All geared up

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 30, 2012 03:23 hrs

Riding gear is to motorcycling what chips are to grilled fish. They complement each other so perfectly that you’d rather not have it any other way. More than any other brand in history, it was American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson that introduced the motorcycle crowd to branded riding gear way back in the day.

It is believed that originally, the apparel was procured and sold at a dealer level but Harley-Davidson realised that it was sitting on a veritable goldmine, having one of the biggest, most brand-loyal consumer bases in all of history. An official line was initiated proudly wearing the ‘Harley-Davidson’ logo. The Milwaukee-based firm did such an exceedingly good job of it that soon, the riding apparel, accessories and aftermarket parts business of Harley-Davidson started adding a fat chunk to their profits.

It is a known fact that no other motorcycling brand sells as much factory-approved aftermarket gear per customer. So, in addition to its primary business of building and selling motorcycles, Harley-Davidson’s aftermarket business added a new, profitable business arm while being the best, most kosher form of brand promotion ever.

“The automobile sector is no longer about just the mechanical experience of owning a machine; it’s now more to do with the relationship that is created through this ownership. An extension of this experience is our merchandising model,” says Anoop Prakash, MD, Harley-Davidson India.

“It has been a part of our overall marketing strategy to introduce H-D merchandise in India as we are not just selling bikes here but inculcating a lifestyle. When a person buys a Harley, he/she tends to also gravitate towards a ‘Harley’ look. Indian customers now expect to radiate this look by gearing up in a unique Harley-Davidson way and our merchandising model helps them achieve this goal,” he adds.

Looking at the Indian context, a lot of parallels can be drawn between the erstwhile British brand Royal Enfield and Harley-Davidson. In fact, as a brand, it is older than Harley-Davidson which is closing in on 110 years. Royal Enfield’s entire motorcycle line-up has a strong nostalgia factor, its customer base is notably loyal and as expected, it sells the experience rather than just a product. Branded apparel, then, is all but a natural extension. The Chennai firm has recently introduced a slew of products incorporating the brand catering to its new and existing customer base and those who would like to enter the fold.

Riding gear is highly specialised apparel, often made with cutting-edge technology combining the lightest yet strongest of materials and textiles.

Venki Padmanabhan, CEO, Royal Enfield says, “Royal Enfield has been a pioneer of leisure motorcycling in India and a brand that has always promoted safe riding. Being a cult brand in the motorcycle space, extending to riding gear and accessories was also a natural step.”

But it’s not so easy. Quality motorcycling gear is often far too expensive for the average rider and Royal Enfield needed to nail the price of the gear while retaining the quality expected from a big brand like theirs. Having priced the gear a trifle above entry-level Indian-made gear, they’re targeting every current owner as well as future customers who’d like to own a Royal Enfield some day in the future. “Anyone who aspires to own a Royal Enfield or loves the brand is also a target customer for our accessories and apparel,” says Padmanabhan.

With jackets starting at Rs 6,999 and helmets at Rs 2,999, the kit scores reasonably well on the value-for-money scale. On the other hand, Harley-Davidson being a much more premium brand, positions its gear at a higher price bracket, though the outlook remains similar. “H-D dealerships are open to everyone who wants to connect with the brand, for us all customers are the same - be it the one buying a Fat Boy or a T-shirt. For us it’s important to get potential/existing customers to be a part of the overall Harley-Davidson community,’ says Prakash.

According to Royal Enfield, the response has been tremendous. Its current line-up includes armoured textile jackets, leather jackets, riding pants and jeans with protection built-in, gloves, helmets, balaclavas, goggles and riding boots. A good chunk of the kit is procured from world-renowned brands. For example, Nanini of Italy supplies the eyewear, AGV of Italy manufactures the helmets, Spanish brand Buff produces the multi-functional balaclava and American brand Invista supplies a patented fabric called Cordura for the riding denims. Other kit - like the jackets, boots and the textile pants - don't have such big-brand backing and are sourced from Pakistan and China.

Currently available only as retail products at company dealerships, the scaling of both the line-up and the distribution networks is solely dependent on the response. “We will expand and strengthen the distribution network in a phased manner basis the demand and newer products that we keep introducing over a period of time,” says Padmanabhan. But is it looked upon purely as a branding exercise or does Royal Enfield see a viable business model there, a la Harley-Davidson? “Riding gear and accessories are a natural brand extension for Royal Enfield. However, it is a viable business venture for us as well.”

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