History of the Brand: Helmet House

Publish Date: 
Dec 3, 2013
By Mike Vaughan

FIRST OFF: SHOEI
Their marketing plan remained pretty rudimentary – swap meets, the store and its display of helmets and an occasional classified ad in the Santa Monica Evening Outlook.

Phil Huff, then sales manager for what was later to become Shoei Safety Helmets, used to occasionally stop by their store to pick their brains to find out what was hot and what was not. In 1971, he came to their store to ask if they’d be interested in distributing Shoei helmets.  

“How would we do that?” they said. “We don’t have any money.”

To which Huff replied, “If I could solve that problem for you, would you be interested?”

Of course they’d be interested. But there was another problem. “We don’t have a sales organization.”

Huff again responded, “If I could solve that problem for you, would you be interested?” Yes, they would.

Huff went on to explain that Shoei owed him two years of back commission, and because they’d been making a big investment in development, he wasn’t likely to see his commission any time soon, and he wanted his money.

Huff secured them a line of credit, and told the two partners that Shoei was coming out with a new helmet that was going to be “an absolute world beater.” His plan was to presell the first three months’ inventory to the existing 14 Shoei distributors and let Helmet House distribute the entire inventory. “They’ll have to get them from you, because you’ll tie up production for that period of time,” Huff said.

Bellomy was concerned that the 14 other distributors might get upset with this arrangement, but Huff said that he didn’t care, he just wanted his money. So they rented a warehouse and started shipping the new Shoei full-face helmet that cost $20 and sold for $29.

“It was a transitional moment for us,” Bellomy said.

THEN CAME TOUR MASTER
Their next step forward was the development of the Tour Master brand of motorcycle dedicated outerwear. A young motorcycle enthusiast, who worked for them, concluded that there was a need. As Bellomy points out, at that time most motorcyclists bought their gear from a ski shop, Kmart, Sears or J.C. Penney’s. There was some leather in dealerships, but not much in the way of fabric riding gear.

At the beginning, dealers were somewhat receptive to the concept of fabric, but were not enthusiastic.

They contracted with snowmobile manufacturer Arctic Cat, in Thief River Falls, Minn., and as might be expected, the first Tour Master gear was basically a snowmobile suit. There was a little padding, but nothing like the armor found in today’s riding gear.

Dealers were somewhat receptive to the concept of fabric, but were not enthusiastic. First of all, they didn’t perceive the need. Leather, yes. Fabric, why? A second problem was that they didn’t have space for it. Helmets they could put on the wall, but clothing, other than leather, was just not on their list of priorities.

 “We did OK, but just OK until about the mid to end ‘80s,” Bellomy said. “By this time the line had expanded, we had a collection of gloves, clothing and bags. We didn’t have a lot of money for advertising, but we finally decided to take a percentage of sales and put it into advertising, and then things started to move.”

They hired an advertising agency and continued to advertise, although with a modest budget, and while their sales weren’t overwhelming, they were enough to sustain interest in the brand by consumers and dealers.

“The catalyst for the fabric apparel market was Joe Rocket, and I’ll give them a lot of credit,” Bellomy said. “They took the industry by storm. The really opened the door for dealers who recognized the opportunity. We then expanded our product line a year later and were able to start heavily stocking dealers. As good as Joe Rocket was at the time, we saw some holes in their product line and decided to fill them and that’s when things really took off.” (continued)