Duluth-based motorcycle rider clothing company aims to increase its visibilityAerostich is making efforts to increase its visibility in the Northland. Among them are the “Saturday Motorcycle Socials” at the factory store on the first three Saturdays in December.
By: John Lundy , Duluth News Tribune
Randy Ramker left his home in Marshfield, Wis., at 6 a.m. Saturday on his motorcycle, making the four-hour ride to the Twin Ports to do two things.
The second was to eat a burger at the Anchor Bar in Superior.
The first was to park his Honda Gold Wing next to a nondescript, three-story brick factory building in Lincoln Park, walk inside and try on some made-only-in-Duluth Aerostich gear.
“I’ve got myself in a situation now where I can afford better stuff,” said Ramker, 47, who is married and has a daughter in college. “And I’m sick of things leaking. I ride in all sorts of inclement weather. Most riders will pull over to a wayside and wait it out. I ride through it, and I’m sick of being wet.”
So Ramker turned to Aero-stich, the gear made by Aero Design and Manufacturing. Andy Goldfine established the company nearly 30 years ago in a former candy factory at Superior Street and 18th Avenue West to design and manufacture fine-quality, waterproof textile riding gear for motorcyclists.
“At the time Andy started riding, he wanted to be able to use his bike and ride it as a transportation tool,” said Lynn Wisneski, sales and business development director, who started with the company 22 years ago. “And there was nothing at the time that you could ride in to protect you from the rain or from falling. The suits that Andy designed were the first textile rider suits in the world.”
Over almost three decades, the Aerostich brand has developed a worldwide following among passionate motorcyclists, Wisneski said. On Saturday, a customer from Texas was expected to arrive to be fitted for a rider suit. Early in her career, a couple from Norway arrived at the factory. The gear has made frequent appearances on the covers of motorcycling magazines.
But it’s little-known in Duluth.
“(This) really is more of a leather area,” Wisneski said. “We’ve got loyal customers, but Harley is big here.”
Aero Design is making efforts to increase its visibility in the Northland. Among them are the “Saturday Motorcycle Socials” at the factory store on the first three Saturdays in December.
Another is a remodeling project that is transforming the entire first floor into retail space.
Already, all of the design, sewing and production take place on the second and third floors. The factory usually is open five days a week, but several employees were working on Saturday to keep up with the Christmas rush. Among them was one man working at the factory’s new robotic garment-cutting machine, which Wisneski said has allowed Aero Design to greatly speed production and add a line of rider suits specifically designed for women.
The company has a work force of 60, Wisneski said, down from 113 at its pre-recession height. But the recession allowed the company to rethink what it was doing, she said. Among other things, the company has learned to use social networking as a marketing tool. And it has worked with a team of senior engineering students from the University of Minnesota Duluth to make the manufacturing process more efficient.
The expanded retail outlet is only a small part the company’s strategy. Wisneski said Aerostich will remain primarily a mail-order business. But some customers, like Ramker, make the trip to Duluth to be professionally fitted for their garment, or just to rub shoulders with the people who design and make their gear.
Ramker bought a pair of A.D.1 pants for $307, to go with the jacket from a European company that he got from a friend who quit riding. He plans eventually to step up to the Aerostich Roadcrafter rider suit, currently priced at more than $900.
It’s a worthwhile investment, Ramker said, because of the protection the gear provides.
Wisneski said Aerostich gets letters testifying about crashes in which the rider was uninjured, or only slightly injured, while wearing the company’s gear. A hall is lined with suits that went through crashes. In one of them, the rider was traveling 65 mph when he spilled on dry pavement, slid and tumbled. He was able to ride away from the scene with bruises on his hands and a twisted knee, she said.
Ramker had a similar adventure in his own Aerostich gear years ago, he said, and back then he couldn’t afford to replace the suit. The pants purchased on Saturday mark his return to the company’s gear, and were the only thing he wanted for a certain holiday.“Merry Christmas to me,” he said.