INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: CRAIG SHOEMAKER
Craig Shoemaker is the CEO of Western Power Sports (WPS), one of the premiere offroad and street motorcycle, ATV, snowmobile and watercraft parts distributors in the nation. WPS boasts over 120,000 products, including the very popular Fly Racing line. Located in Boise, Idaho, WPS’ corporate headquarters is 258,000 square feet. It’s massive. They have distribution centers in Fresno, California; Ashley, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania; and Midlothian, Texas.
Shoemaker is a successful businessman. More than that, he’s an avid powersports enthusiast who is actively involved in riding motorcycles. How many suit-and-tie types do you know who are willing to get dirty? Meet Craig Shoemaker.
By Jim Kimball
“We have a lot great people who are so passionate about the sport. We are all enthusiasts who are selling product to motorcycle people.”
Craig, how did Western Power Sports and Fly Racing become the title sponsor for the outdoor Nationals this past year? It was a great opportunity that was presented to us when the contract renewal time came about. Things were changing, and they wanted to do something a little bit different than what they had done in the past. They brought it to us to see if we were interested, and we told them that we were interested. Obviously that was just the beginning. As we moved closer we were able to see the opportunities involved. When it was all said and done it sounded great, and we proceeded with the deal. I’m not sure if we won the bid, but when we wrapped things up we had a three-year contract. We had talked with them over the years, but it was never available. They knew that there was interest from the WPS (Western Power Sports) side and a lot of momentum with us, so it was really a mutual coming together.
How do you feel the first year went? I think that it was very successful. Of course with anything you do for the first time you can improve on it, whether it is each round or each year. But, yes, I feel very good about it. I do expect more this coming year, as I feel that now we know much more of what to expect. We thought what to expect, but now we know what to expect. Now we have been through it, and the staff will be in their second year. We have some ideas on how to better service our dealers and make it better than ever. In all honesty, during those first few rounds our dealers didn’t get all the benefits that our dealers got in the later rounds, just because we weren’t ready for it. So right off the bat this second year our dealers will start out with more benefits, and hopefully by having a great time at the track enjoying what we all love.
Western Power Sports’ headquarters in Boise, Idaho, is a huge 258,000 square foot building. There’s even a basketball court inside (which Shoemaker has been known to play on with his employees).
Are you interested in getting involved in Supercross? You never say never, but Parts Unlimited is there, and they seem to be doing a good job with it. However, it could happen someday. Five years ago I wasn’t thinking that we could be now doing what we are doing with the Nationals. Things do happen, but it’s not some big goal to be the Supercross sponsor in the next couple years. At the same time, you never know when an opportunity can come your way, and sometime they sneak up on you. Certainly we are always open to opportunities that are good for everyone.
Fly Racing has come a long way in the past ten years. A recent poll showed Fly Racing ranked second behind Fox Racing in sales. As you mentioned, second is a ranking that a recent article has shown where we rank in gear sales, but that could include pockets out in the field. Overall, we are very pleased with how we are doing. I believe that much of our success has come from the grassroots of the industry. We have accomplished a lot with hard work and dedication. We have a great design group who has built up an awesome staff the last six or seven years. They have really improved to where we were maybe 15 years ago. It’s like anything; you start walking, then you start jogging, and then you start running, all the time picking up the pace. Then you get challenged to do better and better. That’s when you put it all together. Designs get better, you have a great marketing team, and have a great sales team to sell. You work with a bunch of good manufacturers who make a great product. We all ride and feel that we know both what a racer wants, and what a rider wants. The rider is the one who is actually doing most of the buying of the gear. We are the ones out there riding for fun, with most of us going to work on Monday. I feel that we have been doing a pretty good job and want to continue to do that. We are not here to be number one, number one, or any other number. We are just here to do a good job and let the chips land where they do. We pride ourselves on giving good service to our dealers, and the consumer a good product at a good price. We want to just keep moving forward. Being number one or number two is just a by-product.
Shoemaker (black Fly Racing sweatshirt) discusses line choice and business positioning strategies with some fellow moto enthusiasts. That’s the one and only Terry Baisley (green and gray jersey), VP of Sales for WPS/Fly Racing, telling the two riders how to hit the triple.
Can you touch on the addition of the Boa system on the upper-end Fly Racing Evolution pants? That’s been very well received. It all comes down to what I highlighted before–our design department. They had some great ideas about it that revolved into Andrew Short, in particular, doing some testing with them. Andrew took a big interest in the system. So he and our design department, along with the people at Boa, figured out the right system to use. Andrew tightens his pants down tighter than anyone, so it was really a good test. It’s all been working great, and is truly a great addition to the Fly Racing line. We are getting pushed in every way to bring out new innovation to all our products, and this is one of the ways to do that.
Speaking of Andrew Short, he has a lifetime contract with Fly Racing. What thought process goes into choosing a rider to sponsor? We want them to be a decent rider, and someone who people would want their family and kids to be around. We like the hard chargers and hard workers who don’t give up. I think that you see that with our riders. We make group decisions. We have former Pro riders on our staff, guys that have been around marketing for a long time, and our Race Manager, Max Steffens, who is out on the road all the time. It’s not always about being on top of the podium and being fast and all that kind of stuff. We as a “team” look at a lot of stuff and we make decisions. At the end of the day I make the final decision, but it is truly a group effort. Of course, we want to get some wins, but we are not out there to have every racer or take every win. We just want to have proper quality riders in all aspects both on and off the track. You don’t always have the perfect rider, but you just try your best to do that. As a company we try to be as professional as possible. We want people to feel good about what we do, what we sell, and how we treat people. We appreciate our riders, our dealers and consumers, our vendors, our in-house staff, and our sales reps. We want to give our consumers a good product at a great price.
These days you often see riders that have individual gear deals, and then teams that have gear deals. What do you prefer? There are advantages to both. When you sponsor a full team it’s really a great look overall, but the problem with that is there is not always continuity with the rider. When he is with the team, he is your guy, but when he moves to another team he wears someone else’s gear. So often, especially in the 450 class, we like to sponsor an individual rider, as opposed to a team, to keep that continuity. I usually say that if I cannot sign at least a three-year contract then it’s not worth it. It takes a year to get up and going, the second year to get comfortable, and then in that third year you are really part of the family. From there we just keep moving forward. With the team sponsorship there are definitely some exciting aspects, but you just don’t have as much control with it. We have had a long-term program with the Butler Brothers, and have really enjoyed that.
“When you say popular though, it’s hard not to say Trey Canard’s name. To put me on the spot today, I would have to say it would be Andrew [Short] and Trey. These past few years Trey has probably been on the podium a bit more than Andrew, but I think it’s a little bit of a toss-up between the two.”
Fly Racing has had many good riders over the years, but who has been your most popular rider? That’s really hard to say, because we have had so many great riders. We have won championships with a few riders in the 250 class, but they weren’t really long-term guys with us. I think that if someone would look back at us they likely would think of Andrew Short, as we have been together for 13 years. Andrew has been a great ambassador for us, and I think that many would associate him with us the most. When you say popular though, it’s hard not to say Trey Canard’s name. To put me on the spot today, I would have to say it would be Andrew and Trey. These past few years Trey has probably been on the podium a bit more than Andrew, but I think it’s a little bit of a toss-up between the two. You also have to look at Weston Peick. He has been with us for a long time. His road has been hard, with him coming up as a full-on blue-collar privateer to where he is at now. He is a true success story, and he has put in a lot of grit and hard work to where he is at now. He has a great following, and it’s been a great partnership for us. Now he is enjoying some success. I also want to mention Branden Jesseman, who was with us when he won his Supercross Championship. Over the years we have had many great riders. We have been very fortunate to have the riders that we have had.
How important is rider loyalty to you? As I said earlier, signing with anyone less than three years doesn’t really make sense. It’s somewhat like when a rider switches bike brands every year, because he doesn’t really do justice to the brand. I feel that it’s the same with gear. Of course it has to happen sometimes. We are very loyal to our racers and like it when they are loyal back. We feel that it’s our job to earn that. Sometimes riders get great opportunities, and to be honest we have let a few go. There have been a couple that were presented a great opportunity to go to another team that had a different gear deal, and we always say, “If that’s what is best for you, then that’s what we want for you.” We want what’s best for these guys, and if it’s also best for us then it’s a bonus.
Shoemaker blows off steam by burning laps around the motocross track. WPS happens to have their very own moto track on their property. As you can tell, Craig isn’t scared to get the wheels off the ground (and showboat a bit).
One thing that I think is pretty cool is how involved Fly Racing has been with privateer riders. You guys sponsor the entire Privateer Journey team. The privateer rider and Fly Racing have a long history. When we first came on the scene we were very small and an all-new brand. A lot of the big-name riders wouldn’t look at us, nor did we have the budget to reach out and grab a podium guy. We started by reaching out to the privateer riders. A lot of guys coming up through the ranks with us stuck by us, and we with them. It has been very rewarding to be a part of the privateer journey and see their ambition. Some guys really break out as a superstar of the sport, while some stick with it as a privateer. It’s often the privateer that most people who are into racing can relate too. Supporting the privateer has been a long history with us, and we don’t ever see changing this.
How do you approach your job? Like everyone else here, I get up every morning, get to the gate, and go to work. Everyday is a challenge, but a lot of fun. We love what we do, and I have a whole bunch of people in the office that love coming to work every day. The old story of “working hard, and playing hard” is very true. Some days it’s a lot of work, but it’s our passion and we get through it. We have put together a great staff, and keep adding and building. We have a lot great people who are so passionate about the sport. We are all enthusiasts who are selling product to motorcycle people. I hire a lot of passionate enthusiasts who love getting up in the morning and going to work. I believe that when you love your job day after day then it shows in the products. We have always put the customers first, the employees second, and the company third. If you do all that properly then the company is taken care of in the end. Providing great customer service and developing great products has been my philosophy. If you can do that then you will get rewarded. We have a very passionate motorsports and customer service culture working here.