UK powersports distributor begins U.S. expansion

Publish Date: 
Oct 2, 2012
By Dennis Johnson

WATERBURY, Conn. - Fowlers Distribution is a UK-based company maneuvering to make inroads into the U.S. powersports market with what it says is a mix of great margins, distinctive products -- and a "gentlemanly"approach to business. And it's sent over the founder's great-granddaughter to make sure all this happens.

Fowlers has a storied history in Bristol, its home in southwest England. The company was founded in 1926 by Frank and Alice Maude Fowler as a retail motorcycle store. Save for a few World War II years when the government bought out its motorcycle stock for the war effort, the business grew to include several iconic British marques.

In 1959, Fowlers became a BSA spare parts distributorship. Over the years both the retail and distributor operations grew with the addition of OEM lines and aftermarket vendors. In 1985 Fowlers launched an in-house brand, Weise Motorcycle Clothing.

The decision 27 years ago to launch Weise is the thread of the tale that winds its way to Waterbury, Conn., the site of Fowlers’ first U.S. warehouse, according to Sasha Fowler, the company’s chief commercial officer and great-granddaughter of its founders. American consumers had been lobbing web inquiries across the pond on where they could get Weise gear (like the Nevada jacket, below), but those requests hit a dead-end because no U.S. dealer sold the brand, she said.

“So, we set up a few dealers in the Northeast just to see if our product was going to move through the dealerships over here,” said Fowler. “After that we decided we absolutely needed a warehouse of stock here rather than shipping it from the U.K.”

In 2011 Fowler moved to Connecticut to head up the company’s U.S. operation. “It’s growing, but it’s slow progress because we’re having difficulty recruiting [sales] reps,” she said. The company seeks independent agents rather than employed sales representatives at this point, she added.

The initial market launch is aimed at building a dealer network on the East Coast (given that the company’s first warehouse is in the Northeast). Efforts will expand westward as the distributor gains more of a foothold in the market, Fowler said.

''The Van Run.' Fowlers currently services about 90 percent of all dealerships and repair shops in the UK. This strong market penetration on its home turf reflects the company’s philosophy on how its dealers/customers should be serviced, Fowler said. The distributor’s expansion in Great Britain — where, she says, it’s known as the “gentleman” of the industry — came after her father and mother joined the family business and started visiting dealerships and shops to expand the network. (continued)