier than their normal stuff. When quizzed as to whether they were pushing the envelope a little, she smiled and said, “Maybe. This is actually new for us. We’ve never done a sportswear catalog. We’ve never broken it out on its own, but we felt this was a good opportunity to do it because the photos came out really well, and we had a good line of stuff to show. It kind of has its own look and its own feel. We couldn’t really put this in with the MX stuff, because we have kids reading it and parents reading it, and we didn’t really want to put that in there. We’re just going to get our core sportswear stuff going and kind of expand from there.”

While wrapping up, we asked Brian to describe where SHIFT is at today. “It’s a good time to ask us, because we’re in the middle of defining it. We’ve gone through a three-year business plan and we’re working on the next one. The first thing that I think I should say is that we really are not trying to be the biggest MX apparel company out there. We’re not trying to sell the most gear. We’re not trying to run the most ads. We’re trying to be a great company. We want to make really great products, and to do great ads. Not trying to be the biggest actually offers you a lot of luxury in not being obligated to do certain things, including not being obligated to being overly commercial.”

Contact:

SHIFT
18400 Sutter Blvd.
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
1-888-SHIFT-IT
www.shiftmx.com