By Neil Pascale
What started off as a project for an OEM has turned into a major source of revenue for Vialink, a mechanical engineering and industrial design company behind a host of UTV products sold under the Seizmik brand name.
The sales growth has accelerated to such an extent that the company’s North Carolina office is moving into a larger facility this month. Vialink also has had to add to its staff as UTV accessory sales rose by 113 percent in 2006 over the previous year and is up again this year, with 2007 sales thus far being 120 percent above the 2006 levels.
“Last year we were projecting our sales higher and higher and ordering accordingly, but we got in a situation where we were just out of stock on so many items,” said Charles Kim, the vice president of design and marketing for Vialink. “That was how much demand there was.”
The company’s growing UTV product lineup began in 2002-03 when an OEM asked the company to design a UTV, which at the time was Vialink’s first foray into the powersports industry. Besides offering mechanical engineering and design consulting, Vialink also had an Asian sourcing arm with an office in China. With its ability to manufacture overseas, perform quality control checks and then do the necessary logistics to get product shipped to the United States, Vialink became a perfect company to design and then manufacture an UTV.
That UTV never came to market as the company Vialink was working with folded. However, Kim said the project encouraged Vialink to not only build accessories for that vehicle but other UTVs already on the market.
Even after Vialink provided aftermarket parts for UTVs and go-karts originally under the Kart Accessories brand name, Kim said the company didn’t realize just how big of a market UTV accessories could be.
“It almost started growing by itself,” Kim said of the company’s UTV accessories business. “It was really like a neglected part of our business; then we turned around and looked at it and said, ‘This is actually a real business here, and we should put some attention to it.’”
Now the company has designed products for the Yamaha Rhino, Arctic Cat Prowler, Kawasaki’s Mule (the 3000 and 600 series), Kubota RTV900, the John Deere Gator and the Polaris Ranger, as well having Polaris RZR product already in development. All told, the company has launched more than 100 skus in the past 18 months.
“We have not only the technical expertise, but we have professional people” working on these new UTV products, said Kim, who has a master’s degree in industrial design and is a teacher at North Carolina State University’s industrial design department.
The company’s product development cycle only figures to accelerate as it moves this month into a new 30,000-square-feet facility in Fuquay Varina, N.C., which is about 40 minutes away from its current location in Raleigh, N.C.
Kim said the new facility will be a “huge help” to the company’s team of designers and engineers.
The current site, which Vialink leased, “we found wasn’t conducive to No. 1 creativity and No. 2 ease of our ability to do work,” Kim said.
The new location will have an on-site testing track — the company formerly had to drive 40 minutes in order to reach a suitable testing area — as well as a large open area. That area is large enough to accommodate work stations for both engineers and designers as well as space to park two or three UTVs, meaning staff won’t have to run back and forth to an outside shop to get necessary vehicle measurements.
It will “set our creative juices a little more free,” Kim said.
Besides purchasing the new facility, Vialink also has worked to spur new product designs by hiring three additional product development staff members since 2006. The company also added administrative and shipping and receiving staff in that period.
Seizmik is doing the bulk of its powersports business through distributors — Tucker Rocky, Western Power Sports and J&M — as well as through big-box retailers, including Cabela’s and Gander Mountain. The big box retailers accounted for 10 percent of the company’s sales in 2006 and less so far this year as Kim said “our dealer business has grown at a substantially greater pace.”
Last month, Vialink stopped accepting consumer orders directly on the company’s Web site, something that had become a small part of the business.
“We are getting in our biggest quarter of the season – fourth quarter is usually where it’s just unbelievable — and we’re getting ramped up for it,” Kim said. “We brought in a lot of inventory, we’re marketing to our customers and just doing things we need to do to build the brand and keep improving the product.”
By Neil Pascale