BEHIND THE SCENES WITH O’NEAL'S CHUCK KOBER
Talking to the Product Development Manager at O’Neal
We were given the opportunity to interview O’Neal’s Chuck Kober when he and Vice President Frank Kashare stopped by the office to talk shop and show us the 2005 O’Neal gear. Chuck has been a go-to guy at O’Neal for the last eight years and is heavily wrapped up in the sport of motocross. Not only does he know how to develop new products, but Chuck has also been seen twisting the throttle pretty regularly at local southern California tracks. Without further ado, we welcome you to Chuck Kober’s world.
First off, your official title is Product Development Manager. What exactly is that?
Basically I oversee all of our projects from conception to production to being on the showroom floor. At the beginning of every calendar year we start mapping out the products for the following year and I decide which of my artists will be working on each project. I assign timelines, follow up between them and the vendors, the sampling process, testing, pre-production, production, and all of the way up until the product is in stock and on the floor.
How many people do you oversee?
Currently I have two in-house artists as well as several freelance people that I work with from time to time.
How important are you in the development of the actual product?
We do things by committee. One committee is between the artists and myself, while we also take feedback from our team riders. The team riders ride every day and know what they want in gear, so we take advice from Mike LaRocco, Broc Hepler, and all the team riders. While everyone at O’Neal rides and races, we’re not out there doing the hours or the stuff that the pro riders do. We take feedback from the pros with what’s working and what we could possibly improve and we put it all together. I sit down with Jim O’Neal, Frank Kashare and the artists and we decide what direction we’re going to take. We find a general direction and then I work closer with the artists to achieve that goal.
Speaking of riders, are you heavily involved with O’Neal’s sponsored riders? Do you talk to the sponsored riders on a weekly basis?
I started at O’Neal as the rider representative and I was at that position for a little over four years. Then I went into product development, but I’ve stayed close to the rider program ever since. I basically established the rider program that exists there now. That was my doing. I brought up some of the newer rider reps and I stay real close to it. I’m still heavily involved in negotiations and I talk to the guys all the time.
I go riding with the riders when they’re in town and we get together. I’ve ridden with Kyle Lewis many times at his house because he lives close to O’Neal. I’ll hang out with riders and also get feedback from them on the products.
How long have you been working at O’Neal?
I’ve been working there a little over eight years now.
You’ve been in the motocross industry for a good amount of time. How did you get a motocross related job?
Actually, it was through a friend of mine. He was the rider rep for O’Neal at the time but he felt he had an opportunity to do something else that he thought would be a better move for him. At the time I had made it known to my friends that my current job wasn’t working and that if they heard of anything to let me know. It was really just good timing.
How has O’Neal changed since you began working there?
O’Neal’s changed for the better. A couple of years after I started working there we got a new Vice President, Frank Kashare. He came in and gave us a new direction, and we’ve grown huge since he came to work at O’Neal in 1997 or ’98. Our company has grown tremendously since then. The company has gone from being one of many players to one of the main players on the field.
When was O’Neals sister company Azonic born?
Azonic has been around since 1989. It was run independently from O’Neal but came in-house in 1998 and we combined it under one roof. We’ve been working hand in hand since then.
Did Azonic moving in-house change your job role at all?
It just gave me more work [laughter]. Azonic is diverse in that we have soft goods and a bicycle division as well. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a bicycle tech guy that should be overlooking Azonic, so there’s another person doing that instead. I oversee it all still, but I hand over the hardparts development to him.
Do you have any advice for people who want to break into the motocross industry?
To be honest, and it’s probably what this person doesn’t want to hear, but it’s easier to break into the industry if you know someone. If you don’t know someone then contact the companies and go to the racetracks. Pretty much everyone in this industry rides, and I know that in Southern California if you go to the big tracks then you’re going to bump into motocross industry guys. We’re all doing our thing. Get to know people, get your resume together, make yourself known and be a nice person.
Mike LaRocco has been wearing O’Neal gear for quite some time now. We have to ask, does the guy ever smile?
[Laughter] Mike LaRocco actually smiles a lot once you get to know him. He definitely has this persona that the media and fans see him as a tough and totally serious guy. I know a totally other side of him. Our wives have become friends and Mike and I hang out. Believe it or not, Mike and I were driving around Indianapolis at 5 a.m. trying to find somewhere to eat after a full night on the town.
Another guy that you sponsor is Broc Hepler. How do you think he’ll fare next year in what we deem the ‘Stewartless era’?
We’re hoping that Broc gets a number one plate indoors for sure, and the way he’s riding and learning right now I don’t see why he can’t be the number one guy outdoors as well. If it weren’t for Stewart this year, he would have been number one. Obviously Stewart is there and he deserves everything because he’s winning, but Broc’s still around. This was Broc’s rookie season in supercross and he made some mistakes, but next year he’s going to be better.
A lot of riders want to know about possible sponsorship. When is your deadline for riders submitting resumes for sponsorship?
Resume season is right around the corner. The traditional resume season is from September 1st to November 1st. We’ll receive thousands of resumes and we have a couple of guys in-house and some artists look through all the resumes and we look for riders in different areas. We do the whole deal every year.
Do you select the riders yourself?
I’m hands-off on the whole amateur deal. We have two guys that specifically deal with our rider support program. I’m a little more hands-on with the pro side.
Where is O’Neal headed into the future?
In the next five to ten years hopefully we can continue to have the same growth that we’ve had in the last five years. We want to keep sponsoring top athletes, keep producing the same high quality apparel that we’ve been producing the last five years, and hopefully keep blowing up like we have been.