COMPANY HISTORY: “So What’s a Swapmeet?”
In March of 1969, Helmet House’s founders were in the employ of Grant Industries in Los Angeles, CA. Grant was a manufacturer of piston rings, custom automotive steering wheels and motorcycle helmets. Phil Bellomy, Vice President and Co-Founder of Helmet House was the advertising manager and Bob Miller, President and Co-Founder was Grant’s Accounting Manager at the time.
As Phil Bellomy, recalls, “I was in the warehouse at Grant Industries one day, when I saw a man in a cowboy hat, wearing a 6-carat diamond ring and a chain on his wallet, peeling off $100 bills to Grant’s warehouse manager.”
“After he left in his truck, I asked the warehouse manager who he was and he said it was ‘Tex’. When I inquired what ‘Tex’ did for the company, I was told that Tex buys all of Grant’s seconds. I asked what he did with them, and I was told that he sells them at the swapmeet. I then asked- what’s a swapmeet?”
“After the explanation from the warehouse manager on Tex and the swapmeet, I talked with my friend Bob and asked him if he knew about Tex. He told me, yes, he knew about Tex and he told me that Tex bought a lot of stuff from us. I asked Bob if he knew what Tex did with the stuff he bought, and he said no. I told him Tex sells it at the swapmeet. Bob asked me what a swapmeet was. So I told him. To make a long story short, the very next weekend, Bob and I went to the swapmeet and saw Tex selling lots of helmets and steering wheels.”
“The following Monday, we went to Grant’s owners and asked if they had any more seconds to sell, and they said yes. So we asked if they would mind if we took some product to the swapmeet, and they said okay. Then we said that, since we didn’t know how many we were going to sell, how about if we paid for them the following Monday. To which they agreed. Then we asked, since we didn’t have much room in our car, could we borrow the company pick-up truck? Soon after, Bob and I rented a building from Grant Industries.”
Helmet House’s Birth: Shoei Helmets are core to our story
“Bob and I both invested $500 each as working capital, quit our jobs at Grant and at one time were selling at about a dozen swapmeets throughout Southern California. The Company was known as ‘Weekend Sales Company’. Soon after that, we began selling to motorcycle dealerships, and then we opened our own small retail store and warehouse in West Los Angeles, which we christened Helmet House.”
“Operating from that location at Pico and Bundy Boulevards in West L.A. for about three years, we developed a relationship with Mr. Phil Huff, the sales manager for the Shoei Safety Helmet Company, who offered us a distributorship along with some financing. This was in 1972. Today, Helmet House is Shoei’s exclusive United States distributor and Phil Huff remains a good friend. Shoei has consistently grown to become the leading premium helmet brand in the United States.”
The Birth of Tour Master and Cortech
“Six years later in 1978, Helmet House leveraged its expertise in the motorcycle retail and distribution business, to launch the Tour Master brand of motorcycle riding gear- mainly apparel and gloves, and eventually bags, rainsuits and boots too. Today Tour Master is a key player in the motorcycle aftermarket and one of the leading manufacturers and marketers of riding gear to street motorcyclists. Out of our Tour Master brand came our latest line of gear, Cortech, which offers all of the performance features and sophisticated innovations and fabric technologies of our Tour Master gear, but is styled for the performance and sport bike segment. Since 2002, it has grown steadily to be a major player in street apparel, gloves and riding gear.”
How we came to handle the US’s number one selling helmet.
“In 1982, a gentleman by the name of Scott Hong contacted us at our warehouse in Santa Monica, CA who asked if we would be interested in a line of motorcycle helmets from Korea. At that time the line, known as Crown, was not developed enough for sale in the highly competitive United States motorcycle market. Working closely with Mr. Hong and his brother, W.K Hong for two years thereafter, we fine-tuned this helmet product line for the U.S. market. That was the beginning of what became the HJC brand.”
“We’ve been marketing and distributing HJC helmets in the United States for almost 20 years now and have been largely responsible for it becoming the number one-selling motorcycle helmet in the United States.”
The 1990’s to today- poised for new levels of success
“In the mid-1990’s, Helmet House outgrew its facilities and built an all-new headquarters and warehouse in Calabasas Hills, CA. Not far from some of the best motorcycling roads in the world in the Santa Monica Mountain’s Mulholland Highway area. Before long our business grew to such a level that we needed a second warehouse, which we located in Memphis, TN.”
Tour Master and Cortech- leading brands from a riding gear leader
“In 2005, we greatly expanded our Tour Master and Cortech product lines into the wide ranging, technically sophisticated riding gear, luggage systems, gloves and boots we offer today. Along the way we’ve developed a diverse range of testing and product development processes using both sophisticated computer fabric wear and stress analysis, to putting our luggage systems on the roof of our California headquarters to test long term color fastness in extreme sun and heat conditions. We have even become the first apparel manufacturer to test our garments in a wind room, that can allow a rider on a bike to be subjected to either wind or wind and rain up to speeds approaching 90 mph to test garments ventilation capabilities and waterproofing. This level of testing sophistication has helped us gear up many long distance tourers with gear they’ve come to rely on. In fact we get Iron Butt Rally people passing here a lot, and boy do those guys know gear”
“We’ve also developed a highly trained sales staff that calls on almost 8,000 motorcycle retailers across the United States. We’ve added staff and upgraded our management systems to the point that we consider ourselves one of motorcycling pre-eminent gear manufacturers, marketers and distributors.”
We are proud to be the exclusive US distributor for Fieldsheer and Pokerun garments and gear. Helmet House is also the exclusive powersports distributor for Mobile Warming products, casual wear jackets and gear that is heated through highly efficient and portable lithium-ion batteries.
Helmet House Today
“Tour Master, Cortech, Shoei, HJC, and now Fieldsheer and Pokerun, as well as Mobile Warming battery heated gear, all key to the success that Helmet House has become today. We are probably going to need another warehouse in the not too distant future (as we've recently added our third to service our ever growing business). Our sales staff keeps on growing and we’ve upgraded all of our systems and processes to match the growth curve of the company. We very proud of where we are today. Just as proud as where we came from. Not bad for two guys who started out at the swapmeet…”
To Be Continued...