By Nicole Formosa
Joel Smith has discontinued his license of Tomac Mountain Bikes, leaving an uncertain future for the namesake brand of one of the sport's most legendary racers.
In an e-mail, Tomac said he was working on options for the brand including selling the trademark, or exploring another licensing agreement. The company will not produce any bikes this year, and all existing models have been sold, Tomac said.
Tomac sold a range of nine hardtail and full-suspension 29er, XC race, trail, all-mountain and downhill bikes, mostly positioned at the upper end of the market.
Tomac said he was disappointed that the arrangement with Smith did not work out. Smith sunk his life's savings into Tomac the brand when he took control of it in 2006 after American Bicycle Group let the license lapse. As a longtime fan and friend of Tomac's, he had the rare combination of passion and bike industry business savvy from his eight years in product, marketing and sales at Answer and Manitou.
"I feel he was a very good fit for the brand, but I believe his fundamental problem was a lack of capital investment needed to really gain and hold traction in a very challenging business climate over the last few years," Tomac wrote.
Smith agreed that the risk associated with the financial commitment needed to grow the brand was a big part of his difficult decision to end the license.
He ran Tomac from his Santa Cruz home on a shoestring budget and shouldered much of the tasks associated with the business—everything from design, sponsorship and accounting to quality control.
With two young kids and his commitments as the U.S. general manager of Taiwanese suspension brand X-Fusion—a job he took in early 2011—something had to give.
"[Having young kids] changes your perspective on risk and time too. It wasn't easy to do both," Smith said.
Still, Smith said he was miserable parting ways with Tomac, a brand he is obviously still very passionate about (Smith's Skype handle is "Tomacfan").
Tomac the man, who previously ran the brand in the late 1990s, said he does not see himself taking control of the day-to-day operations of the brand right away, but it could be possible in the future if he retains ownership.
For now, everything is on the table.
"I feel the brand is still viable and has its place, although perhaps the demographic for the brand's awareness could be shifting somewhat with age," he said.