How Two Brothers Started A $4.8M/Year Motorcycle Parts Manufacturer
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Justin Pflanz and my brother Casey and I own and operate TAB Performance. TAB Performance is a manufacturer and retailer of high performance motorcycle exhaust and accessories. Our passion is helping our customers customize their bikes to fit their own personal styles, and truly enjoy the freedom of the ride.
The product that we’re probably best known for is our Zombie baffles, which is actually an internal component we offer for many of our exhaust systems. The Zombie baffle concept came about in early 2017, after Harley-Davidson(R) came out with a new engine and exhaust system on their Touring models. Our original muffler designs, were more traditional, but we kept hearing the same thing from our customers, “Do you have anything louder?” So, we listened to our customers and that’s what we went to work designing, and that when we came up with the Zombie baffle design.
Since the introduction of the Zombie baffle, we’ve been roughly doubling our annual sales, year over year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My Brother and I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family. Our parents had started, grown and sold several companies growing up and it’s something we both had a passion for.
We’ve also always felt that our personalities and experiences complimented each other well. Generally speaking, I tend to be more detail oriented and risk averse whereas my brother is better at looking at the big picture and is more comfortable taking risks. I went to college and got a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in business and he got his degrees in both Business Administration and Marketing.
After college we both worked in the motorcycle industry for a few years, before I left to work overseas for an oil field services company. After three years of working overseas, I decided I was ready to come home. My brother and I had always talked about starting a company and it seemed like the perfect time. We looked around at current businesses for sale, met with business broker and discussed possible startups, for several months before finally landing on TAB Performance.
We both had experience in manufacturing and the motorcycle industry and decided it would be the perfect fit.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In the early days, and even largely today when we’re designing a new product one of the first challenges is to get our hands on the Original Equipment (OE) part that we’d like to replace.
It’s great to experiment and try different things, as that’s how you learn what works best, but you’re probably working with a limited budget so focus on what is giving you the best ROI, rather than worrying about trying to market everywhere.
This allows us to take key measurements that we need to ensure that our parts will fit properly. It also gives us a chance to see the things we like and dislike about the OE part. From there we go to work making styling and functional changes we think our customers will like best. After making some rough prototypes we have to find a bike to test the product on.
Although it would be great to just go out and buy a bike every time we were developing a new product, unfortunately that’s not very practical so often times we work with the local dealerships and riding community to try to find someone who has the type of bike we’re looking for and will allow us to use their bike for testing.
Now that we’ve grown, and people are more familiar with us it’s a lot easier, but in the early days when even people in the local community didn’t know who we were, it could be a real challenge. After we’ve finished testing the prototype, we make any last minute changes, and then get to work making all jigs, fixtures, and tooling required for production.
After the part is in production, our work isn’t done. The next and most important step, in our opinion, is listening to our customers and then making running changes based on their feedback. We are always looking to improve upon our products and we rely heavily on our amazing customers to help point us in the right direction.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We were very fortunate, in that we had a lot of knowledge and support to draw on from our parents. However, probably one of the most important and helpful things I found was going through the process of filling out a business plan.
Going through and filling out each and every aspect of a good business plan template really helped us organize and prioritize the things we needed to do to get started. The SBA has a lot of great resources to help with business plans and much more.
Funding was of course one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. For us it was important to maintain complete control and ownership of our business which meant taking out bank loans, which is not an easy task when not everything you’re looking to borrow money for is a tangible asset. This again was where a good, well researched and put together a business plan really came in handy, and ultimately helped us secure the funding needed.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We’ve tried a LOT of different marketing channels since we’ve launched. The big things we’ve learned boil down to the following points.
- Try to really know and understand everything you can about your customer. The more you know about your customer, the easier it will be to effectively market towards them.
- Find what marketing channel works best for you and your product. What works best for one product may not be good for another. For example we’ve found our best marketing channel to be YouTube videos because our customers want to be able to both hear and see the exhaust before purchasing.
- It’s great to experiment and try different things, as that’s how you learn what works best, but you’re probably working with a limited budget so focus on what is giving you the best ROI, rather than worrying about trying to market everywhere.
- Make sure you have a way of tracking, or assigning some sort of metrics to your marketing efforts. It tends to be easier to do this with digital marketing, but there are ways to accomplish the same thing with more traditional marketing methods such as print. Google Analytics, and similar systems are very powerful tools and can really help you out with this regardless of your type of business.
- Digital marketing platforms can be extremely powerful, if you understand how to use them. Learn everything you can about the marketing platforms you plan to use, so that you make sure you’re taking full advantage of all their features.
Digital marketing may not be right for your business or product, but in our experience it’s pretty hard to beat. Especially with marketing platforms like Google and Facebook, where you can target geo specific locations, demographics and interests. The goal of marketing is to get your product in front of people that potentially want to buy your product. So for example, we may want to target our marketing efforts towards people who own motorcycles, which is very easy to do with today’s digital marketing platforms.
Many of the marketing points I mentioned above apply to sales channels as well.
For example we currently sell through the following channels:
- Directly through our website
- Directly over the phone
- Directly at Motorcycle Shows and Rallies
- Indirectly through our dealer and distributor network
These are the ones that we’ve found work best for our business and products, but there are many, many more out there. Even within the sales channels we use, not all of our products are listed on every channel.
For example, we’ve found Amazon to be a poor channel for a lot of our products. We found that some of Amazon’s rigid restrictions and rules meant to keep things consistent for their customers was actually confusing many of ours and was leading to poor customer satisfaction compared to the rest of our sales channels so we pulled a lot of our products.
However, we have other products that Amazon works great for, so you really want to make sure you’re looking at things on a case-by-case basis.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As I mentioned earlier we’ve been doubling our sales every year for the past few years and we’re on target to do it again this year. That being said we’ve been very fortunate to see this kind of growth when our market as a whole has been on a decline the last few years.
Everyone makes mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes, you're probably not trying.
As a company we firmly believe that if we’re not constantly evolving, and improving, it won’t be long before we cease to exist. Despite our current incredible growth, there are no shortage of potential threats to our business. The growing popularity of electric motorcycles may one day eliminate the need for exhaust, regulatory bodies could implement restrictions on using aftermarket mufflers, or any number of other scenarios. However, we know that if we continue to evolve and diversify, while maintaining our core competencies we’ll continue to be a successful company.
A prime example of this, is in our early days 98% of our business came from products related to one Harley-Davidson(R) model, the V-ROD(R). We understood that, if we were going to be successful we would need to improve the sales of products for other models, rather than focus just on the model we were having a lot of success in. We set aggressive goals, and within a few years, by growing our other product lines we were able to get our percent of sales related to the V-ROD(R), down below 50%. Just in time it turned out as Harley shortly thereafter announced that they were going to quit making the V-ROD. If we had stayed in our comfort zone making products for the model we were having the most success with, we as a company probably wouldn’t be here today.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
- Everyone makes mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes, you're probably not trying. The key is to learn from those mistakes, and not let them bring you or your business down.
- Get to know your customer, and your market. What needs does your customer have that the current market isn’t fulfilling. A small niche that bigger companies may not be interested in, could be a great and profitable place for a small business to start.
- Never stop learning. Find other business owners to connect, consume any information that might help you or your business be successful.
- Make sure you’re prioritizing the things that are most important. It can be easy to focus on low hanging fruit, and tasks easily accomplished but you can’t lose sight of the big picture long term tasks either.
- Surround yourself with people that compliment you, not people exactly like you.
- Constantly be working towards evolving and improving your business and it’s products.
- Make a point to review the services your business uses on a regular basis and get competitive quotes. For example, maybe there are better interest rates available and it might make sense to refinance a loan or move money to a different type of account. Maybe changes in your business have affected insurance rates or left you underinsured.
- You can’t be an expert in everything, so find experts that you trust, and learn enough to be able to ask the right questions and carry on an intelligent conversation with them. Whether it’s an accountant, lawyer, IT consultant or another expert, it great to have someone you trust that you can bring questions to, or bounce ideas off of.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
e-Commerce Website: Volusion
Do you research. There are a lot of e-commerce platforms out there, and you want to make sure you choose one that will work for you long term.
Credit Card Processing: Authorize.net
As you grow the credit card processing fees can really add up so make sure the rates you’re getting are competitive.
Email Marketing: Mailchimp
Mailchimp has worked really great for us and they are free to use until you get over their threshold, which is great for small businesses starting out.
CRM/Shipping/Order Management : ShipStation
This is one of my favorite and most important tools we use.
Accounting & Inventory Management: Quickbooks - Desktop Premier
Quickbooks is widely used and fairly intuitive as far as accounting systems go. They also have an on-line version which is the direction they seem to be moving. However as we grow we are looking into other, more ERP based systems.
Middleware between ShipStation & Quickbooks: Connex
We use Connex to automatically take orders from ShipStation and enter them in QuickBooks for us. This has been a huge time saver, and well worth it now that we’re doing to volume of order we’re doing.
Communication and Organization: Office365 and Trello
Office365 has a lot of really cool and powerful tools. However if you’re more of a Google fan you can look into GSuite which pretty much has all the same tools.
We use Trello to organize and prioritize tasks and projects. It has a free version, and it works really well for what we use it for.
We’ve tried a number of different hiring sites and Indeed, has worked best for us so far.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I can’t say there is any one particular book, podcast, or the like that really stands out to me. I’ve read, listened to, and watched a lot of material about business over the years and I think I’ve taken pieces that made sense and worked for me from a lot of different resources. My advice would be two parts. First, find material (whatever the source) that engages and speaks to you. With possibly a few exceptions, if the material isn’t interesting and engaging then it’s probably not worth your time. Secondly, it’s great to learn from others, but don’t get so caught up in what other people have done that you forget to do what you need to do to be successful. Just because something worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s right for you, or your business.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We don’t have anything specifically at the time of writing this article, but we’re always looking for hard working talented people, so if you’re interested, feel free to contact us through our website: www.tabperformance.com
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: www.tabperformance.com
- Facebook: TABPerformance
- Twitter: TABPerformance
- Instagram: tabperformance
- YouTube Channel
- Email: [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
TAB Performance has provided an update on their business!
Over 1 year ago, we followed up with TAB Performance to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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