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OEM growth no shock to this premium brand

Dave McMahon, Senior Editor
July 9, 2012
Filed under Columns

A diversified product line and commitment to quality assurance have combined to serve FOX well.

Throw in the rising popularity of side-by-sides, and FOX brings a recipe of success into the middle of another strong-performing year.

You’ll see a variety of success stories brought on by the growth of the side-by-side segment in the Focus section of this edition. Dealers themselves provided our readers with some helpful insight into who’s buying UTVs. Aftermarket product manufacturers have seen exceptional growth over the past year, and wholesale UTV values are holding strong. OEM supplier Sportech’s growth has to be one of the most compelling stories in the industries during a down economy. We also take a look at how dealers fare by state in securing coveted parts and accessories sales alongside new UTV purchases. We visited this topic earlier this year on the ATV side, and came away with an equally interesting geographic at which state’s dealers perform best.

We also decided to head north from our Twin Cities-based headquarters in Minnesota and point the truck northward to Baxter, a town of about 8,000 that sits next door to big brother, Brainerd, with a population closer to 14,000. Crow Wing County, mind you, has heavy influence in the UTV market, with major players like FOX, EPI and Erlandson Technology securing plenty of rental space. Who knew that Parts Unlimited rents part of the EPI building as its staffers call hundreds of dealers every day?

Rick Strobel, manager of the Baxter facility, has watched the Minnesota outpost of FOX grow from his garage into a still-shiny 10,000-square-foot Midwest Service Center that opened in December and counts OE and race support among its roles. But the original 3,000-square-foot location remains an R&D facility for its snowmobile, ATV and UTV and products.

“I remember our trucks used to be parked in Rick’s front lawn,” said Mark Larson, FOX director of OEM sales for ATV, moto, snowmobile and UTV.

FOX also has a 50,000 square-foot building at its Scotts Valley, Calif., headquarters, and its Watsonville, Calif., manufacturing plant is 80,000 square feet. Santee, Calif., is the 30,000 square-foot home of off-road and truck racing. Bike accounts for about 60 percent of the company’s business, with powersports (25 percent) and off-road (15) providing the remainder.

You’ll read about other garage-to-riches stories elsewhere in this edition, but FOX’s continued growth has to be considered another bright spot as the industry continues to recover from a down economy. And much of the growth — as it has been with other companies — has been driven by side-by-sides. FOX is now OE on several different UTVs. In fact, FOX’s growth has continued to rise at the OE level when compared to aftermarket sales. Fox has seen 80 percent of its powersports growth from OE level, with 20 percent in the aftermarket segment.

FOX’s powersports business has doubled every two years since 2008, an impressive feat considering the economy. But timed with the rise of side-by-sides hasn’t hurt.

“The whole world was coming apart with the recession in 2008,” Larson said. “But at FOX business was crazy. We had FOX shocks on the Polaris RZR when it first came out, and that led significantly to our powersports business increasing. Shortly thereafter we landed the Can-Am business in ATV and UTV.”

And while, the FOX Head “cool factor” seems to rise by the hour among the younger set, the FOX Tail logo is placed on an equally high pedestal among racing shock fans.

“It starts with off-road truck racing,” Larson said. “When you see a 1,000 hp trophy truck maneuvering like it does with Fox shocks, you know those shocks must be doing something right. Or when you see a bike in Supercross coming down from 60 feet with a soft landing, no issues at all.”

Consumers see what they see, OEs take note, and then consumers see top-line parts on their new purchases, with upgrades readily available from FOX.

“The rise in UTVs has been measurable over the past few years, and that’s meant an increased interest from an OE standpoint,” said Jeff Gruhlke, powersports sales and marketing manager. “As UTVs have progressed, it’s given us the challenge of making a shock absorber that can hold up to the challenging conditions that these new ATVs are experiencing. They’ve gone from a bounce around in the woods to jumping 100 feet and driving it like a trophy truck.”

Gruhlke notes that the company’s evolution during a downturn in the snowmobile market — not to mention the sales decline of sport ATVs — has provided FOX with the diversification it needed to maintain growth.

UTVs coming to market with more payload and passenger capacity have allowed FOX to turn to its off-road technology to provide enhanced performance.

“Anytime you’re hauling two to four people and have a vehicle that big and start to make it capable, standard twin-tube shocks our monotube shocks don’t have the capacity to control the damping required,” Larson said. “Our sweet spot is side-by-side shocks. We’re not great at the $7 twin tube.”

Working in conjunction with nearly a dozen distributors and 140 dealerships throughout the U.S., FOX turns to staffers at its facilities like the one in Baxter to keep the brand known for its quality and customer service.

“Those guys doing the service are the same tuners that we bring out to test with OEMs,” Larson said. “There’s a passion and commitment to get it done right, and it’s a point of differentiation. It’s why OEMs come to us in the first place.”

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