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Thursday, Sep 29, 2022
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Dressed to Ride

Bob Miller and Phil Bellomy don’t have much time to ride motorcycles anymore. The Valley businessmen are too busy protecting bikers from the dangers of the road and making sure they turn heads at every corner. As 20-somethings, Miller and Bellomy started peddling motorcycle helmets at swap meets in Southern California. More than 40 years later, their company, Calabasas-based Helmet House, is one of the nation’s largest distributors and manufacturers of motorcycle helmets and gear. The company has an exclusive agreement with Shoei, a high-end Japanese helmet maker, and its own private-label clothing and accessories lines. Sales last year reached nearly $80 million and are poised to reach $100 million in the next two years, the duo said. The company employs more than 100 workers, including a sales force of 50. Miller, the company’s president, said Helmet House mainly aims to serve motorcycle enthusiasts, ages 40 and older, willing to pay top dollar for helmets and gear. “They look for quality and value rather than the cheapest product on the street,” Miller said. Law enforcement is a small but lucrative segment for Helmet House. The company supplies to the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the City of Los Angeles Police Department, among others. The co-founders credit some of the company’s growth and success to good timing. Motorcycle sales reached the one million mark during the 1970s, resulting in double-digit growth for the company. Through the decades, Helmet House also has developed a strong base of clients that include motorcycle dealers nationwide. Larry Lilley has been doing business with the company since the early 1970s. “I am loyal to people who treat me right,” said Lilley, who owns Palmdale Honda and Larry Lilley Motorcycles in Lancaster. Swap meet adventures Bellomy, Helmet House’s vice president, and Miller got to know each other while working together at Grant Industries, a manufacturer of piston rings and automotive after-market parts; Bellomy was the company’s promotions and advertising manager and Miller was the office manager. The duo began selling Grant Industries’ second-hand products at swap meets on weekends and noticed that there was a market opportunity to build a business of their own. Before long, sales picked up and they were selling 1,000 helmets a week, so the partners quit their jobs to grow the swap meet business. Eventually, the company expanded to employ six commission-based sales representatives who drove around the state, stopping at motorcycle shops to pitch their helmets and other products. With all the helmets being sold, there was need for a place to store them. So, starting with a 600-square foot warehouse on Pico Boulevard, Helmet House moved to increasingly larger buildings in West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Westlake Village and, finally, Calabasas in 1997, where the company occupies a 50,000-square-foot office and warehouse facility. The duo later opened a warehouse in Newbury Park and a 202,000-square-foot automated warehouse in Mississippi from which 60 percent of the product gets shipped. One early driver of the company’s growth was a partnership in 1971 with Shoei, a relationship that remains a vital component to its success. Both Miller and Bellomy call Shoei the Mercedes Benz or Rolls Royce of motorcycle helmets. “Once you wear one you don’t go back to the lesser helmets,” Bellomy said. Shoei helmets are made from a lightweight material and durable parts and contain multiple vents for air circulation. The brand represents the high end in helmets, pricing between $300 and $600 at retail. Products with purpose For those riders with modest spending habits, however, Helmet House offers helmets from the HJC line, which cost between $100 and $200 at retail. And between HJC and Shoei, Helmet House distributes two of the best-selling brands in the world. The company also supplies the Fieldsheer and Pokerun brands of apparel and Utopia goggles. Zane Steele, general manager at Del Amo Motorsports in Redondo Beach, says Helmet House benefits from carrying a limited number of product lines. Representatives are fully knowledgeable about their brands, Steele said, noting that helps to make training his employees much easier. “They do not have to train on 100 products, and it is great for front-line sales,” Steele said. From time to time, however, the Helmet House team is even surprised by the items that quickly sell out. For example, a stylish, modular touring helmet released earlier this year by Shoei carried a price of nearly $700 and sold out. “As many as we ordered, we are still backordered,” Miller said. Helmet House also has seen strong sales of its own apparel line, called Tour Master, which was started in 1978. In developing the line, Miller and Bellomy said they learned from their suppliers. They didn’t skimp on the quality. “I do not have to worry about a customer coming back two days later with the stitching coming undone or anything of that nature,” said Lilley of the Tour Master brand. The company also has shown a flair for innovation for its private label. The classic leather motorcycle jacket with a simple lining looked good, but afforded no protection, so Helmet House added padding for the shoulders, elbows and back. Later, it made jackets from a more durable textile material. To keep up with the times, Helmet House also has added cell phone pockets to the jackets and liners. Jackets developed for police officers have pockets for a badge and room for a gun belt. While street and racing bike riders remain central to the growth strategy at Helmet House, a youth movement of sorts is afoot. Untapped markets include college students riding scooters and teenagers and young adults into dirt bikes, Bellomy said. On the clothing front, the company began distributing last year a line of battery-operated heated jackets from Mobile Warming with a broader appeal than just motorcycle riders. The jackets add versatility to the retail shops, Miller said. Helmet House is the exclusive distributor of Mobile Warming jackets for power sports. If the outwear catches on in that market, others await. “We can branch out into the outdoor market as the basic design is for everybody,” Miller said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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