Last week’s news of Fox Factory Holding Corp. buying Canadian companies Race Face Components and Easton Cycling for a cool $30.2 million should be raising more than an eyebrow in the fiercely competitive world of OEM spec and branding. After letting the news sink in over the weekend and reading Dirt Rag’s Facebook comments, we decided to weigh in with our perspective, and asked several industry notables their thoughts.
We started with Race Face and Easton Cycling owner Chris Tutton, who began his industry career with Race Face, then worked OEM sales for Easton before purchasing both Race Face and Easton in 2011 and 2014, respectively. We began with the question of how long was the Fox Holding transaction was in the works.
“We’ve been working on the transaction for about the last six to eight weeks,” Tutton said. “Fox are a great group of guys and the fit was good even from our initial meetings. We work with many of the same customers globally and I’ve personally known many of the people over at Fox for a long time.
“It’s a common mistake but Race Face didn’t buy Easton Cycling, I did,” Tutton pointed out. “Both were completely separate businesses. Neither company was for sale; however, when we sat with Fox and looked at the strategic advantage of having both Race Face and Easton under the Fox family umbrella it made a lot of sense. Operations are not going to change in any way. We now have a parent company but outside that buildings and people will remain the same.”
In a phone call last week, Fox’s Global Communications Manager Mark Jordan couldn’t comment on the acquisition until the deal is final after the first of the year.
What does this mean for the industry?
The news was so fresh that several people—when contacted for their reaction—replied either “it’s too early to comment” or “I have no comment at this time.” The former came from companies like Niner, and the latter came from SRAM, which owns RockShox, TruVativ and Zipp, brands that compete directly with Fox, Race Face and Easton.
Trek’s house brand, Bontrager, sells components that compete with Race Face and Easton, and recently partnered with Fox and Penske on a new suspension platform.
“We don’t really care about what Fox does with Race Face and Easton,” said Joe Vadeboncoeur, Trek’s global director of product development, marketing and creative design. “We’re not really looking for components to spec on our bikes. We only care that they stay focused on the Fox brand and keeping that at the top of the suspension world.”
Specialized currently specs suspension from Rockshox and X-Fusion, and sells mostly its own branded seatposts, stem, bars and cranks. Company owner and founder Mike Sinyard wouldn’t comment on Easton or Race Face, but had high praise for Fox, which Specialized works closely with on its BRAIN rear suspension.
“Fox is a highly respected brand going way back to the 1970s,” Sinyard said, “when Bob Fox was running the company just down the street from Specialized. We wish and hope great things for Fox in the future.”
What will Fox buy next? Will Shimano respond? Maybe Shimano will buy Fox now?
A few others speculated the idea of Shimano swooping in and purchasing Fox, not an absurd notion on the surface but one that the Japanese giant most likely will avoid. The last company purchased by Shimano, Pearl Izumi, sells purely soft goods, and Shimano prides itself on its homegrown component and wheel technology.
“It obviously makes Fox more like SRAM in the breadth of offerings,” Ibis co-owner Hans Heim said. “What will Fox buy next? Will Shimano respond? Maybe Shimano will buy Fox now?”
X-Fusion general manager Joel Smith thought out loud about the Shimano connection as well; Smith spent several years at Answer-Manitou, and X-Fusion is in direct competition with Fox.
“I really don’t see it having any affect on us, but I was reading the 2014 Fox annual report and there was at least a paragraph talking about SRAM selling package deals with components and suspension to the OEMs,” Smith said. “Fox must think they will be more competitive selling Race Face and Easton wheels, cranks and components with suspension, but honestly, I don’t see it. These brands aren’t valuable enough. Now if Shimano bought Fox, I would be crapping my pants.”
Smith also had high praise for Tutton and Fox.
“I believe Fox is a good company, with good people and a good brand,” he added. “I do not see them relinquishing the top spot easily, so I see them making an aggressive comeback in the very short term future. I think the only winner (here) is Chris Tutton. Really? $30.2 million for a company that was selling under $24 million a year?”
For Santa Cruz Bicycles owner Rob Roskopp, the news doesn’t change much if anything for his company. His Syndicate racing team uses Fox suspension, and the company specs some Race Face cranksets, seatposts, bars and stems on several models. It also offers its own carbon bars.
“At this point it doesn’t change the way we spec, because it’s already done for 2015,” he added. “We will be changing spec next June like we always do and updating where we feel the need. I wouldn’t doubt that the group that owns Fox will move into other markets that make sense in five to ten years.”
What does this mean for the consumer?
“The bicycle industry is a very dynamic one: new companies enter the market every year, while the fortunes of existing companies wax and wane yearly,” Kona’s Gravity Product Manager Chris Mandell explained. “This is good in that it drives innovation, and it’s an aspect of the industry that’s not likely to change soon. One ‘cost’ associated with this dynamism is that very few players develop significant economies of scale. In theory this hurts consumers via higher prices. So one would think: Fox-Easton-RaceFace consolidating inside an industry which will remain dynamic will be a win-win for consumers.”
Ibis has worked closely with Fox and Easton in the past. We asked Heim for his first reaction when he heard the news of Tutton selling to Fox.
“It was ‘oh crap, I hope they let them do their thing without layoffs, etc., but high five to Chris!’” Heim said. “That was a masterful grasp of the original opportunities, and expertly refreshing the product lines with on trend product.” We followed this up with another question regarding better OEM buying power for Ibis.
“It may have no effect if they are truly run separately, or it may have a bundling effect, where you’re persuaded to spec the complete line of related brands when making a bike. That tends to make the bikes look similar and lose some of their individual character,” he explained. “There are innovative companies coming up that will likely benefit by being an alternative to the somewhat homogeneous mainstream offerings. Cane Creek, Praxis and X-Fusion, for instance.”
Another strong Fox partner is Pivot Cycles.
“We also have significant spec with Race Face,” owner Chris Cocalis said. “Both Fox and Race Face are key sponsors of our World Cup DH team so this could bring some positive things together for us. Hopefully the result is better product, delivery and global service for all three brands.”
When asked to speculate on where he sees Fox heading in the next five to 10 years, Tutton was candid.
“This is really Day Two for me at Fox so I will leave the product speculation with their product managers for now!”
Adam Newman contributed to this report.