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Dealers can charge more for new helmet features

Summary: This 1996 article reported that new helmet features were raising prices, a trend that has continued.

An Article from
Bicycle Retailer and Industry News
September 1, 1996

Consumers Like New Helmet Features
Occipital Contraptions Help Push Up Helmet Prices


SANTA CRUZ, CA-Four years ago marketing executives in the helmet industry were unable to tell the difference between an occipital lobe from a bump on the head.

Now some of them credit the lobe which is, in fact, a bump on the back of the head with indirectly increasing average retail prices by as much as $7 per helmet in the last three years.

As manufacturers try to differentiate their helmets from the competition, most have happily discovered that consumers will pay more for a helmet with a strap or other device that grabs the back of their head.

Helmet suppliers call these occipital contraptions rear retention devices. Consumers seem eager to pay more for these fancy, adjustable and comfortable devices.

Giro and Helmet Worx introduced the first rear retention systems in 1993. Two years later, Bel1 threw out its Reebok Pump fitting system in favor of its Full Nelson and Half Nelson retention straps. Specialized followed suit with its Brainlock retention device. All manufacturers now have some kind of rear retention device at least on their high end, off-road helmets

The devices help keep a helmet secure during bumpy off-road rides. They also help some helmets pass roll-off tests, which are part of the newest standards from Snell, ASTM and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The devices prevent cyclists from wearing helmets tilted too far back on their heads, a practice that exposes the forehead to impact or from coming off altogether. The straps also prevent helmets from being worn backwards, a common sight on bike paths.

Another benefit is that retention devices help some helmets fit a wider range of head shapes.

Specialized, for example, added its new web strap to its Air Piranha and Sub 6 Pro, two helmets retailers said are hard to fit on many consumers. The web improves the helmet's fit, a Specialized product manager said.

Rear retention straps offer another way to differentiate helmets and define retail price points. And manufacturers who offer two or three versions of the strap can give consumers another reason to buy a more expensive model.

For example, GT's new helmet line features the Gripper retention device on models selling for as little as S30. The fancier Jack the Gripper is used on helmets selling for $50 or more.

Giro now has three versions of its Roc Loc. The Roc Loc used to be only on our $120 helmets. Now it's on $30 helmets. That created a marketing problem for us last year, because it gave less reason for consumers to buyup to more expensive models. But we've added some differentiation this year by coming out with the Roc-Loc 2 and Roc-Loc 3," said Blair Clark Giro Sport Design's vice president of sales and marketing.

Clark cited independent research that pegged the average specialty retail price of a helmet last year at $38. That's up from $34 in 1994 and $31 in 1993.

Clark said Giro's average retail selling price continues to climb, so this year's average may exceed $39, the average price in 1992 before fierce price cutting drove prices down. Clark attributes some of the price increases to the rear retention devices "They give customers a reason to pay more," Clark said.

Others attribute the average price increase to specialty retailers who no longer try to compete with mass merchants for sales of low-end helmets.

"The IBDs lost the battle to the mass merchants at the low-end," said Bill Armas, the general manager of GT Bicycles' helmet program.

The high-end remains the proving ground of new styles, increased ventilation and other features. Bell, Giro and Specialized, the strongest players in high-end helmet sales, all have new top-of-the-line helmets for next year.

Bell's EVO2 and EVO2 Pro feature a new Exoskeleton design that minimizes microshell material and makes them look like something from the movie, Alien. Both helmets have 15 large air vents.

Giro's Exodus RL off-road helmet has 21 vents, the same number as last year's successful Helios road helmet. But the Exodus takes top-of-the-line pricing to a new level, $150. Giro also changed the styling on its $130 Helios RL. It now features a simple, two-color, three-panel color scheme reminiscent of the company's original Lycra-covered Pro lite.

Specialized also jumped on the retrowagon with its stylish Air Cobra, which has a shape and color scheme similar to a vintage Cobra sports car. The $130 helmet has 29 vents, a new record for the company. A forked tongue hangs out of the helmet's mouth port vent.

"It's these little touches that give our products personality," said Andy Pliska, Specialized's product marketing coordinator for accessories.

Like Shimano. most helmet manufacturers introduce their newest features at the high end and then trickle them down the line as the years go by.

Major manufacturers like Specialized, Bell and Giro limit their new helmet shapes to no more than four each year.

For example, Specialized is getting extra mileage out of its Sub 6 and Air Piranha helmets by adding the web retention strap, changing the graphics and by lowering price points. The Air Piranha now sells for $79, down from last year's $99. The Sub 6 will retail for $65 next year.

GT's entry into the top-of-the-line sector is the Machete, which sells for $99. Armas said GT developed value-added features at all price points for its first helmet line manufactured by Troxel. Troxel has stopped selling helmets under its own name.

You see a lot of manufacturers coming out with a $130 helmet, then making it a $99 helmet the next year, and a $69 helmet the year after that. Doesn't anyone say, hey, if it's worth $69 now why was it worth $130 two years ago? We tried to come up with helmets worth a certain amount this year and next year and the next," Armas said.

GT helmets feature channeled vents and a tiny buckle that doesn't pinch a customer's neck during showroom fittings. All GT visors are specifically designed to fit only one model

"I don't think retention devices will cause consumers to buy up, because we have them on all our helmets, at all price points. It's the little details that will separate helmets this year," Armas said.

Since specialty retailers are better able than mass merchants to point out those little details, increased competition among helmet designers could result in a further increase in average helmet prices sold through specialty shops next year, Armas said.

Copyright 1996 by Miller Freeman, Inc, Santa Fe, New Mexico. All rights reserved. Used with permission.