From its early beginnings as a simple mail-order business to a globally recognised company, FOX has become the brand making waves across a diverse range of people of all ages.
It’s 1982, Helsinki’s Vantaa International Airport. A crowded flight from LAX has just liberated its passengers from the confines of the protracted trans-Atlantic passage, and a Finnish customs officer is taking a second glance up from behind the glass of his podium. Puzzled, he goes back to the documents in front of him.
“Kuinka vanha sinå olet?” he queries the passenger in front of him curiously. “How old are you?” “Fifteen,” replies the young man. “Who are you traveling with?” asks the officer. “I’m alone,” responds the shy youngster.
Half-joking, the officer continues without concealing his smirk, “Is this trip for business or pleasure?” “Business,” answers Pete Fox.
At fifteen, Pete Fox didn’t have a paper route. While most of his peers were busing tables or bagging groceries, he was busy flying to Finland to develop motocross pants, designing ad campaigns and negotiating athlete contracts for his family’s business, Fox Racing. In fact, a few weeks after his trip to Finland, Pete signed a deal with a promising eighteen-year-old motocross rider named Ricky Johnson. Two years later Johnson won his first of seven American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Supercross Championships. In 1999, Johnson was inducted into the Motocross Hall Of Fame.
You could say Pete was mature for his age.
Fast-forward 25 years to the present and Pete Fox is the creative director at his family’s business. He works alongside his brothers Greg and John, and sister Anna, but the business is much different than it was when he was growing up.
The off-road motorcycle parts catalogue their father, Geoff Fox, launched in 1973 evolved quickly. In February 1974, he opened a mail-order company called Moto-X Fox and within a few years sponsored a strong team of riders. Outfitting the Moto-X Fox team in brightly coloured yellow, orange and red outfits created consumer demand for the apparel, and from there the business took off.
Since then the brand has grown from a simple mail-order business with less than a dozen employees, into what it says is one of the top five privately held action-sports brands in existence. Fox now employs more than 600 people worldwide. The company’s 115,000-square-foot headquarters in Morgan Hill, California is a motocross monument in itself, complete with memorabilia stretching back more than 30 years. According to TransWorld Motocross magazine’s 2006 readers’ poll, Fox is the best-selling brand of motocross pants, jerseys, gloves and helmets.
Youth Gone Wild
It was in the early 90s that Geoff Fox began to back away from the business and hand over more of the responsibility to his children. He kept a close eye on the company’s books, but handed over a lot of sales responsibilities to his oldest son, Greg who had just returned from a two-year stint at UC Santa Barbara. Yet Greg admits to doing more surfing than studying.
“My dorm room was right there on Campus Point and that was where I was every day,” Greg says. “So eventually my schoolwork just went down the toilet and I came back to the business. I naturally progressed into the sales side of the business. I was purchasing the products, dealing with vendors, and managing inventory and international sales.”
With Greg handling his new role and Pete steering the brand’s creative direction, Fox had a much younger perspective on the market than any of its competition. The influence surfing had on the brothers started to appear in several segments of the business, including product design, and as a result, Fox began reaching a younger demographic than had ever been targeted by a motocross brand.
“One of the first things that was affected was our advertising direction,” says Greg. “We went away from product-oriented ads to two page spreads of some bitchin’ jump on some bitchin’ track.”
At the time, motocross brands were run by middle-aged Midwesterners. No one in the industry saw what was coming. When Fox visited its first motocross trade show, it didn’t exactly fit in. “The theme for the booth was Youth Gone Wild –
a Skid Row song!” recalls Pete. “We had the booth wrapped in barbed wire with neon colour everywhere, and zebra prints. People would walk by and completely freaked out.”
The youngest brother in any family plays an important role, and John ‘Scrap’ Fox is no exception. To say he’s played an integral part in the development of the business would be an understatement.
While studying in Hawaii, John stumbled on to something while watching a local TV show that would inevitably change the direction of his family’s business.
“I was watching HBO one night in my dorm and they had Sunny Garcia on the show riding moto,” remembers John. “So I decided we needed to get a hold of this guy and send him some gear. I remember going over to his house and being so nervous. Here I am, this little haole kid, there are all kinds of locals hanging on his porch, and I knock on the door and his cousin answers and is like, ‘Sup, brah?’ But we met and went surfing and went riding up on Kahuku Motocross Track a couple of days later. It was a rad experience… and those guys were super psyched on Fox.”
The Product Evolution
The product has evolved along with the team of designers and athletes. What began as a simple range has been developed into an elaborate offering. Retailers have noticed, and some say the brand’s background in technical riding apparel can be seen in several categories of its sportswear business.
The FOX sportswear business has tripled in the past three years. Aside from full lifestyle apparel lines for men, juniors, and kids, Fox also produces snow outerwear, footwear, and launched a recent eyewear line through a licensing agreement with Oakley.
Since the company began as a mail-order business, direct online sales have always been part of the company’s operations. Greg Fox says it’s a small part of the business, but an important one.
“One of the big advantages for us with it is that there are a lot of things we make that retailers might not stock,” says Greg. “Whether it be really expensive things or more edgy stuff that we know our customer wants but buyers tend to go safe. We’ve been doing it for 30 years, so we don’t get the kind of heat that someone new would get for doing it.”