Big thanks to Spotlight on Business Magazine. They did an article on us, we thought we would share it with our viewers.
Who knew the outdoors type WERE SO GOOD AT THE ONLINE THING?
By David MacDonald
“The need for speed” is a misleading expression. Those who really want that extra ‘m’ or ‘km’ per hour are, generally speaking, patient folk. They are not impulsive, off-the-line types. They take their time. They meticulously study their passion. They are motor sports aficionados who spend countless hours perusing literature, experimenting in garages, and visiting trails, tracks, and trade shows before committing to purchasing even the subtlest component. They are akin to Scott Harper, President and CEO of SideBySideStuff.com. Established in 2006 as Harper Cycle Works, a small motorsports parts dealership and repair shop, SideBySideStuff.com has benefited from Harper’s prudence. He knew that his initial “jack-of-all-trades” approach catered only to an eclectic customer base in an approximate 30 mile radius of his Drexel, Missouri business. He knew that he was selling less over-the-counter parts to walk-in customers because of online competition. He knew when it was time to specialize, go online, and, in his words, “take back what is ours.” Since 2011, this family owned and operated company has realized its motto, “MAX IT OUT,” with a staggering 2,260% four-year growth rate with banner years of nearly US $7 million in 2014 and $10.1 million in 2015.
Making the move to Ecommerce in early 2011 was another leap in Scott Harper’s life that required a lot of lead-up. His childhood passion for dirt bikes, racing, and all things mechanical prepared him for his post-secondary journey at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Management and an associate’s degree in Aviation Maintenance. His accredited and honed mechanical prowess paved the way for a nine year career with Bombardier in Wichita, Kansas working on the Learjet family of business aircraft. His familiarity with aircraft mechanics, coupled with his need for speed, lead him down a path to become a pilot and experimental aircraft enthusiast with more than 200 hours total flight time – not to mention an accomplished skydiver with over 2,500 jumps across the US.
But there was still something missing in Harper’s life. “During that period, I raced off-and-on,” he explains. “Even then, I wanted to be in the motorsports industry. I wanted to use my Management degree and do what I love. But it’s hard to quit a really good job. Years later, the company moved my position to Dallas, Texas after a reshaping and my wife and I didn’t want to move. So, I took a voluntary layoff and did something I’d always wanted to do: I started my first company, Harper Cycle Works.”
In its third year, the business-savvy Harper calculated that Harper Cycle Works was earning its keep – and more. His well-founded business model pushed him beyond the entrepreneur’s annual growth rate bar of 3-4% with an outstanding 40% growth rate. “I was set up to be very efficient,” recalls Harper. “On an average day, we’d have 20 machines in the shop to work on.”
Selling parts, however, was proving more difficult than he ever imagined. “To really be successful, I knew we had to sell parts,” recalls Harper. “So basically we went online to take back what is ours. It was a year-long project. Originally, I made all the content – I did all of it, 100%. I mean we had developers do the coding, but I designed it: the content, the product choice. I was designing the website while I was turning wrenches. It was a year of work before we actually launched it.”
SideBySideStuff.com was launched on February 1, 2011 and in its first year tripled Harper’s business. “In November alone of that first year we did US $67 000 online,” he recalls. “Side-by-sides are the fastest growing segment of power sports. The industry is actually split in half: half is utility and half is sport. The sport side of the industry is a lifestyle similar to the Harley crowd. Customers want to make it unique and custom to them. These are the folks looking for a custom wheel or custom seats. You can get your colors no matter what they are. We sell bump doors, bumpers, harnesses, lift kits, gnarly tires, audio systems, you name it. Whatever your riding personality is, we have the product to fit it.” On the utility end of things, Harper explains that side-by-sides offer both safety and comfort on the job. “The farmer or construction company that uses a side-by-side looks at the cab as a place to keep warm in winter; they look at the roof and windshield as a way to keep safe from debris.”
With 106 different brand names, customization options, and close to 3000 ready-to-ship after-market parts and accessories, it is no wonder that SideBySideStuff.com draws in the motorsports crowd from across North America.
“We had a particularly memorable customer a few years back,” Harper recalls. “He’s a retired gentleman in Canada who rides his RZR every day. Well, he wanted a cab and a heater for those cold winters. We exported his selections to Canada and just a few days later he sent us an email telling us that he was on the top of a mountain, literally, where it was zero degrees and he was riding around in his t-shirt. He was so happy with his purchase. He could drive his machine around all winter and that was really, really good to hear. We get emails and phone calls all the time. They’ll call in and say, ‘let me speak with so and so who I worked with and they’ll just say, ‘Man, you really helped me out. I’m really happy with the product we got, you answered my questions.’ And so we get a lot of positive feedback. We love when people get excited about this hobby because it’s our hobby too. We know all about making a side-by-side look or drive the way you want it to because that’s what we’re out doing on the weekends.”
Hands-on experience, Harper believes, is the best way to learn the alphabet soup of the side-by-side world. “Our staff is super knowledgeable. They need to be. Side-by-side customers ask super technical questions. We have fourteen staff members and each one them specializes in the various brands we carry. Between us, we cover all the bases. And of course that means we’re careful about who we hire. We want everybody to act as one unit. We’re customer service-oriented because we’re dedicated to our passion. It’s a team environment we’ve fostered here.”
Harper also believes that his extended team is a major driving force in the continuing success of SideBySideStuff.com. The 106 different brand names that Harper and his team support and offer online represent large and small manufacturers alike. “Honestly, all our vendors are great,” he boasts. “We have a good relationship with all of them. Whether it’s shipping or pricing we want to make sure that it’s a good fit for everybody.” Harper has negotiated a drop shipping partnership with his suppliers. “We drop ship the majority of the items that we sell. Our vendors ship directly from their location to the customer,” he explains.
Harper’s resilience is unquestionable – and it has to be. “Five years from now, the business won’t look anything like it does today. If we see an opportunity down the road, we’ll just switch gears like we have all along – but we’ll get there first and on top. You have to be willing to change your whole program,” he explains.
This is not idle talk. After all, Harper has never been the sit still type. In early 2015, he began development on a separate online venture: Side-by-Side Guru. This app is his next leap. And while its official launch date is TBA, it is currently available at the iTunes Store and Google Play Store – and doing quite well. “We’re moving forward with this project because it became clear early on that the social side of our industry has the largest impact. It’s a lifestyle so social media has always been a part of it,” Harper explains. The app gives side-by-side enthusiasts the inside scoop on events from around the US, a platform to share experiences, photos, videos and routes, an exclusive riding area database, news that impacts the industry as well as local news from vendors about events and riding areas within a 200 mile radius of the user’s location, two-way communication with national vendors, and a forum for swapping stories and parts.
“I’m not sure where we’ll be in five years, but I’m sure it will be in online retail. It’s exciting, that’s for sure.”