Five questions: Phil Davy, Leatt USA

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As the general manager of Leatt Brace USA, Phil Davy knows a thing or three about protective motorcycle gear. You may have heard of a brand called Icon Motorsports, well Davy was the visionary brain behind the brand that put protective riding apparel onto the backs of many riders who would have otherwise never worn any. Way back when, Davy started out as road salesman for O’Neal USA in 1977 selling Jofa brand hockey pads to dealers for motocross use before the company designed and developed its own line of clothing and protective gear. Then there was a stint with AXO Sport America before he was hired by Parts Unlimited (LeMans) to develop what would become Icon. After that? “After eight years of Icon, Dr. [Chris] Leatt contacted me and, knowing his product, I was immediately interested in being a part of his team,” Davy explains.

Why Leatt? The main thing, Davy says, is the company’s laboratory staff in Cape Town, South Africa. This is a team with extensive medical expertise — two biomedical engineers, a sports medicine engineer and company founder, Dr. Chris Leatt, a medical doctor and trauma surgeon. It’s this expertise that sets the company apart, giving it the edge in developing better functioning safety products. These are products designed to protect people, he says, and not just items built to a price point or splashed with NBG.

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Dealernews: Give a little history about the evolution of Leatt Brace?
Phil Davy: Dr. Chris Leatt was racing a motorcycle race in his home of South Africa when he was asked to help a badly injured rider. This rider, quite tragically, died of his injuries, which included severe neck injuries. At that moment, Dr. Leatt decided something needed to be done to help prevent neck injuries the same way other injuries have been reduced by other motorcycle safety products. It took years, sweat, and I’m sure a few tears along with a lot of money to bring out the first Leatt neck brace. In the U.S. no distributor was interested in carrying the neck brace so Leatt had to start it’s own distributing company, now called Leatt USA. Now, just a few years later, we are getting close to having sold 1 million neck braces worldwide, and there are plenty latecomers who are trying to copy our success.

  DN: Leatt has grown from being a neck brace company to include several new products in its lineup. What is the next evolution of Leatt?
PD: When I started at Leatt some of the first things I did was ask a lot of questions from a lot of people. Reps, dealers, other distributors and the riders themselves. Believe it or not, the retail customers answered my questions better than any other source. When I asked off-road racers why they didn’t wear a neck brace the most common responses were that the braces did not work well with their chest protectors, riding jackets or hydration systems. We listened, we got to work and since we came out with those products our sales are up over 50 percent this year. Our chest protector lineup, alone, for fall is 15 part numbers for kids to fat guys. Our solution for hands-free hydration, while racing, is particularly revolutionary. What’s next? Check out the next Leatt catalog.

DN: What can powersports dealers do to get their customers to buy and wear protective gear and apparel?
PD: I have made 40,000 dealer visits in my career and there is one common dealer success I have seen over and over again, sadly in not many dealerships: That is proactively getting the customer to try something on. If the protection item is a helmet, jacket, boot, chest protector or neck brace, the best way to bring the customer closer to a buying decision is to encourage them to try it on. I have been in dealerships where this simple conversation works so well, and is so natural that when I compliment them on it they are surprised. They think everyone does it. I learned this simple tactic from good dealers and just watch when you or your staff does it right. You can actually see and hear in the retail customer’s voice the increased confidence in the product just by putting it on. Do this and prosper.

  DN: What are powersports dealers doing wrong when it comes to selling protective gear and apparel?
PD: I have spoken to many dealers who think that putting too much emphasis on pushing safety gear scares off potential new customers. That is incredibly wrong and self destructive. Injured, maimed and dead motorcyclists do more to chase away new customers than any safety pitch. To be safe and enjoy our sport, you must first recognize the dangers, then use training, experience and protective gear to minimize them. I will also say that using these safety products yourself, and getting your staff to use them goes a long way in creating a better selling atmosphere.

  DN: What is Leatt doing to get the new STX Road neck brace in front of riders, many of whom wear the bare minimum of protective gear?
PD: A good question. I’ll tell you what we are planning; how well it works out is yet to be seen. The first adopters of a new type of safety device likely will be the same type of riders who were first to adopt products like the brightly colored riding jackets and vests, who put reflective tape on the backs of their bikes and wear only CE approved armor. Many of these types of riders are in riding clubs and organizations, so our first marketing job is to go to their events and work hand in hand with progressive dealers who sell there. We can educate, do fittings and free demos and turn those educated riders into our ambassadors. Getting MSF RiderCoaches and Cape Fox instructors involved as well as the motorcycle media and forum enthusiasts to demo the product is all part of the picture. We already have a few dozen progressive dealers turning profit on this new product category now and more every day. In this economy, where dealers just can’t sell as many tires, or helmets or bikes as they used to, it makes perfect sense to look into new product categories especially ones that can help save their customers’ lives.

DN: Tell us a little bit about your background in selling protective gear?
PD: I started in the industry as a road salesman for O’Neal USA in 1977. I was the protective gear king of Southern California selling mostly Jofa brand hockey pads to dealers for motocross use. I did that for 10 years, then was there for another three years as sales manager, during which time we designed and developed our own line of clothing and protective gear. I then worked for AXO Sport America while they were the best-selling brand of off-road gear. When AXO distribution was taken over by Helmet House I moved there as the AXO brand manager. In 2002 I was hired by Parts Unlimited to launch a new brand idea they had called Icon, but I didn’t like their idea.  So with the help of a fantastic design team we turned it into my brand vision and it because the bestselling sportbike apparel/protection in North America. After eight years of Icon Dr. [Chris] Leatt contacted me and, knowing his product, I was immediately interested in being a part of his team.

DN: Who is Leatt USA’s target customer?
PD: Fortunately everyone on an ATV or motorcycle needs protective gear. Unfortunately if these riders were really very safety conscious they wouldn’t be on an ATV or motorcycle to begin with. So we focus our attention of those that are “relatively” safety conscious. Like off-roaders and motocrossers, who know they are going to crash, and the type of street rider who takes his riding gear a little more seriously than the helmetless idiots.

   DN: What was your vision of Leatt when you were hired?
PD: Quite simply I wanted to change us from “Leatt Brace,” as most people knew us to “Leatt,’ a full-line, high-end protection company with neck braces as the flagship of the line.

  DN: What can you say about any potential partnerships between Leatt and other manufacturers?
PD: We have quite a good relationship with a lot of other off-road-based companies who know and use our products. We also use O’Neal USA as our exclusive distributor for our bicycle products and we make private-label braces for both Troy Lee Designs and Fly Racing/WPS.

   DN: What will get more riders wearing protective gear?
PD: All protective gear, every brand for every form of motorsports, needs to improve the desirability factor of their safety gear. To just expect riders to buy safety gear because it is safe and functional is a huge mistake that has led to the poor percentage of users we all have today. The single best way to get riders to wear more and better protective equipment is to make those products look so good, so cool, that the rider feels that they will look better by wearing them. While there are a huge number of truly well-dressed, safety conscious riders out there, the sad fact is that they are in the minority.

  DN: What’s the next revolution of rider protection for street? Off-road?
PD: Can’t tell you, but keep a lookout for some clever safety solutions from Leatt.

This story is an expanded version of a story that appeared in the Dealernews September 2011 issue.