Start-up brand dreams of building its own UTV
Massimo Motors growing with Sheffield, GE Capital backing
With sharp-looking new machines, a broad product lineup, a quickly growing staff and a large, expanding distribution network, it’s easy to see why start-up off-road brand Massimo Motors is excited about its future. Add in major new floorplan and retail financing partners, and plans to eventually build UTVs from the ground up at its sprawling facility in Texas, and there’s no doubt that the company’s enthusiasm is well founded.
A quick glance at Massimo’s recent stats goes a long way: 30 percent sales growth in the last 12 months with a similar increase in staffing, the all-new Alligator series of side-by-sides that shows off the company’s own design language, a new lending agreement with Sheffield Financial, floorplan financing from GE Capital and a big-OEM dealer development expert brought in to carefully cultivate a growing dealership base.
It’s still a small family-run company, and anything can happen when building a powersports brand from square one, but don’t blink, because Massimo apparently is on the move.
Texan with a Chinese accent
In a North American off-road spectrum that ranges from the major OEMs to up-and-coming brands like KYMCO or CFMOTO, Massimo is a bit of an outlier. Its machines are manufactured in China, but Massimo assembles and inspects them at its 328,000-square foot facility in Irving, Texas — an almost-made-in-the-USA detail that has become a key part of its marketing message.
Once the machines arrive in Texas, they enter a building that’s gradually looking more like a fully functional assembly line as the company expands. Workers fully assemble machines in one of 10 assembly bays — no roll cages to mount upon delivery — and Massimo’s staff completes an inspection before affixing a plaque on every UTV touting its final assembly in America.
Massimo’s distribution is also atypical, as a handful of its products are available through Tractor Supply Company stores located in 48 states, primarily in rural towns and on the fringes of cities. The rest of its machines — 11 UTVs and two ATV models — are available through the company’s growing dealer base. To continue growing its dealership ranks, the company recently added Yamaha veteran Bob Braun to its roster in a bid to begin courting high-quality dealers to balance out its retail distribution enterprise.
Braun spent 27 years working for Yamaha, retiring as national sales manager. Before that, he worked for Kawasaki Midwest that, at the time, was the largest independent distributor of motorcycles, parts and accessories in the world. With his new role at Massimo focusing on new dealer development, Braun sees many similarities with his time at Kawasaki, as well as opportunities to leverage his career at Yamaha to help this distributor bridge the gap to become a full-on, American-based powersports manufacturer. No small task.
“For me, it’s like coming full circle,” Braun said of his previous experience at Kawasaki Midwest. “It’s so much fun being hands-on, one-on-one with the dealers. It’s fun to sit down and say, ‘OK, we’re not doing this right, let’s do this better,’ and being able to do it and have that effect. When you get into the big corporations, it’s very difficult.”
Alligator in the grass
Massimo’s ATV lineup includes a 350cc sport quad priced at $3,750, two single-person utilities and the two-passenger, 800cc MSA-800 that starts at $7,499. Its UTV range is much broader — from 200cc units up to the 1,100cc MSU 1100-4 — and where the company sees its keys to future success. They range in price from the $3,995 MSU-200 up to the $13,995 for the 1100-class four-seater.
The all-new Alligator series — available only through dealerships, not retail outlets — includes the single-passenger Alligator 500 and Alligator 700 models, as well as the four-person Alligator 700-4, styled by an Arizona-based designer hired to give its foreign-built machines a modern look that Massimo hopes will differentiate its products from other low-cost competitors.
With unique dash, hood, fenders, bumper, headlights and vents, among others, the Alligator series are the company’s first products designed in-house, an 18-month process from CAD drawings to the dealership that serves as a template for the company’s dreams of building its own machines from the ground up.
“The true vision of our owner is to manufacturer a 100 percent domestically made side-by-side,” said Massimo national sales manager Dylan Smith. “That’s the vision. I don’t know if that’s a 3-, 5- or 10-year plan, but that is the target and we’ll hit it.”
A major part of the company’s philosophy relies on providing dealers and retailers with higher margins than competitive mainstream products. For consumers, machines come loaded with popular accessories like high-fashion wheels, roof and windshield kits, aggressive tires and winches straight from the factory.
“The margins on Massimo are much larger than the other OEMs,” Braun said, “so we still give them a very good profit opportunity with the unit, even with all of the accessories.”
Working with a foreign-based manufacturer presents many challenges, not the least of which include requesting changes to appeal to the local market. Of the relationship, Braun said that as its largest distributor, Massimo’s technical requests are quickly addressed.
That flexibility has led to vehicles with current features like push-button four-wheel drive, disc brakes, fuel injection and locking differentials for low-traction environments.
Massimo also spends a lot of time benchmarking competitive product, not just for mechanical systems, but also for programs that can be helpful in attracting new dealers to its network.
Next up on Massimo’s agenda is filling out its UTV line to complement its existing stable. While the company is hesitant to discuss specifics, Braun and Smith are thrilled about what’s coming next and hinted that they may have sport-focused UTVs waiting in the wings.
“I don’t want to say our cup runneth over, but right now it’s pretty good,” Braun said. “There are a few things that we just can’t talk about that we’ve got on the drawing board that will, hopefully, be here sooner than what we even think. We hope to add to that, and right now we’re pretty happy.”
While the company is seeking growth, its plan is to grow incrementally to maintain its product quality and positive relations with its dealer partners. Its current goal is to capture 5 percent of the American powersports market.
“We want to grow; we don’t want to aggravate anybody,” Braun said. “We feel as though the industry’s grown large enough and big enough for another manufacturer out there.”
Just how big that market will grow remains to be seen, but Braun sees a parallel in the rise and fall of ATV sales in the last decade. As annual quad sales approached 1 million units and fell dramatically during the recession, UTVs were just starting to break out by capitalizing on their steadily improving performance, sport riding potential and ability to carry multiple passengers in relative comfort. With these fundamental advantages, Braun thinks the side-by-side sales growth is far from over.
“It’s a much more customer-friendly product,” he said. “Right now with the UTV business growing the way that it is even in a soft time, when the economy improves even more we keep looking at those numbers that ATVs did and say why not?”
Braun said that while many in the side-by-side industry are expecting 15 percent growth or better in 2014, he and his team have set a higher target that they are “very comfortable” in attaining.
“It doesn’t get much better, and you can tell by our enthusiasm,” he said. “We’re growing as the UTV business is growing [and with] the motorsports dealer network we are just starting to scratch the surface.”