Jeffrey McGuane isn’t paranoid. But the CEO of Fox Racing says his team "developed an everyday paranoia" during the pandemic, which could be used to leverage the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crises and ultimately bring about bigger business transformations.
"We want to use the energy that came from that situation and apply it ourselves to ensure we’re continuously thinking transformationally about how we can continue to serve our riders better, and continue to challenge and break down legacy thinking in the business that may be holding us back," Jeffrey says of the mindset. "My message is: continue to leverage these crises in the everyday transformational planning in your business."
Jeffrey took the reins at Fox Racing in June 2019 with plans of reinvigorating one of the world’s most beloved and venerable brands in the motocross and mountain-biking communities. The company has equipped motocross and mountain biking enthusiasts with gear, protective equipment and stylish apparel since 1974, and sponsored athletes around the world in both pursuits. Its iconic Fox logo is coveted as classy and bold, and brings together a community of riders around the brand along with the high-performance culture it represents.
"The strength of our brand is based on our heritage, our authenticity and how we’ve really operated for almost 50 years," Jeffrey says. "It’s one of the major differentiators that sets us apart from our competition."
However, Jeffrey admits he saw some confusion surrounding the Fox Racing brand upon becoming CEO. He set about "recentering, creating the North Star and really committing Fox to that premium position of a performance brand", while also removing it from its foray into being a lifestyle brand.
"I thought it was punching a bit below its weight, meaning it had all this heritage, it had this incredible history, but it really wasn’t showing up in the way that it could," he recalls. "Growing up in the action sports era, Fox was synonymous with just that whole attitude and really present in mountain biking and motocross, and at the forefront of creating inspired experiences.
"The brand had expanded into some of the categories, into adjacent markets outside of its core dirt heritage. And I think there was a bit of a confusion – are you a true performance brand or are you a lifestyle brand?"
Part of Jeffrey’s plan for returning Fox Racing to its roots involved putting a renewed focus on riders. "It’s making sure that we put the rider at the center of everything we do. We call it an ‘integrated marketplace’," he explains. "That means we serve the rider when, where and how they want, and we build and support every channel and every touchpoint with the brand to really over-deliver against the expectations of our rider, our consumer."
We’ve got people who are coming back into the sport. We’ve got people who are enjoying the sport longer because of new technologies like e-bikes on the mountain bike side. And we also have new participants coming in for the first time.
According to Jeffrey, another strategy for getting closer to riders and customers is not selling through distributors. Fox Racing instead services wholesalers directly with international operations. "That’s been one of the major differentiators of Fox and how we’ve really continued to develop and build our brand globally," he says.
There’s also the brand itself and Fox Racing’s ability to engage with its more than 4.5 million followers on social media "at an incredibly high level". "Our whole mission is to equip and inspire. The equip part is to ensure that we’re really creating the best experience for the rider from head to toe. And the inspire part is our duty to really create that emotional connection with our brand and our sport."
Jeffrey started with Fox Racing at a challenging time for the action sports industry – motocross and mountain biking were growing somewhat slowly. Then the pandemic hit, throwing everything into doubt. Early on in 2020, Jeffrey says the Fox Racing team "worked really hard to ensure that we protected the brand at all costs".
But the pandemic brought about something serendipitous: people craved going outdoors after being cooped up due to long shelter-in-place mandates. Mountain biking presented itself as a perfect way to get some sunshine and adventure, and spend time with family. Interest in the sport mushroomed and people took to their local trails.
"Overall, the pandemic created a situation where people really wanted to spend more time outside, spend more time with their families. And I think, given the big shift that’s happened with how people’s lifestyles have changed, it’s created an incredible opportunity for us to continue to serve that community, because it’s getting a lot larger," Jeffrey shares.
"We’ve got people who are coming back into the sport. We’ve got people who are enjoying the sport longer because of new technologies like e-bikes on the mountain bike side. And we also have new participants coming in for the first time. It’s created a very large and growing community for us to serve. And we see this as a positive and long-term trend. It’s not a blip on the radar. We believe that these trends are durable."
Addressing the demand hasn’t been easy. Like businesses the world over, the company has faced supply chain challenges, which is estimated to vex companies for the next 12–24 months. It’s especially challenging for Fox Racing because its products are seasonal. "You’ve got a 30-day delay and you start losing the window of opportunity to get your products onto the shelf of your retailers, and it creates a big problem," Jeffrey says.
Fox Racing used the pandemic and the challenges of getting products to retailers as an opportunity for breaking with old legacy thinking and proving the value of agility, especially in merchandising. "We had supply chain constraints and it really forced us to re-merchandise an entire collection," he explains.
"It helped us transform not only to what we believed would be a better way to serve the market in terms of investment and inventory at retail – a more fluid flow of new products month-to-month into the market so that there was always a spark of interest – it also created a more dynamic operating system with our retailers."
Once the high school kids begin racing and riding in these events, the whole family comes along, particularly with mountain biking.
Moving beyond the pandemic, Jeffrey sees a set of different challenges, which he plans to meet with the same agility and out-of-the-box thinking developed during the global health crisis. Participation in mountain biking boomed during the pandemic – research firm NPD reported a 45 per cent increase in sales in the 12 months ending in October 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. Sales inched up three per cent over the next year.
Jeffrey believes the upward trend will stick, although he recognizes consumers may be inclined to spend differently as travel and indoor leisure activities resume. "The big challenge that we have as an industry is, what are we doing to keep those consumers interested in staying involved so that we continue to take this generation and engage them in ways where they’re compelled to continue to participate in our sports?" he reflects.
Riding into the future
Fox Racing has increased its sponsorships as interest in mountain biking grows; motocross has not experienced the same spike in interest, Jeffrey admits. The company has supported the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which helps high schools launch mountain biking programs and interscholastic competitions. "Once the high school kids begin racing and riding in these events, the whole family comes along, particularly with mountain biking," he enthuses.
Jeffrey also plans on investing in staff. He draws on his experience at premium bicycle manufacturer Cannondale, where he started by answering phones and worked his way up to the executive level. "The CEO saw something in me that I didn’t really see in myself, but continued to give me opportunities to learn, develop and grow," he remembers.
"I think that’s something that really is core to my DNA – the value in investing in talent based on potential. Continuously stretching those high-potential talents to learn, develop and grow by putting them into situations that they themselves don’t even know yet that they’re capable of achieving."
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