High Lifter event draws a record 120 exhibitors
Larry Popp never ventured far from his tent and 53-foot trailer full of product from STI Tire and Wheel. Rain and mud are the perfect reasons for him stay on higher ground.
“I’m from California. Why in the world would I go in the mud? My bike gets dusty, and I get upset,” Popp laughed.
But those who were looking found plenty of the brown stuff at the High Lifter Mud Nationals in Jacksonville, Texas. Mud Creek Off-Road Park once again was home for the annual can’t-miss event for the mud market. In fact, the 120 vendors on hand set an all-time record at the nearly 4,000-acre facility.
Scott Smith, president of High Lifter Products, said the 12th running of the world’s largest mud-riding event proved to be one of the best and biggest rides to date.
“This year’s High Lifter ATV Mud Nationals was beyond what we could have imagined,” Smith said. “From the exciting competition during the races to the entertainment, it’s truly amazing to see the camaraderie of a variety of people who love mud and the outdoors.”
Popp, owner of STI, has attended Mud Nats for 11 years in a row after missing the inaugural year. It’s the perfect place for ATV and UTV enthusiasts to work up a muddy crust on themselves and their machines.
“I let the other guys go out and do that crazy stuff,” he told Powersports Business. “I just like watching all the folks there and visiting with them, taking care of their machines for them. It’s a great thing. I’m from California, so I understand what’s happening out there. They don’t have any place to ride, they don’t have this, they don’t have that. Our sport’s going to hell. You turn around and here’s a great venue for what these people like to do. If they’d just sell the desert off to someone who would care, other than our wonderful government… But down at Mud Nationals, it’s just nice people there. You get to ride and nobody drives you crazy.”
STI makes life easy for its nine dealers who set up shop as vendors at Mud Nats. Rather than sell to customers, STI staffers provide product knowledge to the customers, who then go purchase the tires and wheels from any of the STI dealers on site.
“Then they go buy what they want, and come back to us 10 seconds later and we mount them for free,” Popp said.
STI does a brisk sales business to its dealers prior to the event, and brings additional product in the event dealer inventory is running low.
“It worked out that the dealers needed about half of what we brought as extras, so that was good,” Popp said.
Popp estimates that his crew fixed 40 flats on one single day of the event. Another day saw Popp mount tires on six 800 RZRs in a row that all still had the pricetag on them. It’s all part of life as a vendor at Mud Nats.
“You hear the stories of how thankful people are that we were doing that. For some of them it’s their first day there, and they’re pretty much dead for the rest of the six days or however long they’re staying if it doesn’t get fixed. One guy from Iowa brought his wife’s bike over with two flats, and said if she doesn’t ride, he doesn’t ride. They would have been going home. It’s nice to visit with those kind of people.”
STI unveiled its new Outback Max mud tires at Mud Nats. It’s an expansion of the Outback tire lineup, with the tires available in three sizes: 30/10-14; 31/10-15; and 32/10-17.
“We’ve engineered a better mud tire for today’s large-bore UTVs,” said STI brand manager Jamie Chisholm. “The market needed a tire that could handle the weight and horsepower of today’s high-performance UTVs. The Outback Max is designed to deliver superior traction in the sloppiest conditions, pulling hard through the mud and still offering a smooth ride on hard-packed terrain.”
The Outback Max tires complement STI’s line of Outback AT and XT tires, a multi-size lineup of all-conditions tires currently available in 25-inch up to 28-inch sizes.
EPI greets target market
Jeff Supinski, president of EPI, hasn’t missed Mud Nats since 2006. Similar to Popp’s approach, EPI supports its dealer customers and brings additional product to bolster dealer inventory if needed.
“It’s a huge, huge market for clutching. Everybody down there puts on those big mud tires and screws up their CVTs by doing that. We’re pretty much guaranteed that if they don’t buy a clutch kit from us, they’re going to buy a belt,” he said. “Our number one reason for being there is to support our own customers.”
EPI brought a record four staffers in 2014, with counterpart Chad Erlandson lending his expertise alongside Supinski as usual.
“That was a wise move to do this year. I think it had to be the largest attendance ever,” Supinski said. “We’ll never go back with just two of us.”
EPI hauls its own trailer to the event, and stocks it full of additional inventory, including clutch kits and replacement belts.
“We do a lot of tie rod ends and ball joints, too,” he said. “The folks there come to the event with a pocket full of money and they buy two things. They’re looking for a deal on tires, and they put them on and go out that night and then come and see us the next day because they either burn their belt or their machine can’t turn the tires.”
The smiles that EPI staffers see during the event are enough to keep them coming back.
“It’s our favorite event of the year,” Supinski said. “What I tell people who haven’t been before is that you won’t find a better group of people to go hang out with for a week. They’re all there to have fun, and anyone who comes to your booth thanks you for being there. They appreciate you being there with parts.”
A first-time success
Jason Blake and Jeff Meyers, from the sales staff at Millennium Technologies in Wisconsin, were familiar with the stories that come from Mud Nats. But it’s quite another thing to experience it firsthand.
Blake had worked in the company’s shop for 13 years before taking a sales job last year. He wanted to ensure that the riders at Mud Nats had time to get familiar with their big bore kits, pistons and gaskets.
“We’ve been real strong in the snowmobile market for years, and we’re growing into the motorcycle racing market, also different dirt bike and street bike applications,” he said. “One of the industries we’re looking to expand into is the ATV/UTV market to put a little more summer business into the shop.”
Their debut at Mud Nats was a 10-by-10- foot canopy that featured product samples. A limited supply of product was available for purchase, including RZR 800 and 900 plus-2 and plus-3 millimeter big bore kits.
“A lot of people are still under the misconception that every cylinder that’s out there has a cast iron sleeve in the middle of it, and in order to repair it you need to push a new sleeve into it, when that’s not so much the case with a plated cylinder market,” Blake said. “Probably 98 percent of the ATVs and UTVs out there come with a plated cylinder rather than a cast iron sleeve, which to me is antiquated technology. So yeah, we had a real good reception. We had samples of cylinders that were busted up pretty bad and showed them that we could take that and make it workable.”
The residuals of exhibiting clearly were paying off in the days following the event.
“As you can imagine, there aren’t many people at that event looking to rebuild a 4-stroke motor in the middle of the mud down there,” Blake said. “So we didn’t have a lot of over-the-counter purchases, but guys are already calling us and telling us they didn’t even know we were an option until they saw us down there, replating a cylinder instead of buying a new one. It was very good for us to be there, and definitely a good market. We’re looking forward to the Minnesota event in June.”
On June 6-8, High Lifter will take its signature mud riding event on the road as it heads to Hill City, Minn., for the 2014 High Lifter Quadna Mud Nationals Presented by Polaris.