23 Jul RockyMounts Survived the Pandemic. But It’s Not Over.
I first interviewed Noyes on April 1, a week after he’d shut down his company. I asked how he was doing. “I’m great,” he said, before correcting himself. “Actually, I’m not great. I’m just used to saying that all the time.” A 53-year-old optimist from Saddle River, New Jersey, Noyes has blond hair down to his shoulders, runs his multimillion-dollar company wearing hooded sweatshirts, and starts every conversation with a fist bump. Recently, though, he’d had trouble getting out of bed. “I didn’t know what I was going to anymore,” he said. “Normally, I get up at 5:30 A.M., and I just stopped setting my alarm. I’d either feel like an army general ready to get things done or complete despair. There was no middle ground.”
It was the first conversation in a two-month-long series of interviews with Noyes and his employees, as I followed the brand’s attempt to stave off what would have been unthinkable pre-pandemic: extinction.
Before the shutdown, business at RockyMounts was up 25 percent over the previous year, when it grew 14 percent compared with the year before—numbers that, even for a core brand with a history of growth, are rare among niche-product manufacturers. Noyes had spent most of his adult life fostering that growth. He founded RockyMounts in 1995 in Boulder, Colorado, after working for Hall of Fame bike manufacturer Gary Fisher in Northern California, and then at a bike shop in Boulder in the early nineties. “I was the car-rack guy at our shop,” Noyes says. At that time, racks weren’t streamlined to fit a range of vehicles like they are now; each required numerous accessory parts that were sold individually. “To sell a system, I’d say, ‘OK, you need these towers, these bars, these clips, these locks.’ And every time I said ‘these,’ it was like kicking people in the stomach,” Noyes says. “I thought, I can make these things in my garage. So I came up with an idea that fit both round and square bars out of the box, which no one else was doing.”
When I later asked how worried he was that his business would fold on a one-to-ten scale, Noyes said eight. His employees sensed it, too.
RockyMounts has carved out a solid standing in the bike-rack hierarchy behind market leaders like Küat, Thule, and Yakima, with annual sales of around $5 million. Its feisty, little-guy plight is similar to hundreds of other outdoor brands—73 percent of the Outdoor Industry Association’s 1,249 members report revenues of $5 million or less, and 57 percent are manufacturers. Unlike behemoths like the North Face and Patagonia, whose size, you could argue, insulates them from utter collapse during the pandemic, RockyMounts had to get creative to save itself—and maintain faith at a time when it was hard to come by.
Much of the staff’s faith comes from Noyes, a straight talker and longtime bike advocate with street cred. “Bobby’s from Jersey, he’s never taken a dime of investor money, and he’s East Coast as fuck. Get ready for it,” says Joey Early, the company’s marketing manager. “If you need a new shirt, he’ll give you the one off his back, but he’ll also tell you exactly what he’s thinking. We all put a lot of trust in Bobby. He has heart that doesn’t really exist in a lot of places, and he does everything he can for his staff.”