Aiming for Their Heads

It's been two months since Motonation made its first public outing with Vemar Helmets at Dealer Expo and the distributor's head honcho, Bill Berroth, says the deal is working out well. Dealers have already been picking up Vemar's carbon fiber VSRC helmet (MSRP $1,000) and the Italian flavored version of the VSREV is selling well to the Ducati crowd. The latter dovetails nicely with Berroth's goal of targeting shops that have a passionate Italian following in his effort to reestablish the high-end Italian helmet brand here in the United States.

The Motonation president says his company's edging into its first year selling Vemar with reasonable sales goals and is going after the upper end of the helmet market, namely Arai and Shoei, with the only totally European helmet brand. By targeting the higher end Berroth is aligning Vemar with the other high-end brands Motonation distributes, Sidi and Spidi. "It just seems like a great match," he says.

Motonation runs a unique operation in that it doesn't go after all dealerships, rather it focuses on the 20 percent half of the 80/20 rule.

The company is also known for protecting dealer margins and territories and policing mail order and Internet advertising. Berroth says Motonation has a zero-tolerance policy for discounting and that any dealer caught intentionally discounting the products will be cut off. "We want to sell on features and benefits, not price," he explains.

Vemar company principal Nicola Simoni, son of the company's founder, Riccardo Simoni, recently made a trip from Italy to Motonation's headquarters in El Cajon, Calif. He was there to introduce the line to a gathering of Motonation's independent sales reps. "Our target is to become part of the American helmet market," Simoni says, adding that it will be a slow process while they learn how the market operates.

The Italian company had previously courted Motonation, but at that time Berroth was focused on establishing the Spidi line. Simoni says Vemar chose Motonation for its product focus.

Vemar was initially founded in Italy in 1975 as a company that produced fiberglass tanks to store wine, oil and water for professional and domestic use. Simoni's father, Riccardo Simoni, established the helmet division in 1987 based on the company's experience working with fiberglass and composites. In 1992, Vemar Helmets was formed as a standalone company. Since that beginning, Vemar's focused on competing in the high end of the helmet market, Simoni says. To illustrate this point, he shows a slide of a banner than hangs in the company's factory, it reads "Let's challenge Japan."

The company is one of four helmet manufacturers rated to build helmets for Formula 1 Racing, the other three being Arai, Bell and Schuberth. Vemar's helmets are ECE and DOT certified. The modular Jiano is ECE certified as a full-face helmet and is also ranked ECE compliant on the chin bar.

Berroth says when he was first talking with Vemar about the best certification for the U.S. market they opted to stick with the ECE certification rather than try to test for Snell qualification. Not only is Snell moving toward a standard that's closer to the ECE, but many Euopean-bike dealers tend to favor the Euro certification. Designwise, Simoni says the company is working in supply graphics that will appeal to the U.S. market and in 2009 will include helmets featuring graphics from an American designer.

The company is also working on a helmet that features integrated Blue Tooth technology that allows for cell phone use, helmet-to-helmet communications and streaming of MP3 players. There will be no parts to attach to the helmet or wires to hide behind the liner, Simoni says.

The two main street helmets, the VSREV and the VTXE are designed for different riders, the former for race types and the latter for more casual riders. Each model comes with two shields, one clear, the other tinted. Motonation also carries two off-road Vemar helmets, the VRX7 and the VRX5.

Unlike other helmet companies on the market, Vemar builds its helmets so that the shields stay shut and in place in a crash. Even its quick-release models are designed to stay intact in a crash if one side is broken off.

Berroth says he plans on rebuilding the Vemar brand name based on Motonation's reputation as a distributor of niche, exclusive brands. Vemar was previously represented by Fairchild Sports before it got out of the distribution game. Berroth lays out this philosophy in the company's dealer program book, writing "Motonation is not trying to reach No. 1 in sales with Sidi, Spidi or Vemar; instead our goal is to secure all brands image as the No. 1 product in its category, which is not necessarily the same thing."