By Patrick Sisson
Alex Palmer knew he had a dream opportunity on his hands. A long-time cyclist and bike industry executive, Palmer, 40, who had started racing bikes when he was a 10-year-old growing up in England, was offered the chance to resurrect a classic.
Fat Chance, a legendary mountain biking company that grew out of the custom frame-building company Chris Chance started in Massachusetts in 1977, earned the envy of early cycling devotees. Renowned for their quality and handling, the company’s bikes were the first built to handle wider tires for off-roading on rough New England terrain.
The unorthodox brand, which flaunted bright colors and a splashy logo, become a marquee name before closing in the early ‘90s due to mismanagement. Palmer was brought on board when Chance decided a few years ago to try and bring back the irreverent imprint.
“A lot of people remember it very fondly,” says Palmer. “There are thousands of fans are out there and a big vintage collecting scene.”
Palmer was faced with a challenge common to many managers of heritage brands: how to respect and capitalize on a well-deserved reputation without being too nostalgic and fixed in the past to attract new customers. Palmer, who had experience running direct-to-consumer behemoth Canyon, understood online sales and marketing. He’d need to tell a captivating story in a new way to reach old and new fans of Fat Chance.
“If you were starting from scratch, a blank sheet of paper, you could create everything that goes into a bike company, from the product name to graphics,” Palmer says. “We’re working with a lot of authentic heritage here, since people remember it so fondly.”
Palmer approached the challenge with 21st century sales and promotion techniques, including launching a Kickstarter in January of 2015 to fund the first production run of new Fat Chance bikes, based on the company’s classic Yo Eddy frame.
In keeping with his focus on new means of messaging, he also put extensive effort into finding the right website. Thanks to his online marketing experience, Palmer was familiar with the new "not-com" domain extensions -- which include a bevy of sports-centric options such as 'dot-bike' (.bike), 'dot-run' (.run) and 'dot-golf' (.golf). He was curious to see how they might play out in the right situation.
Fat Chance presented just such an opportunity -- with 'dot-bike' (.bike).
“The brand had initially re-launched as FatChanceBicycles.com, which was a mouthful, and didn’t really work with our collateral,” he says. "But Fatchance.bike was available, and ended up making a lot more sense."
"The name says it all, and .bike provides authority,” Palmer adds.
As the company continues to rebuild, looking toward larger production runs this year, the straightforward FatChance.bike fits with the overall messaging and branding, both online and on the product. Palmer worried that with a 'dot-com' (.com), they might need to include bicycles on their logo, to remind people how to find their website. With 'dot-bike' (.bike), everything is snappier and easier to remember.
As Fat Chance continues to re-establish itself, it’s slowly growing its new fanbase and working on new, improved models. Palmer plans to triple its initial 100-bike run this year. He may be working on a smaller scale than he did at his previous jobs, but he’s thrilled to be helping shape the next chapter of the “coolest bike in the world.”
“When the brand disappeared for 15 years, the hardcore fans operated in a vacuum,” says Palmer. “When you relaunch it’s quite a delicate balance, and you don’t want to upset the hardcore fans. It’s a delicate balance.”