It's not easy to enter a market that already has more than 60 brands. So the folks behind SparX helmets are excited about the buzz they've created in two short months. Print ads running in about 10 street and off-road magazines show a helmet alongside a topless or naked woman, both carefully positioned and lit. SparX measures response by the number of people requesting the free T-shirt hawked in the ads, and calling to find their nearest dealer.
What makes the buzz even more noteworthy is that at press time the company had yet to sell a single lid. The two entry-level helmets (one street, one dirt in numerous graphics) go on sale this month. SparX is selling only to Californian dealers. Tucker Rocky is distributing to all states, California included.
Pricing is identical, and margins range from 47 percent to 50 percent. SparX will establish, and police, minimum advertised prices. Retail prices range from $109.99 to $139.99 for the street model and from $109.99 to $129.99 for the dirt, though prices and margins are subject to change.
The brand is owned by MK Sports Industries Inc., a U.S. company founded by the owners of KBC Helmets Inc. and the owners of one of the largest helmet manufacturers in China. Both are major players in the private label business in the United States.
Although SparX is a separate entity, it has access to KBC's marketing, design and engineering prowess. Likewise, it benefits from economies of scale by being made at the Chinese partner's factory.
Tucker Rocky says the brand will fit a pricing niche right below KBC, which is phasing out its similarly priced TK-77 and TK-X street and dirt models.
In October Dealernews traveled to Burbank, Calif., to visit SparX management, who at the moment are housed inside KBC headquarters. Led by ex-KBC marketing manager Pat Lio, they had a lot to say about competing on features instead of price, as well as on grassroots marketing. Riders themselves, they felt deeply about the brand. See what else they had to say in the feature-length article at www.dealernews.com. (Click on "Online Extras.")
The street model (in sizes XS-XXL) comes in 14 colorways in four categories: solids, a Shield base graphic, Retro styles and five special editions emblazoned with a cobra, skulls, a hornet, a griffin and — in a nod to popular culture — Che Guevara. See them all at www.sparxhelmets.com . By offering such a variety of graphics, SparX hopes to attract both young and old.
The helmet has a clean, simple design with contoured lines. The lineup uses two shells made out of a thermo composite. Top vents have no moving parts. The company says small, intricate parts can't be done well at this price point, and most riders don't adjust top vents anyway. SparX itself will service a five-year limited warranty.
The sturdy mouth vent has a large lip easily operated by gloved fingers. It opens and closes with a loud snap, as does the shield. Removable without tools, the shield contains two open-and-close vents at its upper left and right. They combine with the nose guard to help prevent fogging. These vents differ from the similar ones found on Arai shields in that there are no vent holes in the shell behind them.
Each helmet comes with a free pair of earplugs, and SparX has even incorporated small straps in the removable liner to hold a rider's earplug container — an industry first. The cheek pads are contoured and nice-looking.
SparX customers who get into an accident generating a police report can get a free replacement lid thanks to the company's crash damage program.
The MX lid has no moving parts and comes in nine colorways in three categories: a Core base graphic, a Camo model with matching liners, and three special editions — Chief, Skullz and Firestorm — that come with an extra peak and screw set. Sizes are XS-XXL and youth S and L, with the youth models coming with a free mouth guard. Although a large nose guard protects from roost, SparX tells us full-size goggles still fit through the eye port.
All SparX helmets are DOT- and ECE2205-compliant. — Arlo Redwine