It is hard to believe that SpeedMob, Tim Calhoun’s newest powersports venture, is only nine months old. Some companies just grow faster than others, but it’s not easy work. And for SpeedMob President Calhoun, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
When we talked to Calhoun at the end of last year, the company carried 10 brands. As we go to press SpeedMob now has 16. The company may be one of the smaller national distributors, but with the SpeedMob’s experience as former Leo Vince distributors, it’s clearly punching above its weight.
When Geared Up Powersports, Calhoun’s former company that purchased LeoVince USA in 2013, shuttered last year because it could no longer get parts from its Italian partners, it was forced to take a different approach.
SpeedMob currently serves a dealer database of about 7,600 U.S. and Canadian powersports dealers and growing as it is adding V-twin products and beginning to open up those dealers as well, according to Calhoun. The Richmond, Calif.-based company also has a growing group of nearly 100, mostly exotic European performance, automotive shops. And just to keep things interesting, SpeedMob recently added a bicycle project and has signed on its first 50 bicycle dealers.
“I think we’re in the same boat as some of the OEMs,” says Calhoun, who points to all the niche market units that have come to market in the last few years. “Buyers these days seem to be either at the bottom or the top and not a lot in the middle. Product-wise we have always taken on these monstrous lines like exhausts with thousands of pieces and so forth, but we’re at a point where we need some fast moving, good quality products as well.”
A big part of Calhoun’s job these days, which is a little different from when he ran Leo Vince USA, is to spend time sifting through products to add to his growing line of mostly premium powersports products. “I’ve been looking for good American brands, and working with some great entrepreneurs building some great stuff, and finding some really fun products. And while they may not be a $10,000 part, they’re just better windshield wipers that fill a segment with a better product.”
Calhoun is excited about the future and loves to sniff out quality new products that he can help take to the next level. “You look at cruise controls or throttle locks,” he says for example. “There’s four or five out there but the one that stood out, hands down, was Omni Cruise. And it’s mostly because you have a guy behind it that really wanted to build a better product. TechSpec gripster tank grips was a brand I’ve used for a few years and they never had a distributor. Now we’ve quadrupled their sales in a year. That’s the stuff I love doing.”
Calhoun says SpeedMob recently found a small company in Idaho that makes a totally unique bungee cord, a thick braided-rail rubber cord called Lynx Hooks. You can use them as a stand alone piece or you can link their ends together to make many configurations. This is the type of company that he loves to work with. They take an age-old problem and build a better mousetrap.
“They’re $22.50 a piece and great quality. It’s just one of those things that I would use so why not carry it,” says Calhoun. “You’ve got four people in Idaho who just wanted to build something better and they love what they do, and they’re working hard to make it better. I don’t have to worry about selling stuff like that because they’re worried about it. They make sure it’s good.”
On the painful side of Calhoun’s life, what he’s really focusing on is helping to rebuild some Italian brands that have fallen on hard times due to lack of market management, brand management and other things. “Arrow Exhausts, for example, is every bit as good as Leo Vince and was sold in this market for 10 years with no price control and no value in the brand. Everyone believes it’s a Two Brothers type of brand when it’s really a LeoVince quality brand,” Calhoun explains. “So we came in and put a MAP on it and are rebuilding the brand equity.”
According to Calhoun, brand building is where his company’s strengths are. “We’ve built and rebuilt enough of them that we kind of know the path. But it’s difficult. These manufacturers think you’re going to come in and swoop them up and in a year they’ll be OK. And it’s not. I tell them it’s a three-year process. First, I’m going to upset every dealer because we’re going to have to raise the prices to build in margin.
Second, we’re going to enforce MAP to keep them under control so retailers don’t devalue the brand by undercutting each other racing to the bottom. And third, we’re going to rebuild confidence in their brand so that the dealers can make money selling it and the consumers can trust that someone is going to stand behind their purchase with parts and service, but all of this stuff takes time.”
It’s all a process trying to get everyone to buy in on a philosophy of long-term brand equity and the right way to do things, and it appears to be working. SpeedMob currently carries 16 product lines with three more to be announced soon. Two brands are leading technical companies in the exhaust sector and the clutch sector; the other is a new brand in the vision protection business.
“Our brands tend to be premium top-tier brands in their sectors like Arrow Exhaust, Airoh Helmets, BMC, GPR, TechSpec, Dion Device and USWE Hydration Packs, while others are emerging new companies with innovative new products that are just entering the market and will be category leaders,” Calhoun notes.
SpeedMob’s growth into the off-road market has also been worth noting with Airoh Helmets as its main off-road product, which Calhoun says is in very high demand. Ariete grips and goggles, which is a third- generation family-owned company in Italy, was also added to the mix.
“Ariete essentially builds everything under its own roof with incredible quality control and I think the best materials in the goggle business. They fit the Airoh helmet perfectly and their color-ways are a perfect match for our helmet graphics. We also get off-road grips and a handy front brake lever lock from Ariete.”
While SpeedMob has been heavily involved with some top road racing teams, they are not a one trick pony, and have been continually adding more for the off- road market segment with products such as USWE’s enduro hydration packs. “USWE builds quite a few of the packs in the market now like some of the Fly packs and the Leatt brace packs,” says Calhoun.
“We have everything from small neck brace mounted hydration packs all the way up to Baja enduro packs, tool belts and accessories like the quick disconnect kit that allows you to mount the bite valve inside the helmet and connect and disconnect at the shoulder of the pack. We also recently added Core brake lines for street and off-road bikes, and we offer OE color matched lines with a very nice looking smoke colored braided-steel line.”
Calhoun says that they plan to expand the Dion Device brake and clutch lever guards into the off-road sector later this year with a new model, which he says will be a really impressive entry piece into off- road. They are also now working with Tech Spec to introduce a new ATV/UTV product utilizing its “Gripster” materials as bed liners and in strategic areas of these vehicles for grip, protection and safety.
And last but not least, SpeedMob will be reintroducing Arrow off-road exhaust systems to the U.S. market. “Many of these pieces are exceptional since off-road is where the Arrow brand was born. We are developing additional exhausts to make them more user-friendly for the American style of riding.”
Calhoun says proudly that SpeedMob became profitable by its third month and has been growing steadily every month since. He says building a company hand-to- mouth can be challenging at times, but it’s the passion of selling good quality products that he loves.
“It’s kind of fun working with stuff you love to sell. You feel good about it – it’s a different feeling than shoving some commodity out the door just so you can make some money. Everything I carry is stuff I use or would use, and products I believe in. I feel like when I sell to someone, I’m selling the best products I can in that category.”