TWMX All Access: Shoei Helmets

We stopped in Shoei’s U.S. headquarters (located in Tustin, CA, and known as Shoei Safety Helmet Corporation), which houses their sales, promotion, racing, advertising, and customer service to see what’s new with the crew behind the oft-copied VFX-R Air helmet.

Angela Johnson, Shoei’s Customer Service Manager, laid down a little of the company history. “Shoei was founded by Mr. Kamata in 1954 to make protective helmets, and 1960 is when they started making motorcycle safety helmets. In 1968 they founded an office in California, and started selling Shoei helmets in the U.S. Originally, they sold helmets through the Sears Roebuck catalog, and that was the first U.S. distributor of Shoei helmets.” Of course, these days you won’t be finding Shoei’s lids in your local Sears, since they’re distributed exclusively through Helmet House.

Of course, with an influx of Korean and Chinese helmets over the last few years, it has greatly boosted competition in the already highly competitive helmet market. When quizzed about what differentiates the Japanese-produced Shoei helmets from some of the other helmet brands, Shoei Safety Helmet Corp’s President, Hiro Mizushima, said, “Considering the price issue, of course, we recently have a lot of competitors from China and Korea. But we still feel we have superiority in quality

Mike Schield, Shoei’s National Sales Manager, agreed. “It’s true. Helmets are the number one selling accessory in North America, and therefore a lot of off-shore manufacturers have come over here to get a piece of that pie. Their influence has been big. But we continue to produce high quality, new, innovative, high-tech product with a lot of safety and features.  Of course, we maintain our own individual market to the consumer. It doesn’t conflict too much with the lower-cost, inexpensive helmets.”

The head of Shoei’s Racing Department, Bret Milan, chimed in with, “Another thing on the quality point is that our helmets are backed by a five-year warranty, which is an industry-leading feature. Nobody’s backing their product any longer than Shoei, and that’s because they’re really built to last that long. If you go out to the track you’ll see a lot of three or four-year-old Shoeis, while you don’t see a lot of three or four-year-old Chinese helmets on people heads. They tend to fall apart over time. We have two factories in Japan, and our production is 100 percent in Japan.”

“Also, our experience from doing it as long as we have, we know what makes a helmet good or not good, and we’re not experimenting with our customers. We’ve got the best testing facilities in the world in Japan. We’ve got an entire facility that all they do all day long is crush helmets and test quality control on them. In addition, our research laboratories to develop new products are industry leading as well. Back in Japan we have a wind tunnel for testing. Shoei owns a motocross track that’s two miles from their production facility in Iwate, Japan, where they can go out and run motos all day long if they want to test a helmet. It’s things like that. It’s kind of like the difference between someone buying a Hyundai car, and buying a Honda. From the outside there’s not a lot of difference, but after a year or two, you kind of get what you pay for.”

While the dominant portion of Shoei’s recent helmet sales have been tied up with their hot-selling road helmets, the crew in Tustin was excited about upcoming introduction of a new helmet, the V-Moto. While they didn’t want to release too much info (the official press launch is this coming Monday) as Bret tells it, It’s an entirely brand new helmet from the ground up. “We’ve had the VFX-R Air out there for five years now, and it’s obviously the most heavily copied helmet on the market. Basically every helmet is a VFX-R clone. It came time to update that helmet. We sat down and thought about it, and an update wasn’t reallenough to differentiate the helmet from everything on the market. So we sat down and made up a list of things we’d like to change, based on things that we’d heard good and bad about the VFX-R Air. To be honest, the VFX-R Air was, and still is, a state-of-the-art helmet. The biggest complaint that we’d heard about the VFX-R Air wasn’t about the ventilation, fit, weight, anything like that. The biggest problem people had was that they wanted one, but simply couldn’t afford it.”

“One of the benefits of increased competition is our new V-Moto has all the same features as our VFX-R Air helmet, but at a lower price point. The majority of the reason for that is because we’ve increased the efficiency of our factory. We’ve automated production lines that were previously like a job shop type thing, where people would hand parts from one to the other. Now it’s an actual assembly line type system that increased the efficiency, but still allows the quality control that we need to produce the top premium helmet on the market.”

So what we did was, we started over from scratch and thought, “How can we produce a top quality off-road helmet, and still have it be available to consumers at an affordable price?’ One of the first things that we figured out we could do was move production of the helmet from our Ibiraki factory which is closer to the Tokyo area. Obviously, being in a city, the cost of labor, the cost of everything was higher. It was also a smaller facility and less automated. So we moved the production of the V-Moto helmet to the Iwate factory, which is in the north of Japan. It’s interesting, because the Iwate factory actually produces helmets during the winter, and then goes into a bit of a dormant stage in the spring, because the surrounding area is all farmland. The factory workers are are farmers that work in the field during the farming season, and work in the factory during the off-season¿though it’s becoming less that way. Due to the popularity of our helmets, especially on the street side of things, it’s making it difficult for them to take any time off at this point.”

“Anyway, it’s a more modern facility, and a lot more automated. We have an actual production line there, so people become more and more specialized at one particular aspect of helmet construction.”

“I went over there earlier this year and made helmets myself. I had to learn a little bit of everything on putting helmets together, and it’s a lot of work. Probably the toughest part of the process is the water decals. For the graphic models it has these water decals, and basically the helmet starts with a base color, and then we apply a really thin plastic water decal just like the models you built when you were a kid. They have to line up with all these different points on the helmet, and it’s really easy to stretch and rip that thin plastic decals. I worked on one for probably an hour and forty-five minutes, and said, ‘I’m done.’ They said, ‘That’s real great,’ and took a hose to it and sprayed the water decals off and gave it to someone who knew what they were doing.”

Again, this helmet has a price point starting at $325, which makes it a lot more affordable to a lot more consumers. It still has a lot of the features as far as ventilation, fully removable liners, and everything. It’s a top quality, premium helmet, at a more affordable price. (Look for more on the new Shoei next week).

While we had Bret in a talkative mood, we had to ask if it sponsorship on the pro level had gotten more difficult with some of the recent head-to-toe apparel contracts that riders had been signing. “Yeah, it’s definitely made it a lot more difficult. There are a lot of riders out there who tell me confidentially, ‘Man, I wish I could wear a Shoei, but I’m stuck wearing whatever because there’s a lot more money in the gear contracts than there are in helmet contracts. It has become a lot more difficult as far as that goes. But there are also a lot of riders who won’t compromise on that¿a lot of riders who have fought to wear their Shoei, even though they’ve got a gear company that’s trying to push them to wear whatever brand of helmet that they want them to wear.”

“We’ve also expanded our sponsorship programs as well. In the past we had just a limited number of fully sponsored riders that got all the free product they needed. There was no middle step for like younger up-and-coming guys. Last year was our first year with a discount sponsorship for amateur riders and local pros.”

So does the gang at Shoei make their sponsorship choices by personality or results? Quite candidly, Bret said, “A little bit of both, actually. Obviously we want a guy that’s winning races, but for the time being, the guys who are winning races, at least last year, are locked into head-to-toe deals with either Thor or Fox. That being the case, if I can’t have a guy that’s going to win every single weekend, then I want a guy that’s going to work well with the media and sign a lot of autographs and work well with the public as well. Definitely, both of those factors weigh into the decisions as far as sponsorship goes.”

We’re looking forward to trying the new V-Moto helmet, and will give you an update after we’ve had a chance to ride with it next week.

Contact:
Shoei Safety Helmet Corp
3002 Dow Ave., Ste. 128
Tustin CA 92780
(714) 730-0941
www.shoei.com

ot more difficult as far as that goes. But there are also a lot of riders who won’t compromise on that¿a lot of riders who have fought to wear their Shoei, even though they’ve got a gear company that’s trying to push them to wear whatever brand of helmet that they want them to wear.”

“We’ve also expanded our sponsorship programs as well. In the past we had just a limited number of fully sponsored riders that got all the free product they needed. There was no middle step for like younger up-and-coming guys. Last year was our first year with a discount sponsorship for amateur riders and local pros.”

So does the gang at Shoei make their sponsorship choices by personality or results? Quite candidly, Bret said, “A little bit of both, actually. Obviously we want a guy that’s winning races, but for the time being, the guys who are winning races, at least last year, are locked into head-to-toe deals with either Thor or Fox. That being the case, if I can’t have a guy that’s going to win every single weekend, then I want a guy that’s going to work well with the media and sign a lot of autographs and work well with the public as well. Definitely, both of those factors weigh into the decisions as far as sponsorship goes.”

We’re looking forward to trying the new V-Moto helmet, and will give you an update after we’ve had a chance to ride with it next week.

Contact:
Shoei Safety Helmet Corp
3002 Dow Ave., Ste. 128
Tustin CA 92780
(714) 730-0941
www.shoei.com