VeloSport/Sho-Air’s Damion Hickman
I got a chance to talk with Damion Hickman, the president of TeamVeloSport/Sho-Air in SoCal. Aside from running the team, Damion also owns his own designstudio and has several cycling clients. Check out his work at damionhickman.com.
What was your first job as a designer?
It was at GT Bikes. I was hired to be the t-shirt designer back in 1990 and eventually worked on catalogs and ads for them.
And you moved to California to ride and work in the bike industry. Was it what you'd envisioned?
It was more than I imagined. Being from a small town in Colorado, Ididn’t really have that much exposure to the outside cycling world,other than through magazines. Mountain-bike racing was just starting backthen , and when I got the job at GT, they were the top U.S. brandfor cycling. They had the best riders at the time, and the company wasreally on a roll. It was a great experience for me.
I imagine bike industry office digs as having watercoolers flowing with Gatorade and snack bowls teeming with Clif bars. True?
Somewhat. We have a constant supply of No Fear and Monster Energydrinks in our fridge at the office, and we’re contemplating how to ridedown our staircase without catching a bar end on the railing. We’ll letyou know how that turns out.
Are there a lot of lunch or after-work rides?
A lot of after-work rides, for sure. The lunch rides will be coming nowthat our new place is so close to trail access. Many of our clientsride too, so it’s not a hard sell to get them to come by and go for aride/meeting. We have a shower at the office so that makes it a loteasier to do a little work after a ride.
When did you decide to open your own studio?
I started my business in 1993 after leaving a packaging design studio. I was already doing a lot of freelance work on theside so the next step for me was to go out on my own and see how itwent.
Did you foresee several cycling clients in your future?
As a cyclist, I always hoped to land a few cycling clients, but I’vefound that you have to take on any client because you believe in theirproduct and you feel you can help take them to the next level withtheir branding, advertising, etc. We’ve worked with Turner Bikes,Titus, Alliant BMX, Axxis BMX, Pivot Cycles, BH Bikes, Rock n’ RoadCyclery, Shimano, and Team VeloSport.
Wine and bikes are a good combo. How'd you make that happen?
Thanks. The wine industry is as tight as the cycling industry. Everyone seems to know each other. We did a few projects for a fewwineries and we got lucky. We got a ton of referrals, and our namespread through the industry as a specialist in wine-label design. Totell you the truth, I’m not much of a wine drinker, but I find the labeldesign as challenging as any other project. We’ve done wine labels forthe Kentucky Derby, the PGA Tour, a few celebrities, and small, family-run operations. I think we’ve designed about 200 different labels.
How do you think your riding background influences your design?
With any catalog, web site or ad we design, I look at the project froman enthusiast perspective first. What would I expect to see, or howwould it represent a certain message to me? With 20 years of cyclingdesign experience, I’ve seen a lot of what works and what doesn’t. I’vehad the luxury of seeing firsthand at the bike races and trade showseach year what the cycling industry is doing. We take that knowledgeand expand upon it any way we can to help our clients stand out.
Did your cycling background help you land Shimano Global? What do you do forthem?
Yes. I have a good friend that works for Shimano. During a road rideone day, he asked what level of web development we could handle becausethey weren't happy with their large agency's lack of service. He askedfor a proposal on a particular project, and we easily outbid andoutperformed the large agency they were working with. For our company,the Shimano account is substantial, and we value their business verymuch. We are able to quickly respond to their needs, and we are locateda short distance from their Irvine, California, office so it'sbeneficial to get together with them to discuss projects. Currently wehandle the design and html production of their global site and many oftheir individual smaller sub sites. We also work on the fishingcomponent side of their business as well.
I know you developed Pivot from the ground up, what was the impetus for that name and overall identity?
The Pivot account is very dear to my heart. I used to work on the Titusaccount years back when Chris Cocalis ran that organization. After heleft, he asked our firm to help him name and brand his new company. Atthat time, I had to make a choice of whether to continue working withTitus or jump ship and go with the unknown. I did something I don'tnormally do with our clients–I invested in the company as astockholder because I feel strongly about the leadership and quality ofthe company.
We went through hundreds and hundreds of names before deciding onPivot. We chose that name for a variety of reasons, with the mostobvious being the suspension frame aspect of the business. Pivotalso represents a new standard in the technology involved in the bikesthemselves, and I think it represented a new way of thinking for thecompany from the get go. It sounds odd but it's somewhat hard to comeup with a cool name that isn't already taken, doesn't mean somethingcompletely different in another language, looks good on the down tubeof a bike, and just overall has a good ring to it.Our firm has designed hundreds of logos over the past 20 years, andthe Pivot logo is one of my favorites. Someone told me once that if youlove what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. and I thinkthat's true. Whether we're designing a new wine label or a magazine adfor a new downhill bike, I think our studio appreciates the challengeof trying to do our best design work for each client.
What made you want to start a bike team?
My friend Matt Ford from Rock n’ Road Cyclery and I had a discussionone day about starting a team that would be just our friends andfamily. We were looking to create an atmosphere where the cyclistscould enjoy being part of something without the pressure to win races.We started with about 35 riders, who were mostly people who rodetogether in the Mission Viejo area.
How many people are on your current team?
Just a few riders shy of 500 as of a week ago. We have riders in every county in Southern California as well as out of state.
Is there a limit to membership?
No. We’re excited to have the team the size it is. We are at the point nowwhere sponsors are lining up each year to be part of our organization,and as much as I hate to turn away anyone looking to support the sportin any way, we have to each year due to lack of space on the teamclothing to add any more sponsors.
What is the team's philosophy?
Our philosophy is that we have always tried to make the team somethingthat anyone can feel comfortable being a part of. While we have hadmany state, national, and even World Champions among our ranks, we don’texpect those results from anyone on the team. We have a large part ofour club that doesn’t even race at all.
I know you used to race all the time. What changed that?
As much as I miss racing, the five days of training each week just took uptoo much time away from my business. My wife and I had a baby boy thispast summer, and the majority of my free time since then has been beinga dad. I’m looking forward to racing again next summer, though. I’llprobably do a few single-speed races.
How often do you ride now?
I’m riding twice a week these days and at a lot slower pace, but it’snice to see the scenery. It’s usually on the weekends or after work.
Did you ever think your team would become so big here in SoCal?
Not in my wildest dreams. I think it’sa testament to the dynamics of the team that we continue to grow eachyear. We’re one of the only teams in the Southern California area thathave a race reimbursement program that’s not based on riderperformance. For less than $100 each year, our riders get a jersey,many pro-level deals on merchandise throughout the year, typically afew free shirts and goodies at the team events, race reimbursementpayback, and we raffle off so much swag at our team meetings thatusually everyone wins something sooner or later if they hit a fewmeetings. I’m really proud to be the president of the team.
What is the most rewarding aspect of running a team? Why do you continue to do it?
I think it’s really the challenge each year to make itbigger and better. I enjoy being part of an organization that really ismaking a difference in our area. We volunteer groups to help with trailmaintenance at different times during the year, and we have a large teamparticipation in community give-back programs, such as canned fooddrives, donating bikes for kids, first-aid classes, the MS150 ride,etc. I have two business partners, Bob Kmetz and Matt Ford, that reallyhelp me out with the time needed to devote to the team as well as ourteam captains and event organizers: Caroline Goulard, Nancy Seidler,Ian Keith, Marty Brown, Matthias Jezek, and John Dang.
What’s in store for 2010?
We have a really cool new team kit design for next year that I thinkwill help our riders stand out from the pack. We plan on having a lotmore “off the bike” events for the team. We plan onsupporting more of a road effort this year, and we’re planning onrevamping our team web site and pumping up the efforts at the teammeetings, too. I fully expect to top 700 riders on the team this comingyear.