After a four-year absence, Schuberth helmets will return to U.S. dealerships in mid-October. And this time the German brand should have greater staying power because Schuberth itself owns the importer. Meaning no more relying on third parties.
To explain: At the beginning of the present century, the motorcycle industry was abuzz over the Concept modular helmet made by Schuberth and imported into the U.S. by Intersport Fashions West. But the high-end brand was in weak hands. In 2003, Intersport was bought by Fairchild Sports, itself a dying company that would stop selling the helmets by 2007.
During that six-year run, however, the Concept — and later the C2 and S1 — charmed more than 25,000 motorcyclists who liked being able to take riding breaks without having to remove their helmets. Schuberth appealed especially to long-distance BMW riders enchanted by the clean design and German heritage.
After so many years, one might guess that most Schuberth owners have moved on to other brands. But a good number haven’t, according to Randy Northrup, general manager of Schuberth North America in Aliso Viejo, Calif.
Northrup, who provided us with the 25,000-plus estimate, says Schuberth owners in the U.S. have been sending e-mails to Germany headquarters requesting replacement shields, liners and other maintenance items. But because the DOT-approved versions of the helmets are different from their European counterparts, the company couldn’t help.
Northrup uncovered further evidence of a cult following in mid-July at the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America Rally in Redmond, Ore. “I’m not sure exactly how many thousands of riders were up there for the rally, but there were literally hundreds of people wearing their Concept helmet,” he says. “The Concept helmet is at least six years old. Some of those things are even older, and there were dozens and dozens of people who were wearing them. In fact, we serviced over 200 helmets while we were up there, and we were there for just three days.”
Testimonials don’t get much better: so many people willing to stick with helmets that for years have been both irreplaceable and unserviceable. “Some of those helmets were so worn,” Northrup says. “They were functional but worn. The liners were all worn out. You could tell they had maybe 100,000 miles on some of these helmets.”
Besides the e-mails from past customers, why has Schuberth chosen now to return to the U.S.? One reason has to do with the brand’s ownership. About three and a half years ago, Northrup says, an investment group based in Philadelphia bought Schuberth. So it’s a U.S-owned company.
Another reason is the brand’s success in Europe, especially with its latest flip-up model, the C3 introduced in summer 2008. “If you look in the European publications, they all say that Schuberth is the No. 1 brand,” Northrup claims. “Most people have a lot of confidence in the brand, so they do really well in Europe. Then, of course, the American investors were going, ‘Well, how come they aren’t here?’”
Much of that brand confidence, Northrup says, can be traced to the reformatting of the business by Marcel Lejeune, who became CEO in 2008. The company’s marketing department has placed renewed emphasis on the brand’s success in Formula 1 racing. One story is especially memorable: In summer 2009, Schuberth-wearing racer Felipe Massa survived after being hit in the face by a spring that had come loose from the car in front of him (click here for details). He was going 175 mph at the time.
“The accident brought Schuberth to the forefront of all safety-related head protection,” Northrup says. Founded in 1922, the company also makes products for fire fighters and the industrial safety industry. Schuberth started making motorcycle helmets in 1954. Northrup says the company also makes all BMW’s helmets, which the OEM no longer exports to the U.S. due to the country’s litigiousness.
Other Schuberth-wearing F1 racers include Michael Schumacher (shown) and Townsend Bell.
Schuberth’s re-entry plan
Schuberth hired Northrup in March to write a business plan and hire staff. Two people he hired had once worked for Fairchild Sports: Sarah Schilke, Schuberth N.A.’s marketing manager, and Mike Talarico, its technician service manager who will be traveling across the country to train dealers.
Talarico spent nearly two weeks in Germany “training on every helmet scenario of being able to disassemble and reassemble,” Northrup says. “We’ve all spent a tremendous amount of time in Germany over those first several months training and learning about the company.” (Schuberth also invited the media to visit its factory and offices, which employ about 350 people, according to Northrup. Click here to read Motorcycle-USA.com’s photo-heavy report.)
All Schuberth helmets are made in the German factory, which has its own wind tunnel and testing facility. Says Northrup: “I’ve worked with a lot of different helmet manufacturers, spent a lot of time in Asia, and immediately when I walked into the German facility, I was going, ‘Whoa, this is different.’”
After joining the Motorcycle Industry Council, Schuberth opened an office/service center in Aliso Viejo in mid-July (though the grand opening was in September). “I said that’s where we’ve got to start,” Northrup says. “We can’t start selling new helmets until we can at least offer service on all the Schuberth helmets already out there.”
The company is now signing up dealers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to become “certified service centers” and “fitting stations.” Liability will not be an issue, Northrup says, because none of the fixes will be safety-related. “The people who are wearing Schuberth helmets are putting on tens of thousands of miles a year. That means the shields are going up and down hundreds of thousands of times a year, so they just need a little bit of tightening or a fresh face shield.”
There are multiple buy-in levels for dealers, but fitting stations will need to carry all sizes and colors of the C3, which Northrup describes as “the lightest helmet with the smallest overall shell size that includes an internal sun visor.” He also claims it’s “quieter than most full-face helmets on the marketplace, less than 84 decibels of sound at 65 mph” (click here to download a Schuberth N.A. brochure). The helmet comes with a Pinlock visor, is DOT- and ECE-approved, and has an MSRP of $699.
Another model that will be sold in the U.S. is the C3W, the first flip-up helmet designed for women. Schuberth says the model takes into account smaller head sizes as well as “a woman’s unique facial shape.”
None of the other Schuberth helmet models shown on the European website will ever be imported, Northrup says. A full-face model, however, is in the works for next summer. Available now is a Bluetooth communications system made by Cardo Systems specifically for Schuberth helmets. The $399 product is a simple neck roll replacement.
To receive and distribute all its helmets from a centralized location, Schuberth has contracted with a third-party warehouse in the Chicago area.
As far as marketing goes, Schuberth is buying print advertising in BMW Owners News and other publications. At select stops of the International Motorcycle Shows (it will have displays at all stops), Schuberth will be offering “test rides” in which people who ride to the event can take a borrowed Schuberth out on the road.
In-store merchandising materials include an etched-glass LED reflective sign that glows. A helmet display is about three months away, Northrup says.
Schuberth N.A. is looking to sign up 25 “charter” dealers with a service center and 50 retailers overall by the end of the year. Open areas include Denver, Houston, Atlanta, North Carolina and Austin, Texas. The majority of the retailers will be BMW dealers, but not all. “We’re working with almost every dealer to make sure if they want to buy in, they can get involved,” Northrup says.
Schuberth also will be retailing helmets on its website (www.schuberthnorthamerica.com) through dealers. “The dealer locator finds out the closest dealer, and that dealer gets credit for the sale,” Northrup says. “It’s also listed as the return location if that helmet doesn’t fit.”
Northrup says retailers will be able to use Schuberth to attract riders from far and wide. “And hopefully they’ll ride over with two or three of their friends,” he adds.
Northrup describes Schuberth’s overall approach to the U.S. market as “slow and methodical.” But that doesn’t mean low-energy. “Once we started announcing things, dealers came out of the woodwork due to the pent-up demand,” he says. “It’s a pretty exciting time for us.”