By Angela Rose | Apr 10, 2016
Motorcycle luggage and accessories
Hougen hasn't always been a motorcycle madman. A Colorado State University graduate with a B.S. in apparel production, he was once an avid backpacker, interning at the recently relaunched Madden Mountaineering in Boulder before working as an operation manager at Golden's Mountainsmith.
His interests eventually shifted. "I was riding my motorcycle more and backpacking less," he recalls. "One thing led to another," and he launched Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage from his spare bedroom in Nederland in 1992.
The launch was wholly self-funded and included three products: two motorcycle tank bags and one tail bag. Hougen sold 100 units the first year, doing most of the work himself from initial design through the production stage. Eschewing modern CAD software for old-school pencil and paper, he continues to operate in this way today. "I still do all the design work, pattern work and R&D prototyping," Hougen says. "I spec the fabric, cut the webbing, and if I need to sew production, I can."
He estimates Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage sold more than 10,000 units of its core products last year, despite a business model change that didn't go entirely as planned. "Conceptually, it worked," Hougen says. "But when we got down to brass tacks, it didn't. We had to modify and were very product-deprived in 2015 as a result. Revenue went down because we didn't have enough product to sell."
Delays moving to a new 5,000-square-foot headquarters in the old Longmont Times Call building compounded the issue, but the company is now back on track. "We expect 20 percent growth this year," says Hougen. "That's a real comfortable number. A little more or even a little less would be fine, but we're off to an amazing start in 2016 because we have product again and there is a lot of demand for it."
Every Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage product -- from duffel bags and tail bags to tank bags, saddle bags, packs, carryalls, rain covers, liners, hats, and shirts -- are made in the U.S. The brand is known throughout the motorcycle market for built-in versatility, durability, and innovative yet simple designs. "I put my energy into making very functional, very durable luggage," Hougen explains. "I use innovative designs and interesting concepts, but I also believe in a very simple system. The more complex you make something, the more potential it has for failure."
While the core of the Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage brand is focused on the adventure and off-road market, Hougen offers gear that works for any motorcycle enthusiast. "We have a new street line we call the Skyline Series for sport and sport touring bikes," Hougen says. "The tank bag, duffel bag and saddle bags are made out of a lightweight but very strong sail cloth."
Though other lines cross over to everything from cruisers to adventure bikes, Hougen tries to maintain a certain degree of focus. He actually reduced the company's product offerings last year. "When you offer too many things, it confuses the customer," he says. "If you cut down and offer a more specific set of products, it's easier for them to grab what they need. We also do a lot of business through dealers and this makes it easier for them to buy our products and sell them."
Wolfman sells direct online and through more than 150 motorcycle dealers across the U.S. The company's products are also sold in Asia, Australia, Canada, Chile, Europe, and Mexico.
Challenges: "I'm not going to say 'competition' because competition breeds innovation," Hougen muses. "There's no question that competition is necessary. However, the biggest challenge I see is maintaining what we have. We don't want that competition to knock us off our pedestal; that requires innovation so we can remain as competitive as possible at all times."
In Wolfman's case, innovation doesn't have to mean new products. "Once you create your foundation, it's important to keep it," says Hougen. "We do that by refining our products. There will always be version changes, but the foundation has been created."
Opportunities: In short, new markets. "I can make motorcycle bags constantly. I've done that; it's my specialty. But how do you take that current customer and continue to keep him or her?" Hougen asks. "New opportunities will come from creating new things for that same customer that open new markets and keep your brand flowing in different directions. That's what we're looking at this year."
Needs: Overall, Hougen asserts he doesn't need much. "I feel really content at this time. We're at the right mix right now to be able to move into some new areas," he explains. "It will take some funding, sure, but that will be minimal because we'll be using the same materials in different configurations."