Humble beginnings gave way to this massive distributor and manufacturer of equipment, tools and parts
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ike many manufacturers and distributors in the powersports industry, K&L Supply Co. has evolved to meet changing needs throughout the decades.
What’s unique, however, is the company’s humble beginnings and the speed with which it has adapted its business model to fit the market, essentially ensuring an always-thriving business. It’s no surprise that the distributor and manufacturer of its own K&L Genuine line of products has more growth planned for the very near future.
The Early Years
It all began when Joseph Lee, K&L’s CEO and founder, was given his first motorcycle – an old Zundapp – when he was a child in South Korea. That gift from a visiting missionary sparked a life-long passion, according to Mike Salvador, K&L sales and marketing manager. Lee later bought a Honda Cub 50 after a GI brought it back from Japan; it was one of only three in Korea, Salvador adds.
Years later, Lee came to the United States on a scholarship, playing the French horn at Brigham Young University while working at Honda dealerships.
As a college student he didn’t have a lot of money, but he rebuilt an old Honda 160 and rode it throughout Colorado and Utah. After moving to California, Lee worked at a machine shop and rode dirt bikes every week. He saw the growing popularity of motorcycles and in 1968, opened K&L Supply in Santa Clara, Calif., as a repair and service shop for motorcycles.
“It was just a local shop, but Mr. Lee has always been dedicated to being innovative – finding a need and filling that need,” Salvador says. “Back when he started, he saw that Hondas were becoming very popular, so he started doing motorcycle rentals, too, not just service and selling parts.”
When the industry saw a big boom and Lee noticed the demand for motorcycle parts, he shifted gears and K&L became a parts retailer.
“We sold a lot of hard parts in the 1960s and ’70s, and then started servicing the needs of tire shops, including selling tires, in the ’80s,” Salvador says, adding the company shifted to a wholesale model in the ’70s. “Margins are very small on tires, so eventually we decided to start selling the equipment service shops need instead of the tires themselves.”
In the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, K&L focused on the equipment side, selling tire changers, balancers, lifts and more – it also began manufacturing its own equipment.
Today, the K&L Genuine line of products is manufactured at the company’s new 55,000-sq.-ft. facility in Korea, which opened in September 2014. Further expansion is planned for this year, according to Salvador.
“We brought in a lot of new machinery like robotic welders and expanded our team in Korea,” he explains. “This allows us to control our quality a little better…and have a little more oversight over everything. It also allows us to create a lot of new products and bring them to the market quickly.”
Between K&L’s 20 employees in Korea and 30 staff members at the U.S. headquarters in Santa Clara, the company serves roughly 20,000 customers worldwide.
“There is no ‘typical customer,’” Salvador says, “It’s really anybody and everybody, from your small mom and pop service shop to large-scale dealerships with multiple locations.”
Also among its customers is Yamaha, for which K&L is the exclusive OE tool manufacturer and supplier to dealers, he says, adding, “Any Yamaha shop, when they get set up, we provide them with all the tools that they need and continue to support them as they grow.”
Salvador says K&L’s product quality and customer service set the company apart from its competition.
“We stand behind everything we make and we take care of people directly and right away – if there’s a problem with a product, we’ll fix it or replace it,” he points out.
The company’s innovation also is unmatched, according to Salvador. “For example, we set out to make a better lift and we did – we made it safer by putting a larger footprint on the bottom with some automatic locking features and innovated by adding some drop tables and things that make it easier to work on a bike,” he explains, adding K&L will soon launch the first leverless tire machine in the motorcycle industry – the MC900.
Products & Distribution
In addition to its own line of products, K&L distributes other manufacturers’ offerings, with a product catalog that features all the industry’s top brands. The company carries more than 10,000 parts and products, with a catalog that includes roughly 6,500 items – and that will be expanded this year.
“We focus a lot on metric, just because that’s where our history is,” Salvador says, adding, “We bring more and more in every year – anything that’s hard to get, especially if it’s from overseas.
“Our lifts and tire machines are used in any shop throughout the country, including Harley schools and training facilities,” he continues. “That made us realize we should focus a little more on the V-twin side of things. This year, we’re bringing in 300 or so new V-twin parts and accessories. We’ll continue to expand that product line.”
In the early 2000s, K&L partnered with major distributors Parts Unlimited, Tucker Rocky and WPS to bring its products directly to dealers in a more timely manner.
“People in the industry need products quickly, and we currently only have one U.S. distribution center in Santa Clara, so we partnered with them to get product into our customers’ hands faster,” Salvador says. “Domestically, every person we talk to at events is buying our parts; if they’re on the east coast, they’re just buying through a distributor.”
Looking ahead, K&L’s mission is clear: growth, in all forms. The company’s 70,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Santa Clara will be joined by additional facilities – with one east coast distribution center planned for this year and another two or three locations coming in the next two years. “Our goal is to get product into our customers’ hands within two days,” Salvador notes.
K&L’s mid-year catalog update, launched in July, included 400 new products. Its 2016 catalog, due out in early January, will be expanded by an additional 700 to 800 products.
“We’ve brought in about 600 new parts already this year, compared to about 100 last year,” Salvador says. “Our goal is to continue to add products and continue to expand. We’ve got a great team and it’s very much an atmosphere of growth right now; we’re investing heavily in our infrastructure and are hoping to double our sales in the next two years.”
Part of that investment includes a new customer relationship management (CRM) system that will help K&L’s sales team better service customers, as well as an all-new website slated to launch in October.
The initial launch will feature a redesign, in addition to a dealer portal that will allow customers to log in, check real-time inventory and eventually place orders online. The website’s e-commerce functionality will be up and running by the end of 2015, Salvador notes.
On the marketing side, K&L will continue to have a presence at industry events, a strategy it always has embraced. The company also is re-focusing on social media and growing its online presence.
“We did launch some social media initiatives this year, which will be tied into the new website,” Salvador says. “We’re also going to be supporting some of our dealers better, working with preferred dealer programs and directing people to them from our website.”
Simultaneously, K&L will continue its tradition of innovation.
“Our mission is very simple: continue to be THE premier supplier of equipment, tools and hard parts for the powersports industry,” Salvadore says. “To do that, we’re expanding our product line for everything under the sun – Harley-Davidson, Triumph, Victory, Ducati, Honda, Yamaha, etc. – but also expanding in new equipment and innovative new products.”