A Local Brand’s Success Story
By Heather C. Hamblin
Like many fledgeling companies, Lizard Skins started out modestly—on a six-foot folding table in a spare bedroom—with one simple product: a sleeve to keep a bike’s chain from scratching the frame. In its first month, Lizard Skins made a whopping $350.
Fast forward 27 years and the company has left its spare bedroom space for a large facility in Utah County and expanded to hundreds of products for mountain biking, road cycling, baseball, hockey, and beyond. And for three years in a row (2015–2017), Lizard Skins was included on MountainWest Capital Network’s Utah 100 as one of the fastest growing companies in the state.
Building a Brand
But its simple start came in January 1993, when Lizard Skins’ owner Brian Fruit was a recent college graduate with an infatuation for mountain biking — a relatively new sport at the time. He loved it and spent every weekend he could riding in Moab. Seeing a need in the market, that first chainstay protector was born. From this first product, Lizard Skins expanded to more gear for mountain biking and BMX biking. Then came Lizard Skins’ handlebar tape for road bikes. It took time for the handlebar tape to take hold on the market, but one professional athlete inadvertently helped the fledgling company turn a corner.
It was the 2011 Tour de France, and Johnny Hoogerland suffered a shocking accident during the mountain stages of the race when a car pushed him off the road and into a barbed wire fence. Torn up and bleeding, his wounds were field dressed and he got back on his bike. The way he dealt with the situation was truly sportsmanlike, and he quickly became beloved by cycling fans.
Enthusiasts began to scrutinize everything he did from how he trained to what products he used. Johnny’s handlebars happened to be wrapped with Lizard Skins’ grip tape, and people took notice. Other grip tape existed on the market at the time, but Lizard Skins’ product was different from anything else available. Though it was twice the cost of other similar products, it had a different feeling to it and a higher quality overall. With one touch, they could make the sale; it was a game changer. Before long, Lizard Skins’ grip tape was being used in other sports with the company’s growth into the baseball market happening organically. One player just started using it, told a friend about it, and it grew from there.
Johnny Hoogerland wasn’t the last professional athlete to take notice of Lizard Skins’ exceptional products, especially once they expanded to different markets and more sports. They’ve curated an impressive list of customers: world champion in Four-cross mountain cycling Anneke Beerten from the Netherlands, world champion in Downhill mountain biking Steve Peat, and MLB All-stars Eric Hosmer and Mookie Betts, just to name a few. Lizard Skins has been the supplier of three Tour de France teams and a World Cup Downhill Team, had their products featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and are one of only 13 on-field licensed brands of Major League Baseball, including heavy hitters like Nike, Rawlings, and Louisville Slugger.
For Lizard Skins, this exponential growth has brought the opportunity to engage with the local community and support ameteur athletes. They strive to be a force for good by giving back, and helping young people that are just starting out in these sports they love so much. The company works closely with the Utah League of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA): a non-profit organization that provides opportunities for junior high and high school students to race. In Utah, it’s the largest youth league for mountain biking, and Lizard Skins has proudly been able to support five to seven NICA teams each year.
For many years, Lizard Skins donated a portion of sales from its popular Moab grip tape and North Shore grip tape to building mountain biking trails in those namesake locales — both world-renowned destinations for the sport. Recently, they started a new program to help build mountain biking trails locally, and gave out three grants to deserving projects and organizations.
Brian remarked that “they can’t build the whole trail themselves, but they can spark the flame that helps get it going.” The company wants to help good quality companies that have a vested interest in their backyards, neighborhoods, and communities, and to be involved as much as possible in creating more trails and growing the mountain biking sport in Utah.
Lizard Skins also strives to be green in a smart way, using conscientious manufacturing processes and eco-friendly design in its American Fork headquarters facility. The company recycles and use energy-efficient products and doesn’t let anything go to waste. To use up extra product, rather than sending scraps to the landfill, designers creatively use leftover leather to build wallets and keychains.
What started as a part-time job for Brian Fruit has become a thriving brand that improves the experience of athletes. Lizard Skins started out small, but now has 35 employees, and offers a breadth of products from handlebar grips and grip tape to batting and cycling gloves, arm sleeves, saddle bags, and more. Brian and his team are passionate about the work they do, and that speaks volumes about what kind of company Lizard Skins is.
Lizard Skins’ doesn’t just grab something out of a catalog and put their name on it. Its quality products show it’s engaged with the enthusiast athlete that believes the touchpoints of a sport can make or break the experience.
The team knows what they’re doing and have maintained the integrity of its products over decades. Lizard Skins has relationships with athletes, teams, and retailers from Taiwan to the UK, yet is still homegrown and invested in sports and people here in Utah. Learn about Lizard Skin gear.