Aftermarket PWC firms have been hit by a potent triple threat over the course of the past decade, as OEM products became better, the market’s demographic grew older and the economy began a precipitous dive. Many fell by the wayside. In the midst of this mayhem, however, some notable exceptions emerged. One, SBT (or Short Block Technologies), has grown into one of the industry’s biggest players.
Founded in 1998 by Floridian Greg Pickren, the company initially remanufactured two-stroke PWC engines, cranking out a less costly alternative to factory power for consumers who trashed their engines or were looking to salvage a used craft. Demand proved high. SBT is now the largest re-manufacturer of PWC engines industry-wide. Those replacement engines, however, are only part of the brand’s success story. Adding hard parts — like pistons, starters, pump shafts and gasket kits — elevated the brand to the next level.
“SBT’s growth has come primarily from expanding the product line,” confirms Pickren. “Five years ago, SBT was a two-stroke PWC engine company. Today, less than half of our revenue comes from the sale of engines (both two-stroke and four-stroke). The product line has been expanded to include everything from seat covers and traction mats to scanner tools, electrical parts to pump parts, and lots more. Our catalog now has over 5,000 parts. Today, we provide basically one-stop shopping for the mechanic working on a PWC.”
The SBT model was different than the traditional aftermarket company selling to a distributor (who likely also carried products for everything from snowmobiles to ATV parts), which in turn sold to the dealer. “They were not specialists and did not know the product or the applications as well as we do,” says Pickren. “They also did not have the inventory to support the offering so shipping and fill rates suffered. When a dealer calls us for parts, they know that we know the product line and have the parts literally in the same building, ready to ship out the same day.”
It’s a formula that would never have worked if it weren’t for the brand’s focus on quality control. “What makes our parts unique in the industry is the extensive testing we do to verify and control quality,” Pickren continues. “Each off-season, we have two or three boats on the water every day, each containing parts that we are planning to add to our offering.”
In 2009, the company added Watercraft Superstore, an online and catalog resource that built upon SBT’s offerings with popular accessories. More recently, the Blacktip brand of seat and traction mats was added to the mix.
“Three years ago, the average wait time during the summer from order-to-delivery for seat covers and traction mats was three to four weeks,” says Pickren of the motivation to begin yet another venture. “Watercraft Superstore, as a dealer for what was the basically the only company in the industry offering such goods, was stuck in the middle. We were trapped, dependent on one supplier and unable to help our customers. We then realized that there had to be a better way. We spent the next year researching the products, finding raw material suppliers, buying manufacturing equipment and training employees. This summer we are proud to say over 99 percent of the orders for Blacktip traction mats and seat covers shipped within 48 hours. In fact, over 90 percent shipped within 24 hours.
“As a kid getting started in business, I once had a business partner tell me that when delivery times are long, there is always room for another player. To this day, he has been right every time.”
Though each individual brand has its own identity, all have come to be found under the expansive Watercraft Superstore umbrella. And though product quality and availability is key, GM John Salvatore chalks up the company’s success to another reason — relationships with customers.
“We have two major focuses,” says Salvatore. “To provide the highest quality watercraft accessories in the industry, and to listen to our customers and respond to their requests as quickly as we can. As a manager, I’m proud to say we have a huge amount of customers call and ask for a specific salesperson. That tells me my team is doing their job and building long-lasting relationships. Happy customers tell their friends about you.”
Jeff Hemmel has been covering the personal watercraft industry for over 20 years and is a member of the International Jet Sports Boating Association Hall of Fame. His work appears in numerous titles, including Boating Magazine, Boats.com and PersonalWatercraft.com.