Words and photos: Iggy

Selling bikes, or for that matter kit, clothing, helmets and consumables takes more than just a keen business head, it takes passion and understanding for the whole lifestyle surrounding the modern day rider. Attributes that are second nature to sales and marketing director, Jonny Towers and most of the key members of staff at Moto Direct.     

Walk into the modern glass fronted reception area at Moto Directs HQ and it soon becomes apparent that these people understand every facet of two wheeled life, they live, breath, design and of course sell it. Riding for pleasure, racing, track days and cycling both for leisure and with the Moto Direct RST race team means that whatever brand or product the company sells has to work out in the real world, which is of great benefit to the end customer and of course you, the motorcycle trader.

As brand portfolios go the Derbyshire based company takes some beating, amongst their leading motorcycle names are RST, Dainese, Arlen Ness, AGV, Motul, Wolf, Gear, Puma, KBC, Leatt and Berik. That’s not the end of the story though because they’ve recently acquired Arai to complement their fine stable of thoroughbred names and have introduced a brand new line in affordable bike accessories, consumables and luggage under the Trik Moto brand name.   

Moto Direct was formed in 2000 by Jonny Towers and Debbie Bullock and came out of what was left of Euro Helmets. Jonny was born in Burnley, grew up in Cape Town and arrived back in England with a South African twang to race motorcycles at the age of 19. He’d worked for Euro Helmets since 1988, starting out as the Motul brand sales manager and progressing through the company, ending up as sales director. A massive management shakeup and devastating fire shook the company up, so Jonny and Debbie started Moto Direct and bought what was left of Euro Helmets. Jonny told us “We wanted a fresh new company but didn’t want to forget about the history of Euro Helmets, the name already had good pedigree so it was a shame to just leave it behind”.


Jonny had already started developing a new range of Rhino branded black leather clothing by then; he told us “I thought there was a need for a range of good looking, affordable quality products. I’d go to bike meets and see riders stood about in really badly fitting suits, most riders can’t afford brands like Alpinestars or Dainese but I didn’t see why an affordable suit should fit badly. I set out to create a range of products that looked good, worked well and offered good value. Rhino evolved into Rhino Sport, then we added ‘Technology’ to the name and it became RST. It grew from there and at the same time we were busy establishing AGV, the business has gone from strength to strength in what has been a hard ten years within the industry. We’ve managed to grow the company, year on year and have reinvested in technology and built showrooms to benefit the company, we’ve invested in bar coding systems, order picking technology, the warranty and race department etc. but the backbone of the company has always been RST, it’s grown and grown”. So who is behind RST? “There are three people involved in developing the brand, myself, Chris Walker (the designer) and Rob Swinbank (technical development) so we have a three pronged development team. We’re all motorcyclists, we all ride and products are developed and used on the road, on track days and in racing, so it works really well. With RST we sit down in January every year and start developing the following years collection, we never let up. You can never ease up because there’s always somebody just behind you, that’s the philosophy behind the company really.”

Growing portfolio

Over the years other brands have come along to boost the Moto Direct portfolio, like when AGV bought Dainese for instance. Jonny said “We’ve been the AGV distributor for around 30 years, from Euro Helmets through to Moto Direct. In every other European country contracts with the AGV distributor were dissolved and Dainese  themselves took over distribution, over here it was quite unique because they came to us to ask us to represent them. We’ve got a new Dainese brand manager, Nigel Bosworth; he manages the direct operation, and with with Stuart Millington who manages the distributed Dainese products. We directly distribute boots, gloves, protection and selected pieces like suits, jackets, jeans etc. The larger accounts.are looked after through us/Nigel but supplied direct from Italy. We’ve also got our own Dainese showroom here, as well as an RST, AGV and Arai and Cycle Division .”


As signings go though one of the largest acquisitions in recent years has to be Arai, how did that come about? “I’ve got pictures of me back in ’83, ’84, ’85 wearing Arai, it was always a dream brand for me, my hero was Freddie Spencer and when he wore Arai that was me. Obviously working with AGV for 25 years I had to compete with Arai, although the brands do work well together. Back in February this year I was on a plane coming back from a visit to our RST distributor in Australia, I landed at Dubai, switched my phone on and there was a press release about Phoenix Distribution. When I landed at Birmingham we had an email through from Arai. They visited all the potential distributors in the UK; the guys from Arai Europe came here and we got on very well. A week or so later the Japanese team came across, at that stage we thought we were still just on the shortlist, We sat down with them and we were discussing things when one of them said ‘We need to sort out the marketing plan and deliveries, the container is on the water.’ It was just a really surreal experience, there was no formality, it was just a case of it’s happening! We were delighted and we shook hands and they offered us a contract but it was really important for us to get the blessing of AGV first, so we didn’t sign it straight away. I flew to Italy two days later and sat with the AGV management team and discussed how we felt the brands could fit together and we completely got their blessing. We wanted harmony within the brands. I asked Arai when we went to the distributors meeting some time later when it was that they made up their minds about us, their managing director said it was within twenty minutes of being in the building, he said he could feel the passion and heritage and that it wasn’t just a case of moving boxes for us. A big thing for us is to always have motorcycle pictures around, we’ve always got a few special bikes on display and historic race suits and helmets in our museum, we’re in the motorcycle industry because we love motorcycles, all of our key people ride. We are business people but we never forget that we’re also motorcyclists too.”

Trik Moto

Trik Moto is another exciting new project for us, with the demise of Motrax, Oxford have pretty much had their own way on that side of the business and customers haven’t had much choice on the accessories side of things for a while, so we wanted to bring the Moto Direct feel and philosophy to it using our own brand. We’ve been signing dealers up to Trik Moto during our winter presentations and we will have stock in Jan/Feb. We hand picked the top 200 or 300 lines to start with and it will be developed further, it’s got huge potential. The standard default margin on Trik Moto will be 45%, our other brands have different margins depending on dealer commitment etc.”

Cycle Division

As well as motorcycling, Moto Direct have recently set up a growing cycle division, with their own brand of Curve cycles, they also distribute a premier range of Trigon bikes (as used by Tommy Hill, Taylor Mackenzie,Ian Hutchinson and Jonny Rea amongst other top racers). It’s a direct to consumer operation, rather than a distribution business so customers can come in and be fitted up for a bike with our division manager Gareth Hewitt. RST has also crossed over into cycling wear and can offer one off, team or off the peg cycle wear, as well as a host of cycling accessories and nutrition. One exciting development that may well cross over to the Moto side is a 0% finance deal, Moto Direct are currently looking into using it on their motorcycle clothing and helmets range, a great way to entice a customer. Moto Direct also run a cycle race team and in their first season they’ve achieved over fifty race wins and come away with ten national titles, there are over 350 teams racing in the UK and Team RST Cycledivision rank in the top twenty, not bad for their first year. Both Jonny and Chris Walker still race themselves, they also run a promising youth team with some talented youngsters offering great potential for the coming season.

The Future

Trying to predict what will happen within the bike market isn’t as easy as it used to be so what’s the future for Moto Direct? “The market is changing, if we’d have sat here this time last year I wouldn’t have dreamt that we’d be the Arai distributor now, nor would I have said George White wouldn’t be here, or that Hein Gericke would have shrunk from 48 stores to 16. We just keep our heads down and do what we do and things realign themselves. There are still a lot of motorcyclists out there and the bike park isn’t shrinking, it’s not getting any younger either! There will be less people servicing the same size, or perhaps a slightly smaller industry. We do truly believe and support the retail sector, we have a strict ‘no brick, no click’ policy, so if you haven’t got a proper bona fide retail premises we won’t deal with you. Ten years ago we were in a rented unit on the other side of the A38, we moved here to this brand new 40,000 square foot unit just over four years ago, who knows where we’ll be in another ten years? Our turnover will increase; RST increases year on year and our export potential for the brand is huge. We’ve just done Intermot for the first time with RST, our export manager; Roland Bullock is still developing the export market. We’re the number one clothing brand with RST in Australia, top three in South Africa, France is going really well with our direct to market system, we’ve also got distributors in Poland, Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden and somebody from Russia is just coming on board, so the RST brand continues to do very well. The export market has huge potential but within the UK  I think it’ll eventually ceiling out, although there’s still growth potential with RST .We would like to get Arai back to where we believe it should be. We’ve invested in getting two guys trained by the Japanese Arai technicians so they can carry out a full Arai service and replace chin straps. Terry Birtles is our Arai (and Trik Moto) brand manager and we’ve also got the race truck, manned by Mark Roberts, he goes to every round of BSB to look after our Arai, AGV and RST pilots. We’ve also got our own race service, which can develop; repair and badge our race suits. Motul is another growth area and we’ve recently appointed Richard Barrett as the new brand manager, so there’s potential to increase turnover with that side of the business. There’s always plenty going on here, we’re on a journey and we’ll just keep keep trying to drive forward!.”


Feature reproduced courtesy of British Dealer News