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Interview

Motomail: The gear specialists

By Mario

Motomail has been a familiar name on the NZ motorcycling scene since the 1980s. We caught up with current boss Chris Hyland to talk about how things have changed and the future of motorcycle gear.

Chris Hyland with helmets

Prominently located towards the bottom of College Hill in Freeman’s Bay, Motomail is a familiar place for many Auckland motorcyclists. But the company’s roots were in a now-distant ‘virtual’ world: mail order sales. “We started out, in the 1980s, selling motorcycle gear by mail order from catalogues,” explains Motomail director and classic racer Chris Hyland. “It was big business at the time and we served the whole of the country. Of course we still do, but today it’s via online sales. In fact I think we were the first, or among the very first, to sell gear online here.”

Evolving to suit changing needs

Chris joined in 2012 and the business moved to its current site in 2005, becoming a popular spot for Auckland riders to meet up, especially when a café graced the top level. But the GFC had an unwelcome impact on motorcycling that hit the coffee shop’s viability. Likewise, the company had to relinquish the MV Agusta franchise which, along with a sea of colourful Vespas, always gave the store an Italian air.

Vespas on sale

Today, Motomail very much specialises in motorcycle gear, just as they did in their early days. They also stock a good deal of luggage and accessories, plus some parts. And, of course, there’s the Piaggio-Vespa franchise which, along with servicing, accounts for about a quarter of their current custom.

A defining focus

The specialist focus on riding apparel has proved to be successful one for Motomail, with riders from across the country seeking out their advice. “Not every conversation results in a sale,” says Chris. “But we’re perfectly happy with that. Giving the right advice results in loyal customers–and safe ones, too.”

The wide range of gear available

Out-of-town visitors often make a beeline for the shop, using the opportunity to try on gear to ensure it fits properly then buying online. Chris is keenly aware of how important it is to ensure the right fit for all apparel, with guidance a key part of the in-store experience. So how does it work online? “We have to be flexible and work with the customer to ensure they make the right choice. Sometimes that might involve a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with post, but it’s essential they understand what a good fit actually is and that is what they get.”

Old mistakes

As apparel and helmet experts, Chris and his team are occasionally shocked at the mistakes some riders make. “Buying too big a size is the most common one,” he says. “Maybe people are used to wearing baggy clothes for comfort, but you cannot do that with motorcycle gear. It has to allow your body to move, for sure, but the armour has to stay in place. You do not want loose, baggy clothing where it all moves around.” Helmet fit, too, seems to be an area where some riders struggle. “Again, there must be next to no movement if you try to twist it in any direction. At the same time, it must be an even fit with no gaps and no pinching or excess pressure. Even when customers ‘serve themselves’ in the shop and come up to the till, we’ll go over it with them.”

A range of motorbike gear

Fresh faces

Chris has seen an encouraging upturn in new, younger riders in recent years, so the advice he and his staff give has proven invaluable. He’s observed other positive changes, too. “Increased immigration, particularly from India and elsewhere in Asia, has meant a lot of new people visiting the store. Many of them are very used to riding motorcycles, so they want to carry on when they get to New Zealand. What we see is, they might start by looking at it as efficient transport around town or for commuting, but then they venture out of town, love it and it expands into something else.” Another upsurge has been among female riders. “Around 12 percent of our customers are now female, and it’s growing all the time. They tend to be very discerning–taking time to ensure what they buy is absolutely right–and they value good advice.”

Change in the air

What of the future? Will Motomail expand by opening stores in other centres? Unlikely, says Chris. “It’s the high capital and ongoing costs. Rent, rates, salaries, in-store inventory: they just multiply with no real economy of scale. So we’ll continue with our presence in Auckland serving customers nationally online.”

When it comes to motorcycle gear, one of the areas Chris sees real growth in is airbag suits and jackets. Motomail already stocks a lot of Alpinestars Tech-Air range. “It’s race-bred technology, and it really works, but one of the biggest uptakes is among adventure riders. In Australia, but also here, riders venturing out to the back blocks can see how a simple ‘off’, where they maybe break their collar bone, can turn deadly if you can’t get the bike up again. The protection is the tops and, while it is a premium product now, the technology will get cheaper as manufacture is gradually shifted out to lower-cost production plants.”

The Motomail showroom with TechAir airbag jackets

Up and down the country, expert dealers like Motomail are a tremendous source of advice when you’re looking for gear and accessories. If you fancy dropping in, their College Hill store is open seven days, including 10am-4pm on Sundays.