Twenty-Five Years of an iconic Canadian brand.
Story by Lawrence Hacking
Photos courtesy of Joe Rocket Archives
After more than four decades in the power sports industry, the effervescent and seemingly ageless Bruce Parker has touched, in a positive manner, a great number of people. He has furthered the careers of many racers, partners, friends, employees, clothing manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and dealers. Within the industry, it’s easy to find people who only have good things to say about the man who did so much for so many.
Maybe it’s because Parker has always done things with his own brand of flair and style. His humour and a self-effacing attitude are instantly likable. His ego always seems to be in check; in the time I’ve known him – and that goes all the way back to the mid-’80s – he’s always been quick to offer a sincere hello and a joke. Parker’s also a high-energy super-salesman who could easily sell screen doors for submarines if he wanted. Around the time we met, he owned a Windsor-based motorcycle dealership selling Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Harley-Davidson and Bimota motorcycles. He expanded into two more locations, including one in Etobicoke, Ont., that was managed by then top-250 cc road racer Dave Grummett. “Parker’s greatest asset is his drive to win and succeed. ‘Work hard, play harder’ describes Parker best,” Grummett says.
A New Venture Begins
By the late 1980s, Parker decided that clothing and accessories was the best part of the business, and he chose to produce suits and jackets under the name Body Guard by Parker Bros. Ultimately Parker and his then employee Marc Bay developed the Joe Rocket brand, the name coming about during a brainstorming session in a bar fuelled by libations and good humour with long-time friend Chris Ellis. The Joe Rocket name was born on a proverbial beer-soaked napkin, and Parker has never looked back.
Using crayons, coloured pencils and markers, Parker and Bay penned the original logos and designs. Although neither is a professional graphic artist, the signature Joe Rocket look caught on quickly, and those scribblings established trends that are still in play today.
Grummett continued, “In the beginning, Joe Rocket’s product range had names that were offensive and in-your-face but unforgettable. Names like Joe Schmo, Joe Highside, Joe T.O. and the most controversial – Joe Bitch. Originally, we didn’t think much of the Joe Rocket name, but it worked, and we sold a ton of jackets and suits. The first Phoenix jacket was awesome. When I saw the prototype, I knew we were going to sell a lot of those. One of the secrets to the Rocket brand was North Americans could pronounce the name, as opposed to some of the European brands.”
Eventually, Grummett went on to buy the Etobicoke Parker Bros. store when Parker dedicated his time to the wholesale side of the business. When asked what was the most memorable moment in his relationship with Parker, Grummett quickly replies, “Bruce sponsored me during my racing career starting in 1987; I was the first road racer to wear Joe Rocket gear. In 1990, I had a brand-new Yamaha TZ 250, which is a full-on Grand Prix road-race bike. Bruce wanted to ride it real bad so we fired it up, and wearing only a T-shirt, shorts, beanie helmet and sunglasses, he did laps on Walker Road in Windsor out in front of the store. We were killing ourselves laughing.”
The company’s first brochure was shot by shutterbug extraordinaire Bill Petro. “The cost of shooting the photos for the first brochure nearly broke us,” Bay says. “These days, we’d love to have such reasonable prices for photography.” The first Joe Rocket textile jackets were made in Quebec using, at the time, a revolutionary Canadian-made material called 600D polyester, which is now an industry standard. Parker and Bay added abrasion-resistant Kevlar panels and amour in all the key areas using material they found at a military surplus vendor that had an overstock of Kevlar.
They were faced with constant challenges, one of which was sun fading; some jackets faded from red to pink within a year. The problem was solved by a Canadian fabric mill, which developed a suitable UV-resistant material for the harsh conditions. “We tried to keep our customers happy, and we replaced or repaired defects without question and have always stood behind Joe Rocket clothing,” Bay says.
Attention to Detail
Bay adds that their “early design process was archaic. We’d send black-and-white faxes to the manufacturer and sometimes spend up to 18 days in a row at the Quebec factory tweaking the designs to get things just right. All the work and attention to detail paid off: the Joe Rocket Ballistic jacket sold like hot cakes and is still produced, albeit in an evolved form.”
Bay also has a story related to the in-your-face-style Joe Rocket used to sell clothing. “One of our original logos was a cartoon of a rider, called Joe Speed, flipping off a cop. We never used it, but we did use a lot of lightning bolts, racing stripes and flames – our racers gave us a great canvas to try out new designs.” Bay explains that once a racer wore a design, “the following year we’d have a replica jacket available to the public. Over the years, we had a series of racer’s jackets, such as the Lawson 21, the Nicky 69 and the Schwantz 34. All of these rider replica…