My Dad Was Going to the Races....To Let Marty Smith Use His Bike | Donny Emler Jr. on FMF Racing's Early Years 4

Donny Emler Jr. on FMF Racing's success and marketing strategy. With the 50 Year Anniversary next year, Donny talks about working with his father and much more.

There aren’t many logos within the moto industry as iconic as FMF. Don Emler Sr. started the company in 1973 in his garage and through hard work and quality it has grown into a championship winning product known the world over. Donny Emler Jr. works tirelessly to innovate and elevate the marketing and brand awareness. We gave him a call recently to hear what’s new. Feel the Power!

For the full interview, check out the YouTube video right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.


Jamie Guida – Vital MX: What's new with FMF? 

Donny Emler Jr.:  You know, we work constantly. It's not just when new bikes are coming out. The quicker we can get our hands on motorcycles and try to beat the competition to the punch on getting product launched and in the hands of the consumers the better. That's always number one. Number two, we're full-fledged still in the racing season. It feels weird because obviously our sport is pretty much year-round, which is great. People that are on the West Coast, sometimes riding during the summertime slows down. But on the East Coast, they’re finally able to ride, break out the dirt bikes. It seems like there's so much going on with the brand and we just keep trucking along. The biggest question we get is, “are you guys still making product through COVID?”. Everything in the sport just went crazy and ramped up for anything outdoors, trailers, surfboards, bicycles. When bike sales are up over 30%, which is pretty much unheard of and then you had parts and accessories up 50%. We just got bombarded with people wanting the brand, which was amazing, but we just couldn't keep up. It's a good problem to have because honestly, it kind of forced us to look at the way we were producing stuff. We do produce everything right here under this roof in Long Beach, California. At the same time, it really made us figure out how to be more efficient in our production. So, no, we didn't stop making anything. In fact, we only closed for one week at the very beginning of COVID. 

Vital MX: You mentioned everything being done in-house. How did that help with material shortages?

Donny: So yeah, we sourced all the material. Most of it's local. Our titanium comes from Japan. They make a really good titanium product, and it comes in big coils. People see semis driving down the road with three big coils in the back of the semi. That's basically how the process starts for us. And then we were cutting that all down to shape. We stamp everything in-house. We roll our own titanium tubing in house. The only thing that we don't do in-house is nickel plate the two stroke pipes, and we don't make our carbon fiber caps. Those get made in Northern California. We're a complete vertical manufacturing and we can do things in small runs where a lot of companies, that wouldn't make sense. We have a lot of different SKUs that we have to keep up on a lot of different motorcycles. We make stuff all the way back to 1987, so you can imagine the thousands of part numbers we have. 

Vital MX: I hear your dad, Don Emler Sr. is still hands on in the day-to-day shop stuff, right? 

Donny: I don't think hands on… actually, that is the exact, precise word, hands on. It sounds cliche, but yeah very, very hands on. His hands are literally touching every piece of this business from fixing equipment, purchasing material, coming up with new ways to build stuff, still doing all the two-stroke development, working with George, our R&D manager on all four-stroke stuff. Everything that involves this logo and this company he knows about. We work very closely, and he gives me a lot of leeway to do what I feel is right for the brand. We work really well together.

Vital MX: What has it been about your relationship with your dad and the business relationship that has allowed it to be successful?

Donny: It's a good question. I'm not the hands-on guy from a design development R&D process guy. I'm more of the creative thinking, marketing, brand awareness, knowing the direction he would enjoy the brand going. Us not working together on the development side probably is nice because we're not butting heads back there. We've always had a good relationship. We want to go ride dirt bikes together. We want to work together. We want to see where this brand can go. And ultimately, that's probably one of the reasons why we are where we are today. 

Vital MX: Let’s get into the racing side. There have been a lot of championships recently with Star Yamaha and Zach Osborne a couple years ago. And then this year there were 21 titles at Loretta Lynn's. Talk about the success on the racing end over the last couple of years and what that means to you.

Donny: It's crazy because if people look back, it used to be dominated by Mitch and his factory level racing. Mitch has always done a great job at the highest level of racing and that wasn't where FMF always was back in the two stroke days. We really catered to the off-road scene and the amateur scene. We went grassroots level. We wanted to be the best amateur support there is out there. Let's go to all the events. Let's take care of riders at these events. Let's go to every off-road race. Let's sponsor every off-road series from National Hare and Hound, WORCS, GNCC, let's take that approach. Then we built our factory level racing side of supercross and motocross. And we're with Factory Husqvarna and Factory KTM on a lot of their programs off-road. There's more than supercross and motocross titles that we’re winning. On the off-road level we won 31 major championships last year from world titles in Europe to everything in the off-road racing world. I think it’s important to shine a light on those guys as well, because it's all of that that makes up the DNA of this red and yellow logo.

Vital MX: If you look at the success of FMF, it's kind of amazing. There was no social media or influencers to spread the word. To have a worldwide successful business that lasted almost 50 years is just amazing.

Donny: Yeah, and I think if you started a company today, it'd be tough. There are so many different forms of outlets of how you have to market. Back then you let the product speak for itself. My dad was going to the races and working on and building professional rider’s bikes. He was showing up to the track to let Marty Smith use his bike. That was the grass roots of how the business started. You could do that back then. And magazines were a huge part of it. And working with editors over the years and having them test your product because people read magazines. They're looking at the reviews and what the riders say about the product and then getting an exhaust and putting it on. And our slogan is to Feel the Power. People put it on and the fitment’s great and they get to hear it and feel it. You're advertising on social now and the things that you have to do to keep relevant and have fun with your post and not take ourselves so seriously all the time. We are a company that ride dirt bikes, for goodness’ sake. I mean, we're a group of dirt bags that love to get dirty. Most sports don't want to get dirty. We can't wait to go get roosted. We want people to enjoy when they purchase an FMF product. 

Vital MX: You mentioned earlier that your lane is the marketing and finding cool ways to promote the business. Talk about The Drop and the goggle campaigns.

Donny: I look at FMF as a fun brand. And if there's ways that people can represent that they ride dirt bikes by wearing an FMF t-shirt or a hat and feeling when they go out to a restaurant and they see another person or someone sees them, they go, ‘Oh, that's cool. That guy rides’, I think that's the fun part about it. It challenges me to come up with new ideas. That's what keeps this job amazing is not only do I get to ride dirt bikes with my dad and create the number one exhaust company in the world, but how can we also have fun by coming up with and challenging myself with new ideas. You mentioned The Drop and it's a really fun project that I get to. I literally have my hands in every month from start to finish. I still print the labels for the boxes, I write the letter for the box. We come up with who we're going to work with for the t-shirt design, whether that's working with an athlete like Zach Osborne or Colt Nichols or working with a media partner or just another industry partner like RacerX and Method Wheels. It's a good way for me to use the connections and people that I've come across and met through this great industry outside the industry, and tie that all into one little box and kind of tell a story about why the design of the shirt looks like that and talk a little bit about it in the letter. Then working with Ludo and the crew from 100% when they approached us about possibly doing an FMF goggle. At first, it was really hard for me. How do we pivot a little bit? I'm like, you know what, FMF is a brand that everyone can relate with. Either you like it, or you don't, but you can still relate to it because it means you ride your bike. So why not take advantage of that logo? I'm like, you know what, why wouldn’t I want guys on the podium from off-road to supercross having an FMF strap around their neck, you know?

Vital MX: The 50th anniversary is next year. Are you working on anything, any special plans? Are you going to blow this thing up? 

Donny: I'm hoping it's pretty special. There aren’t a lot of companies that are still owned by the original owner that have been around as long as FMF. Mitch and Pro Circuit still have their business. But they started in 1978. O'Neal's been around for a long time. So, kudos to Big D for coming up with an amazing brand that I get to be a part of. And for 50 years next year, yeah, we're going to blow it up. So just get ready. We got some cool things in the works and excited for it for sure. It makes me feel a little older, but whatever.


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