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Nukeproof comes to Sea Otter to build US dealer network

Published May 12, 2022

A version of this story ran in the May 2022 issue of BRAIN.

MONTEREY, Calif. (BRAIN) — Nukeproof Industries is making plans to come home.

The longtime gravity brand known for utilizing titanium and carbon fiber — including those iconic carbon-aluminum hubs — began in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the 1990s before Irish downhill racer Michael Cowan acquired the brand a decade later.

Nearly 20 years later, the brand has grown its dealer network in the U.K. and expanded its bike lineup to include categories from gravel to kids and a variety of components. It came to the Sea Otter Classic last month to begin the task of establishing and emphasizing a U.S. dealer network over consumer-direct sales.

"For us, using the U.K. as an example, we've done a wicked job," said David Flynn, marketing head of Hotlines, Nukeproof's U.K. and European distributor. "We've got roughly 60 dealers, and they're the kind of heart and soul of the brand. They ride the brand, the shop guys ride the brand. And you know, we're not idiots. We're aware that that is the success of it. It's been by riders for riders, and the bike shops are definitely part of that."

Hotlines marketing and sales, brand reps, and team riders traveled to Monterey to spread the word and meet prospective retailers. Flynn said the goal is to have a U.S. network established by 2023, adding Nukeproof has sold out of its 2022 models. The brand is designed in Belfast, manufactured in Taiwan, and assembled in the U.K.

"We're saying to dealers, 'This is a long game for us,'" he said. "So we've seen firsthand the strength of dealers and the importance of building that brand equity. So we know that it will be no different in the U.S."

While consumer-direct is here to stay, Flynn said Nukeproof's message is best represented by one-one-one dealer involvement. "Certainly, people will buy bikes online anyway, because of (pro racer) Sam Hill and the racing thing. And we'll always get that attention. But in terms of building a community, and getting the average trail rider interested in the brand, we know that's driven by dealers. We've seen it firsthand. So yeah, we really want that buy-in from dealers to have places where people can see bikes, they can get service. Some of the bike differences are quite nuanced — from a 160 Mega to 180 Giga — that you need that deep advice of why you should buy that platform over that platform. And that really is best served by an experienced dealer."

So what's the primary sales pitch to retailers?

"I think the product itself is the mainstay of our pitch," Flynn said. "There are a lot of great value bikes. There's so much choice. But for us, it's all about a gravity-oriented privateer's race bike. And then for the trail guys, something with contemporary sort of geometry that really appeals to people who just want to have fun. An important part is going to be supporting dealers with demos just so people can see what we're saying is correct. Basically, we're telling everyone our bikes are brilliant to ride. But we were aware we just need to get bums on seats."

Plenty in the industry has changed since Nukeproof's heyday in the U.S. in the '90s, and nothing says that better than the evolution of gravel bikes. The Digger gravel bike was developed as a "cult product." It's an aluminum frame built on a 650b platform — but also compatible with 700c wheels — with a "strong mountain bike DNA to it," Flynn said. "It's been crucial for us because a lot of guys are not bothering with hardtails anymore. They just have a gravel bike."

Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine

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