Heat Demon maker seeing big growth in Russia
You never know who you’ll meet at a trade show. That’s the feeling Riley Harlan, president and CEO of Symtec, Inc., in Fridley, Minn., brings every time he sets up his booth space, whether it’s at Dealer Expo, Intermot, or, soon, AIMExpo.
When a Russian distributor unexpectedly made his way into the Symtec exhibit space at Dealer Expo in 2011, Harlan hardly knew what awaited him. Thanks in part to growth in Russia and other European markets, Symtec, maker of the Heat Demon line of heated grips, seats and apparel among other products, saw 10 percent growth in 2012.
“That wasn’t quite on target, but we’re happy with it,” Harlan said.
The growth in Russia appears to be in its infancy. Symtec sales in Russia have been limited to ATV product. The company’s distributor there expects to double the brand’s growth there in 2012. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic and Sweden aren’t far behind on the international growth charts for Symtec.
“ATVs are a primary mode of transportation in some areas of northern Russia,” Harlan said. “The products sell well, and they have money to spend. Outside of North America, Russia is my biggest market right now. I’ve been very surprised by the international growth. I didn’t see it coming, and it wasn’t part of the plan. Obviously, it made us being at that show worthwhile.”
OEM supplier, too
And while the aftermarket business has provided Symtec with the bulk of its production increases, the company’s role as an OEM supplier continues to grow.
In particular, a two-zone, grip-and-thumb warmer combo kit that it produces for Can-Am ATVs had “terrific growth,” Harlan said. “It was one of the top sellers in their catalog.”
Symtec also supplies heated grips and other applications to a variety of OEMs for a variety of product segments. Neither early nor warm winters, as one can imagine, are friends to the nearly 20 permanent employees at Symtec.
“We came off a soft November and December in 2011, and started soft in January and February of 2012 because of the mild winter,” Harlan said. “We were behind from the start in terms of hitting our target, so there was a lot of catching up in 2012. Mild winters are a challenge.”
Joe Bauer, product development manager, didn’t have any problem trying to keep up with demand for uses of Symtec products. He hired a mechanical engineer — the first one ever at the company — to go along with another electrical engineer to make for more efficient design on OEM projects.
Finally, the purchase of a 3D printer last year has changed life on the product development front.
“It’s been a huge benefit,” Bauer said. “At first we thought it would be to print our own prototypes, but now we’re making our own molds for parts that we’re going to make. We’re making parts for our displays — actual finished products that we’re building ourselves.”
The machine has already turned into a profit center, with smaller companies requesting use of the 3D printer.
“It will allow us to provide better service to our OEM customers,” Bauer said. “We can do a lot of the design of grips and controllers for them. We can print different bolt patterns and wire exits, allowing us to do things like eliminate the need to drill a hole into a handlebar.”
The availability of rapid prototyping pays off on the company’s bottom line also. A grip that might have cost $100 for two prototypes now comes out at about $5 per print.
“It’s a big up-front investment,” Harlan said. “In the past we had to be 90 percent sure we had the right design before we sent it off. Now we can print 10 different grips and it costs us $50. If we need to tweak it, we can run a new prototype overnight.”
Bauer said the printing does usually occur overnight, with a handful of pieces in the queue.
OEM partners can now send CAD versions of their own grips, and Symtec can print them. Bauer said that feature alone enhances planning. But there are other benefits.
“To have one of our partners see it and feel it and hold it up to the bike is so much better than a PowerPoint,” Harlan said. “They can take it and go to their lobby and put it on one of their units. It makes it easier for them to conceptualize.”
For one snowmobile OEM, for example, Symtec created 10 different versions of a throttle lever.
“It shows that we’re not just order-takers. We’re innovators and we can help them with their business,” Bauer said.