The Spanish helmet manufacturer wants to regain its past influence with new collections and personalized services
NZI is an acronym for Nazario Ibáñez Azorín, bike helmet manufacturer from Yecla (Murcia), whose helmet designs have protected great motorcycling champions such as Alex Crivillé, Jorge Martínez Aspar, Álvaro Bautista, Jorge Lorenzo or Marc Márquez for a total of 32 World Championships.
Since the first glass fiber helmet made by its founder in 1983, NZI has produced over 21 million units. Nowadays, the company is presided by Nazario Ibáñez, son of the founder, with Juan José Bernat, who joined the company in 1987, acting as a general manager. “If you prick me, fuel comes out”, proudly admits Bernat, who is determined to take NZI to a new growth phase after difficult years of economic crisis and despite the current pandemic. ”
Between 2008 and 2015, the business kept production in Spain. “Everyone left, but we were honest with our commitment”. They invented new techniques like 3dhelmets, a patented technolgy to customise helmets, and ventured into new products to stay afloat, such as baby chairs or padel bats, taking pride in their “expertise in handcrafted composite products”. Their current production of these objects is residual, but they feel lucky: “If Life has given you the opportunity to triumph, you have to give it back. We lost a lot of money, but now we’re positive and on the launching pad”.
It wasn’t easy. Down to a quarter of the staff before the economic crisis, “we had to reinvent ourselves so that the NZI helmet became the people’s helmet again. In Spain, we achieved 65% of the market quota, meaning that one in every six or seven helmets in the streets was ours. With the crisis, we lost the role of dominant basic helmet manufacturer, but now we try to recover a significant influence in helmets with great rotation”. They focus on design and internationalization to achieve this, with three different collections: the Racing line, with a mixture of fibers and resins designed to sports riders and races, the Urban Lifestyle collection “with a great dose of design” and the Road City line, the most affordable one or “value for money”.
Racing and Urban Lifestyle are produced at Yecla, while Road City is outsourced “in a very organized way, with design, technical development, marketing made in Spain and quality assurance in situ”. Bernat admits that “helmets require intensive workforce and no country with high income can compete with China in that regard, that is why Europe only produces premium”.
The short term objective for NZI is to “offer the best protection helmets at the lowest possible price for every biker, regardless of where they live since we are a global business”. Until 2015, 80% of NZI’s business took place in Spain. Since then, 20% is local business and 80% is distributed internationally, mainly China and Latin America. In China, they compete against Urban Lifestyle and Racing models: “We are a top class brand there, we have our medium range in Latin America and we want to strengthen ourselves at the low-middle class level in Europe and Spain”.
Bernat wants to think that, despite strong market competition, the Spanish brand will regain part of the lost ground. In the premium segment, the principal brands are Japanese and European with a recent addition by a Korean manufacturer. In the medium range, most of the brands are European, while in the most basic level there is a 35% of Chinese brands and a 65% European brands that sell products made in China. “There are Spanish people that recognize Spanish products and Europeans that recognize European products. It’s not the majority, it is more expensive and it all comes down to money, but according to a WHO report, a biker is 26 times more likely to perish in an accident than a car driver. On the other hand, a good helmet rightfully standardized and fastened can prevent death 40% of the time and brain damage 70% of the time. We are talking about a product in which the price is not the only thing to look for. You have to pay attention to what you are buying; the brain is the engine of life and you must spare no expense and look for recognized and historical brands”.
A history that NZI wants to keep writing inside and outside of the circuits. They hope to return to the competition since they left in 2013. “If you have travelled in first class, you want to keep travelling there and extract every thing that can be beneficial for the consumer. The ones in the track are few and we must work for the general public”, claims Bernat.
Outside of the circuits, they want to contribute to history by being part of the expert group that nowadays is working to improve biker safety all around the world, developing new standardization and safety systems that they hope to apply in countries like India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines or Pakistan, the great motorcycling markets alongside China, the majority of which is still ruled by local production and regulations.