How do you know when your celebrity has ratcheted up a notch? For Lucy Rosenberg, the moment of realization came at the Louisiana Bike Expo in May 2003. "We were slammed," she says. Their stock of T-shirts and hats sold out in moments flat, and Rosenberg, merchandise executive of Orange County Choppers - OCC for short - quickly scrambled to find a New Orleans-based screenprinter that could produce what they needed - overnight - to meet customer demand. The May show, Rosenberg recounts, was OCC's "first introduction to the effects that the [American Chopper] show was having on people, on the world."
In case you aren't in the know, American Chopper is the Discovery Channel's hottest program. It features motorcycle enthusiasts Paul Teutul Sr. and his sons, Paul Jr. (a.k.a. Paulie or Junior) and Mikey, whose bike-building company, OCC, founded in 1999, last year became the latest craze in reality-based TV and requisite watching for motorcycle aficionados. Paul, Paulie and Mikey's genuine family banter (and yelling) amuses an audience ranging in age from 2 to 80 - "the widest demographic Discovery has ever seen," reports Rosenberg - whilst instructing in the finer arts of building theme-based and other unique choppers.
They never knew what hit them
If you've missed the show, perhaps you caught the trio's techno hi-jinx during the series of AOL commercials aired during the Super Bowl? As their star has risen, the father-and-sons team has been tapped for an endless stream of appearances that reach far beyond the biker world. The Teutuls - while keeping up with a growing business and TV show - are rounding the circuit of charity benefits and talk shows and juggling celebrity pop-ins from the likes of Warren Beatty and Ewan McGregor, which is contributing even further to a growing demand for authentic OCC merchandise.
Rosenberg - who also happens to be Paul Sr.'s girlfriend - would have trouble remembering the early days of the fledgling apparel line if it weren't for the fact that it was just a year ago. Indeed, OCC's initial foray into apparel was almost an afterthought, with the popularity of its Spiderman-themed bike (purchased by hip-hop musical artist Wyclef Jean) inspiring the creation of a "T-shirt with a spider web and the OCC logo," one of its first apparel items, explains Rosenberg.
The shirt was a big hit at biker shows, with sales in the dozens. As the apparel became more popular, Rosenberg "took over" the clothing line, shipping it right out of her home. "We were getting maybe 25, 30 orders a day. We had a shopping cart type of thing on the Web site." At that time, OCC was getting its merchandise from a local T-shirt supplier and print shop near its Rock Tavern, NY, headquarters.
Then along came the Discovery Channel, which was looking for an East Coast [specialty motorcycle] builder, similar to [the West Coast Choppers'] Jesse James." (James is another motorcycle maker, who already had a show on Discovery.) As Rosenberg recalls: "They saw Paul standing there [in a bike magazine ad] with his arms crossed and his sunglasses on and they said: 'You know what? This guy looks like he's got an attitude. Let's call him.' "
The rest, as they say, is history. After two extremely successful one-hour documentary-style shows, American Chopper turned into a series, and Orange County Choppers' crew, with its broad, cross-generational appeal, became instant cable darlings.
Things were "pretty crazy" around that time, says Rosenberg. Even before the show, the apparel business had started to pick up a bit, but "with the Discovery Show, things became really busy," she remembers. She turned 100 percent of her attention to the apparel and merchandise business, but was having trouble managing all of the orders, which had increased considerably. (And this was just the OCC crew apparel - "the clothes the guys wear" - not the "humongous" line of licensed merchandise distributed to stores such as Hot Topic, Sears and JCPenney through OCC's more than 25 licensees.)
"It was unbelievable," says Rosenberg. Realizing it could no longer go it alone, in April 2003, OCC turned over its distribution to a mid-sized third-party fulfillment house, but the company's rapid growth soon necessitated yet another solution. They found it with a company called eFashionSolutions.
Today, OCC is selling, on average, approximately 2,400 pieces of apparel daily, estimates Rosenberg - a far cry from 25 shirts a day. "eFashionSolutions handles everything," says Rosenberg. "The only thing we have to do is pay for clothing."
It took a little while for eFashionSolutions to get OCC's business, but Rosenberg says "Steve [Silano, sales] was very persistent. He kept calling, [saying]: 'I can help you.' " And she's very thankful for that, she says, explaining that they now receive service far beyond what they'd had, including extreme attention to the consistency and professionalism of their product image.
"For instance, they now bar code all our clothing, and they label it. It's bagged, so when it comes to the consumer, it's packaged very nicely and neatly. Before it was just being thrown in a bag and shipped out. We really liked the idea of [a nice] presentation."
eFashionSolutions also helps OCC identify new markets. The latest idea? Bobble-head dolls of the Teutul trio, soon to be available on the Web site.
When eFashionSolutions develops ideas for new items, it conducts market research to determine the best price points and manages the launch of the products on the Web site, including photography of the items and test runs to see how the new items will sell. The firm also seeks out new customer bases for OCC's products, and e-mails previous OCC customers about product launches.
The inner workings of the engine
Ed Foy, CEO of eFashionSolutions, says he knew his company could help OCC.
"I was watching them one night on TV, and I was very intrigued. . I ordered [a T-shirt] from them, and . it came in a dirty bag. ... The T-shirt was inside - I ordered a white one - with no polybag and no hangtags. It still had dust on it from the warehouse."
Meanwhile, OCC's business was growing exponentially, and its fulfillment house was having trouble keeping up with the volume. When eFashionSolutions took over, "they had 9,000 back orders," Foy quips.
OCC also had no visibility into its inventory.
eFashionSolutions - which also handles the Web sales for Eminem's Shady apparel line, J.Lo, Baby Phat and XOXO - is a full-service partner, working with its clients on everything from Web site creation and apparel design to customer relations and fulfillment.
Foy and much of his team are former Macy's and Calvin Klein executives. "A lot of third-party [fulfillment houses] have lots of back-end distribution experience, but never sat in the front seat, dealing with accounts and retailers on a daily basis," he says.
This apparel experience has been key in the success of the firm's work with OCC's production partners. Remember that savior screenprinter in Louisiana? The company, Baudier Printwear, is now OCC's regular supplier and eFashionSolutions is working with it to develop new sourcing locations to accommodate the growing volume of OCC apparel.
(Al Baudier, president of the company, says that in the T-shirt world he hasn't "seen an apparel brand blow out as fast as OCC since South Park.")
eFashionSolutions has also designed and developed a new lifestyle collection for OCC which it launched this spring, and will be working with the company going forward on additional collections, such as a women's boutique line, which Rosenberg envisions as "a little bit flashier, a little bit hotter looking, with rhinestones [and such]."
As for its home base, eFashionSolutions has a new 71,000-square-foot headquarters in Secaucus, NJ, including its warehouse and customer service call center. The firm's IT systems are mostly proprietary, built on an open-source platform. Its shipping system is integrated with UPS, and was built based on UPS' zones, sorting methods, etc., which allows the company to charge consumers less expensive shipping rates, says Foy.
Its merchandising system is tied to its order and receiving systems, which allows its proprietary technology to determine which items are sold together and should therefore be merchandised together, say, on a brand's Web site - or on eFashionSolutions' very unique warehouse floor, which Foy says is treated "just like a store."
Visitors to the warehouse often "shake their heads" in disbelief, because it looks just like a store, Foy says. "Of course it does!" he exclaims. "Why would I want to hang a shirt and a jacket next to each other that don't sell together? When you're merchandising a floor at Macy's in Herald Square, [for example], . if a shirt and pants sell together constantly, you merchandise them together. So why would I have a shirt in one location of the warehouse and a pair of pants in the other side, if consumers continue to order those on one pick ticket?"
Its system tracks selling behaviors, says Foy, and using that information, directs the placement of merchandise in the warehouse. For OCC, Foy estimates that 30 percent of its product is 90 percent of its business. A pick sequence system allowed eFashionSolutions to move OCC's inventory around to accommodate the most efficient pick sequence, which minimizes the "travel" time to pick the order, and contributes to its quick shipping times, he says.
Foy says eFashionSolutions manages all photography of its clients' apparel items, and ensures that they are represented well, and consistently, with pricing and descriptions that support the message and integrity of the brand, whether appearing on their own Web sites, which are managed by eFashionSolutions, or on another sales venue, such as Amazon.com.
In the case of OCC, eFashionSolutions manages only the OCC crew apparel which is sold exclusively on OCC's Web site and at biker shows.
There's never a dull moment for OCC - or eFashionSolutions. Coming into work the Monday after the Super Bowl, Foy found 9,500 e-mails waiting for him from OCC's Web site - 10 times the norm. "We had to bring in 10 more servers just to accommodate the volume," he says. Going forward, Foy says he is excited about new prospects for OCC.
"This brand is out of control," he concludes.