With the official word on the deal between Aaron Gwin and YT Industries now out there and in the public domain, we sat down with company CEO and lead hornblower of the German charge that is YT Industries, Markus Flossman... YT was still a relatively small and unknown brand when you signed Andreu Lacondeguy, arguably the biggest name in freeride at the time. What positive effect did this have on the brand?
Well, the most positive effect was definitely that we had a stage to prove what a YT bike is capable of. From a visual point of view, in freeriding this becomes a lot more obvious than in other disciplines where we are talking about the precious seconds that could put you on a podium, or not. While a mean drop or a big jump is just something that seems to defy the laws of physics. It simply can not be done on a mediocre bike.
Now, signing Andreu, took it one step further. Of course, his presence in the media is undeniably a factor that you want to profit from. But let me tell you that it is not a guarantee to sell so many more bikes as to cover the investment. As a small company, it takes a lot of balls to do so, especially if you don’t have the financial background to compensate for major setbacks. We risked it because we are riders ourselves, we think and act like riders and we run our business just like we drop, jump and race our bikes. That’s why I am pretty sure, that we actually are the only bike producer that really fits Andreu and who he is.
So signing the number one rider in the freeride discipline was a message and one that worked. The fact that we are here to have a great time and that we are willing to throw it all in couldn’t be explained more simply to the world, than Andreu ruling Rampage on our TUES and putting on a great show at the FEST series. TUES, by the way, is German for “Do it”
, and that’s what we’re known for today.
Do you predict similar gains in the downhill sector with Aaron Gwin?
|That's why I am pretty sure, that we actually are the only bike producer that really fits Andreu and who he is. So signing the number one rider in the freeride discipline was a message and one that worked. - Markus Flossman|
Yes, sure. But in a more comprehensive way. Downhill is still the supreme discipline of mountain biking - it’s awfully fast and very easy to provide media coverage of a DH race in a way that makes it gripping to watch - even for outsiders. So the gains we seek are not limited to the downhill sector, but will include the whole sport of mountain biking. How would you compare the size of YT in terms of sales and market visibility versus other brands?
Comparing is a hard thing to do and estimating will do no good. We are not big, but are not small either. Let’s say we are comfortable, having a size that opens up opportunities that are limited to the big shots of the sport - speaking of R&D, design, production, and service. Yes, we are growing and continuously reaching out to new markets and disciplines. But not randomly in every direction that seems to be prosperous. We are selling a certain way of life to a very special kind of people. Neither of them can be found in every biking discipline and we sure won’t change our identity to reach out to the others. We do what we do and losing our character and our approach would be our worst nightmare.
As a natural consequence, we are proud to say that we have fans where others have customers. So limited to our very own sphere of activity we have a very high market visibility. Within this sphere, we specialize in delivering exactly what people expect us to. Here, we are an innovator and a market leader.
From the outside, for a company like YT, this seems like a huge investment - will there be an increased pressure on you to sell more bikes to balance the books?
Well, it definitely decreases the fear of not being on top of the game. For real, this time we wouldn’t have taken the risk if we weren’t able to handle it. With sizing up, come responsibilities and we are ready to face them.
We know how to run a company, although we appear to be nuts most of the time. Aaron fits into our existing marketing budget, therefore, having signed him is not putting any extra pressure on us. In the end, you need to sell enough bikes to keep the party going on in the next year.
YT have built their reputation around being a hard-partying, no-f*cks-given brand, which is pretty much the polar opposite of Gwin's clean-cut, faith-based lifestyle. Do you have any concerns about this being an issue, or is this the beginning of a new brand image, cleaner and focused on a wider market?
|We know how to run a company, although we appear to be nuts most of the time. Aaron fits into our existing marketing budget therefore having signed him is not putting any extra pressure on us. - Markus Flossman|
Definitely not. We will always stay true to ourselves. But that is not hard-partying or provoking others, in particular, we are just trying to get the most out of this life. Yes, there comes a moment to grow up. For us and our friends, it means to change the vocabulary - but not what we are saying. And yes, it may also mean to come home earlier to enjoy some quality time with the kids the next day. But our general idea of life stays untouched and we always end up having good times and that’s it. Now, tell me how far away that is from any man having his head on straight?
Aaron and us, we are not so far from each other at all. In fact, he’s extremely relaxed, both as a person and in his approach to riding his bike. That’s why he’s a winner: The ability to relax one’s mind and fall into 'flow mode' is exactly what separates two equally talented, prepared, and trained athletes. One going for first place and the other settling for second. That is our common ground. I have met him several times now, we have trained together and also beyond mountain biking we have a lot of common interests. He’s a fine guy, that’s all I can say, he is a perfect fit for our family.
Were you planning on becoming involved at the sharp end of downhill racing in 2016. Did you specifically go after Gwin, or did he and Martin Whiteley approach YT. If Gwin wasn't an option would you have looked for other riders or was it Aaron or nothing?
|One going for first place and the other settling for second. That is our common ground. - Markus Flossman|
We’ve been thinking about getting into World Cup racing for quite some time. In the end, it’s the sport we do ourselves and the thought of officially showing our colors there has always been more than just tempting, so we had it high on the agenda for 2017. That we preponed it to 2016 goes back to Steve Jones asking one day if I thought the TUES could win a World Cup. Yeah sure, why not, was my answer, leaving him smiling. We wouldn’t get this off our minds until some weeks later we decided amongst ourselves to accept the challenge. By this time, it was common knowledge that Aaron was renegotiating with Specialized so we chose to ask him and set up a meeting. We talked a while and it soon became obvious that just as it had been with Andreu before, we were a perfect match.
From an economical point of view, entering the World Cup was only of interest to us doing it big, therefore, Aaron was the most natural choice. At this point of his career, Aaron wants to put a cherry on the top and for that he needs a rock solid partner, somebody who a)
can deliver a product that is meeting his standards, enabling him to do what he’s here to do, and b)
somebody who understands the big picture and provides a steady and reliable economical cover, not caring about where markets are seemingly moving to, but willing to put in the effort necessary to actually define these markets. Is this part of a larger plan to help boost YT's position in the United States?
Let me think about this. Yes. Will Gwin be helping with the bike development of future YT bikes, or is it purely a business trade of product and budget in return for media coverage and promotion?
Whatever stereotypes people are trying to sell the audience, the truth looks like this – bringing rider experience into development is not a question of realness vs. being-in-it-for-the-money or whatever, the poles are on a scale from a rider-owned to the bald-fat-men company. One of the major benefits we are getting out of this is the input and the vision of somebody who - within his discipline - knows more about the riders' perspective than anybody else on the planet. And so we knew we had the right guy for the job when Aaron explicitly asked for the possibility of taking part in the development process. Already, we have Andreu’s, Cam’s and Bryan’s ideas, which are essential for our range that is meeting the standards of even the most sophisticated pro riders while on the other hand producing something not over-bred and touchy but easy and intuitive to handle. These are exactly the properties Aaron instantly liked about the TUES and he is more than welcome to join forces in the process.
Enduro racing has been making massive headlines over the last three years with the Enduro World Series, and one would assume that YT sells more 160mm Capra enduro bikes than the Tues downhill bike. Can you explain why you think it makes sense to invest into downhill racing over enduro racing for the brand?
As I said before, downhill racing is still the most attractive and the suspense is unmatched. Yes, enduro racing is offering that, too, but only if you are participating in the race. Watching it, not so much, at least not yet. This will change with technical possibilities growing up to the demands of creating good footage of such an event. But still then it will be suspenseful in a very different way - watching a DH race is something completely different, with its very own attractiveness.
Coming back to DH being the supreme discipline of mountain biking, most enduro customers choose the product for its versatility and are riding it in parks and on single trails. They are equally attracted by both competitions and so are even many all-mountain riders - who never have set a foot in a bike park. One would also assume that dirt bikes generate the smallest volume of sales. Will we see the brand moving away from dirt jump bikes and associated sponsorships?
It’s a pity that dirt jumping, the sport YT originates from and which defined our DNA, has become less visible over the years. Still, we want to stay true to our roots and therefore, we are keeping up support in this sector.
I believe that nowadays we are the brand that’s still supporting the most dirt jumpers, taking into account that Andreu and Cam also started out from there once. They just have evolved, but this is where the talent comes from. This is why in addition to Yannick Granieri and Bienve Alba, we decided to sign the Catalan, Adolf Silva. On top of that, we designed a carbon slopestyle frame that’s going to hit the shelves soon, despite knowing from the beginning that we’d never be able to cover the expenses of the development process. We do so because we think that sometimes you just have to follow your heart and let the numbers be numbers.
|In our world the times are not gone where it's still all about good times... - Markus Flossman|