With the pandemic releasing pent-up demand on the powersports industry in the past 16 months, manufacturers have been scrambling to keep up. The Motorcycle Industry Council has reported that sales on new units are way up – nearly 50% in some segments. But supply has been a challenge.
As the country starts to turn the corner on COVID-19, the industry is also starting to catch up, and new models are being released. But there are still some challenges ahead. Inflation is creeping in and the cost of materials and shipping is going up. Will this quell the demand the industry has been experiencing for the past year?
MPN recently caught up with HISUN’s director of parts and accessories and long-time industry vet, Tim Calhoun, to discuss the market, the company, and what is looming ahead for the HISUN brand.
“We’ve been outselling quite a few of the major brands the last several months,” Calhoun says. “And part of it is we have delivery and affordability, and we’ve always stayed quietly in the background about the units we build, but the numbers are pretty staggering at this point.”
Calhoun notes that their sales and demand for UTVs have led HISUN to seek growth on a few fronts, starting with adding some industry veterans to key positions.
“There was a change in the general manager of operation or the vice president of operations, and Jamie (Cheek) had just left Cardo. And I’ve known Jason Walling on and off for the last 20 years from selling different products and two other guys here. We’ve got some people who have been in the industry for quite a while. And then (Greg) Blackwell came on board as a regional. So you look at people we’ve added this year. We’ve probably added 150 years of experience.”
Calhoun says that when he came on board, he already knew some areas that needed to be tweaked in the parts department. “After a brief overview, I was able to immediately identify areas that could be improved upon given my industry expertise.”
Calhoun notes that he spent a lot of time talking to dealers before he took the role. “I knew where there could be growth, and I knew where there are areas for improvement. A lot of it’s just a matter of refining and tuning-up some processes. We are working behind the scenes to enhance both our internal and external portals to ensure we are offering a resource that is streamlining the total customer experience. Then on the accessory side, which is really where my focus is, I had a lot of industry knowledge, especially related to two wheels. But UTV/ATV is probably what I knew the least.”
It was an opportunity to challenge himself that Calhoun liked the most. But he said he had to get his head down and learn a lot fast, or as the saying goes – he had to hit the ground running.
“I had a ton of relationships with different vendors that were already building stuff for the ATV/UTV market. So taking those relationships and leaning into them – most of what you’ll see coming out of our door, in the beginning, is going to be U.S. products or by U.S. companies,” Calhoun explains.
“We’ll add some of our own products going down the road once we get settled into knowing what we sell and don’t sell well. Right now, we don’t know. And given that containers have jumped to between $15,000 and $20,000, the advantage of bringing in snowplows from China and other parts just isn’t what it once was. We can be pretty competitive with a lot of U.S. products here.”
To get up to speed fast, Calhoun says he is focused on about 300 different products.
“To date, we’ve locked down about 125 new products. Some are from the same vendors, and they’re just within their catalog, but they’re categorically things we need; some very basic products. We’ve got options on plows this year, from super beefy Minnesota plows to lightweight do your driveway a couple of times a week type plows. So we’ll have a good variety.”
Calhoun says they also found a great new vendor for soft cabs. “They have standard black, and now they will have Camo within a few weeks for all of our vehicles. I also contracted with Inferno out of Ohio for heaters; they’re a made in the USA product. They have already designed a couple of models and they’re building more for us.”
Calhoun remarks that he can save a decent amount of money with Inferno compared to importing heaters from China right now. “Interestingly enough, in most cases, I’ve saved money over a lot of current vendors going with these different companies I’ve found, or I’ve worked with in the past. And we’ll have a couple of things that we will be the first to bring to the market as an OEM. So that’s kind of exciting. Looking down the road, we’ll be doing some specialty vehicle builds to where we’ll have “hunting UTV” with racks and camo and all that stuff. And we’ll have a snow rig that comes with a plow and a soft cab, heater, and so on.”
Because HISUN is such a utility company focused on work, Calhoun says they want to build rigs specifically for certain industrial segments such as agriculture.
“These rigs will have lightweight racks for long tools and maybe a five-gallon water cooler. And for anybody out there doing lawn care or large area care, it’ll be nice to be able to hold all those things. I found a local company we’re starting to do some fabrication with, so I’m going to beef up the rear ends on the units, and we’ll start being able to offer some PTOs for plot farming or small farming. We’ll have some options that haven’t existed before with our company. Many of the customers we sell to are very utility-oriented, so they want the PTO and other accessories.”
While Calhoun is concentrating on some of the low-hanging fruit on the product procurement side, he says that the 2022 units are where you’ll see his efforts start to pay off. “We’ll have more powerful units with up to 30% more power for 2022, and we’ll have some new racks. I’ve got a hay bail picker that you put on the front to pick up hay and take it out to your cows or whatever. I’ve got a rear deer dressing post we’re finalizing, so you can hang a deer and dress it in the field—a lot along that line. I even got a garbage can clip that you can put in your receiver. So if you live in the country and you have to run garbage cans to the end of a country road, which could be a mile away, you can now do it with your UTV.”
Calhoun feels bullish on the off-road market going forward for at least a few years with this kind of demand.
And HISUN is positioning itself in the right areas. They have an affordable unit as a base. All that has been lacking is some of the frills and add-ons. HISUN has a good sense of the market because they private label units for several other brands. They can see that the market is in a good place right now. And HISUN has a pretty broad base.
Calhoun concludes: “For us, we don’t worry about getting in competition with other OEMs. We are focusing on where we need to butter our bread, which is good, solid accessories for the people who buy our units that let them make them into something more than just a UTV.”
On a final note, Calhoun adds that they are just finishing up their first digital accessories catalog. “We’re shooting to launch it somewhere between August 1st and the 15th. We’re working on that right now to get it off to dealers, so consumers can at least see what’s available through their dealers. Then the plan is by next year to have a spring catalog (a print catalog) to dealers, and then probably a fall program to go out as well every year.”