March 8, 2010: Steering an entrepreneurial company forward
March 8, 2010
Filed under Features
By Neil Pascale
Tony Palma was one of the architects behind the merger of three companies that later became known as Easton-Bell, a firm that stretched across different industries and grew into a $750 million-a-year business.
Now, Palma is leading another company with equal or perhaps even stronger brand recognition that similarly crosses over several recreational industries, including powersports.
Palma, the new CEO of OGIO, spoke with Powersports Business of the similarities between Easton’s development into an industry heavyweight and where his current company stands now.
“It’s a next evolution of any company that has been very entrepreneurial-spirited,” he said of OGIO, known for its gear bags and packs. “But the good news is the foundation has been well laid out and now it’s just time for me to go out there with my team to have the right focus, the strategic agility to capitalize on the foundation that has been built and to really grow upon it.”
Since joining OGIO last December, Palma has guided the company to a new distribution model and is now looking at diversifying the company’s offerings, both in terms of price points and product range.
“By no means are we taking the brand discount,” Palma said of the company’s product line in powersports. “We’re going to continue to innovate and keep the high-image products because consumers like these, retailers like these and frankly, it’s our image piece. But we think there’s an opportunity to capture more of the hearts of consumers at these various price points.”
Palma’s association with OGIO is hardly a new one. The two worked on joint projects when Palma was leading Easton. “Years ago at Easton, we were looking at becoming a more full-line company in baseball and hockey products,” he said. “A lot of the bags we were selling were somewhat commodity in nature,” meaning lower-cost, high-volume items.
Palma and the Easton team reached out to OGIO to develop more innovative bags. “And they were phenomenal,” he said of the resulting products, which were co-branded with OGIO. “The next thing our bags were $49 and $99. The retailers loved it because it was truly innovative. The consumers loved it, and that’s what OGIO is all about.”
Before joining OGIO’s ownership team, Palma did a brand study of the company in its various industries it develops product for, including powersports. What he found was the brand’s recognition stretched beyond its actual business results.
Part of that dilemma was tied to the company’s distribution system and how it didn’t necessarily fit the powersports dealer’s needs. Palma said the powersports industry is much different from other industries OGIO operates in because powersports dealers are less interested in stocking heavy and more inclined to order a part and receive it the next day.
“OGIO wasn’t set up to do business on shipping one product at a time,” Palma said. “We didn’t have warehouses throughout the country.
“So as a result, I think we have held back on our potential in the motorsports category despite the power of the brand name.”
Palma and company have attempted to alleviate that by agreeing to a distribution relationship with Tucker Rocky Distributing. The result, Palma believes, will have a significant impact on the company’s sales this year as the agreement allows OGIO to have a much more significant sales presence in the industry.
Looking forward, Palma, founder Michael Pratt and staff are looking at ways to create different price points for their products, including the company’s popular 9800 bag. “A lot of people love it, but not everyone can afford it,” Palma said. “So we want to use the same sort of innovative features in bags that we can have at different price points. Maybe not quite all the features, but good features.”
Down the line, the company will be looking at extending the brand into gloves and apparel.
“Now we want to be real about that,” he said of the company’s possible brand extension. “We have to create the need, which means we have to find a reason, a compelling reason, for a consumer and a retailer to want to carry our products.
“We just can’t be a knockoff. I do not like knockoffs. I’m a product guy myself. In fact I spend most of my time at OGIO with my design team because I really believe that if we get in a new category, we can’t just extend a brand.”