I recently spent a day at Pedaler's Fork, a restaurant, bar, cafe and boutique bike shop in Calabasas, California, which Fox Head chose as a venue to show off their new Flux helmet. My colleague Paul Aston had a chance to get an early look
at the Flux, so I took the opportunity to dig a bit deeper with the Fox Head team. With Fox's recent shift in design language for their bike products, I was curious about how the moto and mountain bike categories influence one another, and how the company's structure is set up. I sat down with SVP of Product Marketing, Scott Betty, and Category Director for Mountain Bike and Lifestyle, JP Roy to ask them a couple of questions.
What do you do exactly as SVP of Product Marketing, Scott?Scott Betty:
Product Marketing, as a group, is responsible for setting the long-term strategy for product in collaboration with our Design Team. Looking out on the horizon, what’s our roadmap look like three, four, and five years down the road? With hard goods for example, everything we do from helmets to boots to guards, we have a five-year roadmap that constantly evolves. We’re trying to look down the road to see what we need to bring to market to meet the changing needs of the consumer either based on how they ride or technologies that come out in the marketplace. So we’re constantly trying to break new ground, lead the market. We hold that near and dear to our hearts. And just work on delivering better products so that consumers have a better experience. Ones that make you safer, faster, and allow you to have more fun.
And what do you do as Category Director for Mountain Bike and Lifestyle, JP?JP Roy:
Our function is to oversee the product creation cycle from concept to consumer. From the seasonal kickoff that we lead with Design, all the way through to product briefs, product execution through prototypes, costing exercises, which lead to Sales meetings and Go-To-Market strategies, that see the product all the way through to the end consumer and his or her experience.
What are your backgrounds? How did you end up doing these jobs?JP:
Scotty and I have very similar backgrounds actually. My background is through competitive sport and being intrigued as to how product can influence performance. I studied Sports Science as an undergrad and then did grad school in Sports Biomechanics. Which led me to the industry through Adidas, based in Germany, working initially with their innovation team. My first jobs were on compression wear and thermoregulation and how those technologies can improve performance. I was developing test methods to measure those improvements in performance. That led me to more the commercial side of the business through a men’s training role, which was based in Asia actually. We used to create product at that time for all of Asia-Pacific for the men’s training category. From there, I went to Oakley, on the regional side, to be Brand Director for them in Asia. I then came back to the US with Oakley to head up their Lifestyle and Surf category in Product Creation and then two years ago, I joined Fox to head up Lifestyle initially, and shortly after Mountain Bike categories on the product creation side. So that's the last 16 years or so.
So how many countries have you lived in in the past 16 years? JP:
Germany, China, US, Canada, so four. Scott:
I also have a background in Sports Science, Masters in Biomechanics, and we are the only two people in the company with that background, so it’s odd. We also have a similar career path, mine started off in footwear. I began at Converse, doing R&D, and eventually moved over to Product Marketing at Adidas on the footwear side. I didn’t know JP at Adidas; our paths didn’t cross. Then I did Marketing and Sports Marketing in the Internet world for a few years before coming back to Product because I love product and I missed product and performance. I was at Oakley for about 12 years, half of that was on the soft goods side, half of that on the eyewear side. Then I spent a little bit of time at Fender Guitars, and now I’ve been at Fox for about six months.
So how do the different categories work together? How do your offices work together?Scott:
We’re a cross-functional organization for the most part. So you have Design, Development, and Manufacturing leadership reporting to the CEO. We’re on the Product Marketing side, so we’re that Merchandising role, category management role, the strategy of and the business management of Product. Then obviously there’s a Marketing function which is about communications, the folks that put on the event today, who engage with the consumer whether it’s event activation, social media activation, advertising activation, brand strategy, that’s a separate group in the chain of command. And then the commercial side of the house, where you have Sales, Retail, E-Comm, also has that same chain of command. So it’s that classic cross-functional matrix approach at a corporate level, and then obviously each of the regions exist as entities. So there’s a North America region, a European region, and Asia-Pacific and a Latin-America region.
We have a subsidiary office in Barcelona, the North American office effectively is the headquarters where the global headquarters is, we have a Canadian office, and then we’ll have branch offices in other countries on a smaller scale. Everyone sells the same product that we create on a global level at HQ.
How many people at the office touch all the different categories - Lifestyle, Moto & Mountain Bike?Scott:
It’s a little bit of a hybrid. So, for example our Product Marketing team, JP heads up Lifestyle and Bike, he has a counterpart who heads up Motocross, and then we have a second brand under the portfolio and we have someone on that business as well. So on the Product Marketing side, we’re kind of categorically focused.
Design is set up in a similar structure, but on the Design side there will be folks who, because they’ll specialize in an area that runs across categories, they’ll work across categories. So, Color & Graphic will work across categories. The Designer who might do the brand new motocross helmet color and graphic is also doing mountain bike colors and graphics. There’s cross-pollination in design on some fronts as well. We see it more often with hard goods than soft goods. Because of the triangle that we like to refer to in product creation - of our role as merchants, Design’s role as creators and then the Developers’ role as the executional arm, there’s cross-pollination within each of those groups a lot of times.
The best practice is, let’s say the Material Developers on Motocross and Mountain Bike share thoughts on ideas and fabrications and things they discover in the market so you’ll start to see a lot of, if we’ve got a great fabric that’s breathable and stretch and works great in moto, chances are that jersey fabric is also going to mountain bike, or vice versa. So there’s a lot of sharing of technology and innovation across the categories.JP:
Just to add to what Scott was saying too, I think we’re such a small team, the building holds what, maybe 200 people, so the cross-pollination just walking across the aisle and just talking to people, happens so frequently, because it’s a pretty tight-knit community within the Fox headquarters. I mean, from Strategy to Fabric, how we build our franchises to be consumer benefit driven, we share a lot of those ideas. On fabric specifically: Cordura. We have these technology partners that work phenomenally for many categories, even Lifestyle. Our Lifestyle’s rooted in authenticity, so whenever possible a lot of our guys and girls work on their bikes when they’re not riding them, so they need product that’s going to perform in those environments. We talked a little bit about moto earlier, and the need for abrasion resistance and things like that, so brands like Cordura, brands like Polartec for moisture wicking and insulation purposes - we partner with those brands.
We partner with these brands cross categorically and it gives us an advantage over the competition as well because other mountain bike brands don’t have moto categories they can take influence from and learn from. Another great example is the pattern work done in moto pants. Our brand is second to none in pattern work and tech design when it comes to motocross pants. We take all that great knowledge and apply it to the way that mountain bike pants are built. You know, with the subtleties of pedalling, it’s different, but we have an amazing foundation based on the long history that we have in sports like motocross. Scott:
I’d add to it with, a great example of, while we tend to be a motocross centric organization because of our history, you know we’ve been in moto since the birth of supercross. Recently there’s been a lot of adaptation of technologies and innovation in mountain bike, crossing back over to moto, which is awesome to see. A great example of that is Proframe. So Proframe without a doubt, as a helmet, was designed for the mountain bike space. It launched to market with great success, and what we found was such gravitational pull and interest from the market in general, that some of that great feature-set: breathability, and large bore venting, we’ve tried to adapt to the motocross world and our new, because we work on such advanced lead time for motocross, helmets that you’ll start to see come out from us later this year and early next year, will start to see the influence of the Proframe helmet into the moto one. So some of that same functionality from mountain bike is now influencing what we do in moto. So I think that’s probably one of our better examples that the consumer probably won’t see until later this year, early next year, but we’ve got some great new hardgoods products coming out that we feel have been influenced by mountain bike on the moto side.
You mentioned when we were chatting earlier that the lead times for moto are different to mountain bike, what does that mean for your business?JP:
The sell-in process and the sales cycles are slightly offset, so heavy influence or heavy emphasis on the moto in the fall season, so the launch is in August for MX 19 for this upcoming August, whereas our big season launch is in February - so what you’re seeing today with the Flux launch. So because of that offset we can validate and test certain things, in one industry and use it in the other industry in the next six months. So having that offset and the way those seasons are balanced is, I think for us as a brand, a great luxury to have. So it’s not all your eggs in one basket in one season.
What are the biggest core differences that make mountain bike and motocross gear unique from one another?Scott:
The physical products are unique because there’s a different need. I think it’s expressed more in bottom than in top on average, because the tops needs can be very similar. The difference between mountain bike and moto might be in the guard profile you wear in your jerseys in moto versus what you typically wear for the average consumer in mountain bike. So that might affect fit, and to a certain degree fabrication. On the moto side and the mountain bike side from a pants standpoint, that’s where the functionality really starts to change. So in moto, you’re in a flex state, and your range of motion is fairly modest over the course of a ride. Not insignificant, but that’s a different profile than on a bike when you’re in a constant pedal state. And even a downhill racer is going to go through a greater range of motion and more of a pedal cadence than say a motocross rider will on a typical ride. So the reality of mobility needs means tops are designed and engineered differently, even though they might share similar fabrication. The build, the trims… A [motor] bike is a heat generating device with a motor, and a few hundred pounds of weight, that’s much different from a 25-30 pound mountain bike. So the physical requirements are different which means the end products will end up being different.
Helmets are slightly different because you have to meet different certification requirements on the moto side versus the mountain bike side, so those tests are different which means the end product has to be different in order to have a safety certified helmet. Then one product category where we’re in on the motocross side that we’re not on the mountain bike side is in the area of boots. So motocross footwear is much different than mountain bike footwear because of the nature of the beast of the bike differences. Gloves is probably a category where the products are, really a lot are solid crossover.
What do you think makes Fox different from other companies?JP:
I definitely think that our history and our founder’s approach to the product. I mean, Geoff Fox was a physicist, drove the technical nature and the performance DNA of the brand. And you’re seeing this today in our mountain bike product that there is not a brand out there that is, I would say, especially on accessory, apparels and helmets, close to us on technology. I mean we work with the best partners in the world to build those technologies, and I think that culture that Geoff instilled 40 years ago, is still alive today. And the second part of that is the fact that we do have two performance categories that influence one another. Whereas a lot of other brands out there, there are a few exceptions, don't have that ability to cross-pollinate and inspire one another. Scott:
I think the differentiator for Fox stems back to that, as the kind of motocross pioneer in terms of rider wear, that's the cornerstone of our identity, and to maintain that identity and authenticity, and to live up to the expectation we've set from being the pioneer, we have to continue to internalize: "We're going to be best in class, we're going to lead the market, and continue to innovate new things to improve product for the benefit of the rider." So you kind of owe it to yourself to live up to the identity that you establish by being that pioneer. You have to maintain that. Or I think you start to lose sight of what consumers value in your brand. So I think if we just stopped innovation, and rested on our laurels as a brand, we would lose our brand authenticity, our expectation with the consumer would change, and that's just not something we're ever going to feel good about. We have to continue to lead. We have to continue to be the pioneer that takes a step forward, progresses the sport for the benefit of riders.
And I also think that one of the things that makes Fox, Fox is our people, and our design aesthetic. You know, we like to swim upstream, go against the stream. When the industry's heading one direction, you pick a different direction. That mentality starts in moto, but it definitely translates over to mountain bike. So we like to take lefts when the industry takes a right aesthetically, so we always look fresh and leading as opposed to following or chasing. JP:
Definitely our people. I think we have one of the most exceptional creative teams, development teams, tech design teams, I have to say Product Marketing teams as well because that's us. Honestly, the people that work at Fox, are the most passionate, inspiring people that I've worked with, and I've worked for a few brands, as had Scotty, so we're pretty lucky to come to work and do what we do every day. And you see that on everyone's face in the building.Scott:
It's definitely a by riders, for riders type of mindset.