Features

‘It’s easy to get excited’

Parts Unlimited founder Fox not letting off the gas

By Dave McMahon
Senior Editor

Fred Fox will be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in November. Hall of Fame banquets are nothing new for the Parts Unlimited founder, who once operated the company by himself. Now, the business is the largest powersports aftermarket distributorship in the world. Fox is also a member of the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. Parent company LeMans Corp. ships about 20,000 orders a day globally, and has the capacity for almost double that amount. Fox took some time during his hectic schedule during the NVP Dealer Showcase in Madison, Wis., to talk about his company’s rise to the top of the distributorship world.

Where do get your drive to continue to grow the business?
You just get out of bed every morning and work hard, how’s that? [Laughs] I’m a competitive guy. My younger brother [Stan] raced at the Indy 500 eight times. When I was younger I raced snowmobiles and bikes. I was never any world champion, but I am being inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame this November. I told them I don’t belong there, but I’d take it anyhow. Also I’m in the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. We just have fun, everyday. It’s family owned, and I’m going to keep it family owned if I can.

You started the company as a one-man operation, and it’s now global. Does the growth ever surprise you?
We employ 1,200 people now. We have departments for everything! When I started I was one person. Obviously I’ve delegated a little bit since I started the company.

How did you get your start?
I spent 10 years with my father and grandfather in the manufacturing business. During that time, we started to build snowmobiles, minibikes and even became a Kawasaki distributor. That led me into the distribution business.

There a lot of companies out there clamoring to be distributed by Parts Unlimited or Drag Specialties. What makes you decide to form a relationship with a vendor?
There aren’t so many new ones out there these days. There are a lot of mergers. I call it forks in the road — the owners decide that they’re getting older, or they’ve lost their health, or their business is down. Sometimes I just arrange it, like an arranged marriage. I know somebody else who would like that product line — maybe I buy the inventory and get the trademark and somebody else makes it. I’m not interested in being in the manufacturing business anymore. There are too many good people already supplying us.

What makes your house brands so successful?
The biggest thing is we don’t see all the heavy discounting. On our own brands, like Icon and Thor, our advertising policy is that dealer advertisements must only show recommended retail or have no price at all. Some other brands, like Vance and Hines, have a long-term relationship with us and we have an exclusive on their Harley fitment in the USA. We encourage dealers to avoid selling at too low of a margin because they must make a decent profit to stay in business.

If I’m a dealer, why would I want to do business with Parts Unlimited or Drag Specialties?
Because of our consistency. We don’t send a salesman around twice a year and say ‘Why don’t you buy 50 of this and 100 of that?’ We come in and say ‘You should order a couple of weeks’ supply and reorder from us as needed.’ The average dealer calls us four times a week to order. Some order once in the morning and once in the afternoon. We can get an order out the door in about 45 minutes.

You probably don’t see those orders leaving at night, though, do you?
I still go to work at 7 and work ‘til 6 at night. The first hour, though, I don’t take calls. I’m cleaning up yesterday’s leftovers.

What do you think of a dealership’s business climate today?
There are winners and losers in everything. What you’re seeing here at this event is the cream of the crop — the dealers that are making money, growing, looking for more business. You can tell — you won’t find any negativism in this show.

I wish I were a dealer sometimes. I walked around looking at all the presentations. There’s so much to see here, it’s easy to get excited.

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