Tuesday, June 5, 2007

GEARTALK: Alpinestars Factory Tour




I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit the Alpinestars headquarters in Asolo, Italy, just outside of Venice for an in-depth tour of their facilities. My guide, one of the true power managers of the Motorsports industry, Scott Link, North American Sales Manager and some one I look to as a mentor for Motostrano on many levels.

As owner of one of the leading Alpinestars dealers in the USA, I was eager from the onset to see up close the behind the scenes stuff of what goes on at Alpinestars. Along with the tour of HQ Astars, we would take drive down to MOTOP at Mugello to see their operation in action at the top 2-wheel racing event in the world.

The combination of up-close discussion of the product and a visit to Moto GP to see how racers interact with the Alpinestars product and how Alpinestars interacts with the racing environment was an amazing experience that I personally won't forget and one that will heavily influence how Motostrano promotes the Alpinestars brand over other brands for many years to come.

Alpinestars is serious about protection and racing. There's a lot of companies making stuff for motorcyclists these days. Most of them don't bother to test their products before sending them out to riders and racers and even more companies simply copy the work of others resulting in an inferior product using dated technology. No other clothing manufacturer offers the breadth of product, combined with indepth research into how their products work both on their users and in their extensive testing lab. Consider, for a second, what you know about brands like Dainese, Spidi, ICON, AGV Sport, Joe Rocket and other motorcycle clothing companies- compared to the Alpinestars protection army, these companies appear to be like small little shell companies, creeping along year after year with different designs and very little unique product development.

The other important point that I walked away with was the fact that in the USA Alpinestars works somewhat indirectly with its customer base via their main distributor, Parts Unlimited.
This indirect sales entity naturally doesn't quite give you the face to face information you get from working with the company directly. Seeing the Alpinestars mulisha in action in their own territory and in their own environment shows you just how large the company is and information flow seems to be much clearer and energetic. Alpinestars has a Southern California office and Alpinestars operates its own racer services program that shows up onsite at most major racing events around the country. Still, nothing, however, prepared me for the enormous attention to detail, passion for racing and huge reach of the company all around the globe that you get from seeing the company acting directly in its own grounds.

Alpinestars is a 40 year old company and with that it has an enormous encyclopedia of experience and knowledge that it puts into each and every one of its products. Corporate culture is very family like and extremely racing driven. The company is very aggressive with its brand positioning and constantly adapting, almost to the point of being a little too far ahead of the rest of the world at times. The minds behind the company, including Gabriele Mazzorolo, are constantly pushing the envelope in rider and racer protection on all levels.

One of the more interesting parts of the Astars HQ is their testing lab. Nearly every aspect of their product can be tested before and after the product has been developed. This means that materials can be beaten, stretched, rubbed down, sunk, burned, blasted with radiation and sanded for hours, with each test monitored and measured with precise medical-grade equipment, custom made for the task. They even have one test, where 10 beautiful naked women pass around a leather racing suit and rub it on themselves to make sure it can withstand any kind of torture for the rider destined for a podium... ok, well maybe that was in my fantasy the other night, but a good idea for a test nonetheless that I would personally offer my services to develop.

Alpinestars operates out of 3 huge locations based in Italy. There's the headquarters, the distribution warehouses and the alpinestars outlet. With offices also in California, Japan and China, Alpinestars is truly a multi-national organization. The Alpinestars racer services organization travels the complete MOTOGP circuit giving the company a presence at even the most remote stops along the MOTOGP tour.

I can't stress enough how much effort goes into research, testing and data collection on all aspects of the Alpinestars product. One example- after each race, the Alpinestars race services group must provide a detailed account of any kind of modifications or product failures that occur at the track. Rider feedback is documented and sent back to the development team for team review. Product changes are made as necessary and the product is improved over time. This translates into amazing benefits for the consumer that you just can't get from other brands.

After the onsite exploration of the Astars headquarters in Osolo, I was taken to the track at Mugello where I got to see the Alpinestars entourage in full force in the pits. Honestly, when you compare the Alpinestars presence at the track to other brands, it's like Goliath and David. Astars is situated front and center in the pits, between the tire companies, the main rider semi trucks and the rider RVs. No other clothing manufacturer has any real presence at MotoGP by comparison and the Alpinestars Mobile Racer Services and Hospitality rig is a site to see.

At the Alpinestars Hospitality, the top riders and racers in the world come to hang out, eat, relax and do business. Over the course of two days, I saw Michael Schumacher, Randy Mammola, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden, Carlos Checa, Dani Pedrosa and others all come into the lounge. And then of course there was Cameron Beaubier and JD Beach, to young Yankees who were there to race in the RedBull Rookies 125 cup.

Alpinestars is a constantly growing brand and force in world motorsports. It will be interesting to watch the company grow even further over the next years. I left Italy with the sound notion that by focusing on the Alpinestars product, Motostrano is offering the world a premier product that will serve to protect our customers in this sport, using the best technologies available.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your detailed review of Alpinestars' factory efforts in the innovation of safety apparel, product testing, and racing development is a true testament to the quality company we have all come to known. Thank you for providing this inside view of what surely is a rare opportunity. I will continue to enjoy my Alpinestars products with the peace of mind of knowing there is a strong company and core of skilled individuals looking out for our safety.

However, I was a bit disappointed that you listed Dainese under the category of companies which you mentioned provided "very little unique product development." Dainese has over 30 years of significant research & development history under D-Tec (Dainese Technology Center). The facility is staffed by an army of technical specialists utilizing state of the art equipment for product development, research and testing. There are also various developmental projects done in collaboration with research institutes around the world. The Mobile-D in racing configuration also provides track site research, rider support, and hospitality duties.

motostrano said...

Very good comment. Thank you.

Dainese is certainly one of the more serious companies involved in motorcycle protection, however, in recent years they have evolved to become a very small force in the arena, as far as I see them. I think of them more as high fashion and an Italian maker of clothing for Ducati. I think they are being eclipsed by other brands if you look at MotoGP, or just take a look your friendly neighborhood riding area. Dainese has dabbled in street/racing apparel, mountain bike, snow and now watersports- where as Alpinestars currently is 100% focused on technical motorsports gear for sport bikes, off-road and auto. I'd add that particularly in the US, Dainese's share of the market has dwindled both on the street and track. You just don't see the product much anymore. In the five years of selling motorcycle apparel I've never been approached by a Dainese repesentative, let alone know how to contact them.

By contrast- you have Alpinestars with sales offices and distributors all over the world and an entire system of motorsports protection that is heavily evolved and constantly expanding.