Easton Cycling manages comeback, attracts top riders on international circuit

Santa Cruz Sentinel

SCOTTS VALLEY — When the Amgen Tour of California rides into Santa Cruz Tuesday after pedaling nearly 330 miles from Nevada City, Easton Cycling will be watching their new favorite team: Santa Rosa-based BMC whose high-end performance carbon wheel sets boldly display the Easton brand name.

“It’s thrilling,” said Kevin Franks, brand manager for Easton Cycling & Powersports.

It’s the first time the Easton brand has sponsored a world class team that has garnered this level of international attention and marks how far the small Scotts Valley division of Easton-Bell Sports has come in just one year.

Easton-Bell Sports, headquartered in Van Nuys, sells athletic performance and protection equipment under the names Easton, Bell, Riddell, Giro and Blackburn. The publicly-owned company had a tough year in 2009. Sales dropped $59 million from 2008 and the company reported in January a net loss of more than $4 million. A decision to “re-launch” the Easton Cycling brand, which specializes in high-end carbon and aluminum components and wheels, has included adding people and new facilities to gain a better position in the highly competitive bicycle component market. It seems to be paying off just as the economy is turning around.

“This year we’re seeing tremendous growth already,” Franks said. “It’s almost astonishing. We’re not talking about inexpensive products.”

High end carbon fiber wheel sets start at about $400 and climb to about $2,000.

Sales are up more than 20 percent and dealers who ordered conservatively are trying to refill shelves.

“Luckily we’re prepared for that,” Franks said. “We’re building as fast as we can.”

The 150-person division focuses on “super-aerodynamic” features — a lightweight and sturdy carbon fiber composite material — as well as small components such as ceramic wheel bearings and hidden spoke nipples. The new EC90SL Carbon Clincher, EC90TT wheel and Haven UST-compatible mountain model have been well received, according to industry reviews.

New investments include a state-of-the-art wheel and component testing lab in the Scotts Valley office where the division moved last summer from Santa Cruz. The new offices gave them room to grow. The company moved a team from Van Nuys and hired new engineers, managers and expanded the marketing team. The company also improved an existing carbon fiber manufacturing facility in Mexico to accommodate new products.

Sponsorship of BMC and its high-profile team members, such as current World Champion Cadel Evans, American champion George Hincapie, 2009 World Champion Alessandro Ballan and top Dutch rider Karsten Kroon, has brought welcome attention to the company. In addition to being in the Amgen tour, Easton wheels are spinning through the Dolomites in the Giro d’Italia race this month and will make an appearance in the exclusive Tour de France this summer.

“We couldn’t have done two years ago what we’re doing now,” Franks said. “We’re a scrappy brand through and through. We’re part of a big corporation but the mentality here is we think of ourself as a startup. We don’t take for granted that we’re having a great year. We have to continue to out-think our competitors. In a lot of ways, we’re the new kids on the block.”

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Easton Cycling

WHAT: A division of publicly owned Easton-Bell Sports, which designs, develops and markets athletic performance and protection equipment under the names Easton, Bell, Riddell, Giro and Blackburn. The company has a portfolio of about 174 patents along with about 85 pending patent applications. Easton’s bicycle division designs and markets high-end carbon and aluminum components and wheels.
HEADQUARTERS: Corporate headquarters are in Van Nuys. Easton Cycling is located at 5550 Scotts Valley Drive, Scotts Valley.

BACKGROUND: Easton was founded in 1922. Started working with carbon composite materials in the late 1980s.

LEADERSHIP: Paul Harrington is president and chief executive officer of Easton-Bell Sports. Tom Larter is vice president of the Easton Cycling division.

EMPLOYEES: As of Jan. 2, the company had 2,348 employees, about 150 of whom work in the Easton Cycles division in Scotts Valley.

INFORMATION: 440-9638; www.eastonbike.com

FINANCIALS: In 2009, Easton-Bell Sports saw its annual sales for 2009 drop to $716.3 million from $775.5 million in 2008. The company reported a net loss for the year of $4.1 million compared with net income in 2008 of $13.4 million. Premium cycling components and accessories, which includes Easton Cycling among other divisions, accounted for about 5.6 percent of net sales in 2009 compared to about 6.5 percent in 2008.

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This article is published here.


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