Editor’s note: Performance Business magazine originally published a profile article on Holcomb Motorsports in September 2008. After requests for an update, we check in again with Ken Holcomb and his Ford-focused performance shop and distribution center.
Back in the fall of 1993, Ken Holcomb was tiring of his 10-year career as a parts manager for local Ford dealership Lumberton Ford in rural Lumberton, N.C., about an hour-and-a-half south of Raleigh.
It was a steady paycheck, to be sure, but his heart was in performance, and he knew it.
“At that time it was pretty clear that I wanted to venture out on my own,” he says. “I cashed in my retirement funds, wrote a check for my first ad in Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords, and went to work selling Ford performance parts. I haven’t looked back since.”
In the 19 years that have passed since that decision, Holcomb Motorsports Inc. has evolved from being primarily a mail-order and retail shop to today becoming one of the premier warehouse distributors in the South.
Today Holcomb and his team specialize in Ford performance parts, which make up roughly 85 percent of sales, but also dabble in many niche product lines not available through mainstream distribution channels-items like Aerospace Brakes, Team Z, TRZ Motorsports, Accufab, Pro-M Mass Air Meters and Holeshot Wheels.
As its mission has evolved, so too has its physical location. The company today includes a full-time staff of five employees and two buildings-one housing the bustling parts operation and another providing shop facilities-that together provide about 6,000-square-feet of room to operate.
That wealth of space allows Holcomb Motorsports to stock more than 100 product lines including the finest performance products from Ford Performance and Restoration.
“Since 1995, we have published a retail catalog for Ford performance parts,” he notes. “Our latest 2012 catalog is a four-color, 100-page edition that we offer free of charge to our customers, who can request their free copy online or by calling us.”
Blue Oval Brigade
Through that approach, Holcomb Motorsports has become a go-to provider for Ford-loving racers across the country.
“Our main customers are the Ford drag racers-”heads-up, Sportsman and grudge racers scattered throughout the 50 states and other civilized parts of the world,” he laughs. “We also coordinate with a network of about 100 independently owned speed and repair shops through our wholesale division.”
In order to maintain those relationships, Holcomb employs a great mix of enthusiasts, racers and family members to keep things running smoothly, says Holcomb.
“As far as employees go, we only hire gearheads, no off-the-street, phone-order-takers,” he says.
Two employees, W.L. Baxley and Jeff Thompson, have worked for Holcomb since his days at Lumberton Ford and throughout the 19 years of Holcomb Motorsports.
Rounding things out, Blake Holcomb, Ken’s son, has worked in the family business since he was in middle school. Holcomb’s wife of 33 years, Lisa, has been instrumental in organizing many of the company’s internal processes. And finally, Ken’s daughter Leigh Anna has been designing the company’s ads and producing its catalog since she was a senior in high school.
“I guess you could say this is a family- and friends-run business,” he says with appreciation. “We’ve had some attrition through the years, but the crew always steps up to the plate to fill the void.”
While Holcomb Motorsports relies greatly on its printed catalog and a strong online presence atwww.holcombmotorsports.com to drive sales, the company’s strategy of utilizing local and regional race events to build awareness has proven particularly effective.
Since 1995, Ken and his team have run a North vs. South Shootout event called the Holcomb Motorsports 5.0 Civil Wars at Rockingham Dragway to find the quickest Pro 5.0 cars in the country.
“That first event has evolved into what is now one of the largest all-door-slammer drag races in the country-the Holcomb Outlaw 10.5 Civil Wars, which is now in its 17th year at the Rock,” notes Holcomb, not failing to mention that “the South” won the very first race. “We wanted to give our customers a chance to race at a stellar facility, as well as giving us a chance to sell them parts.”
The event today features all makes competing in more than 12 different classes, “so if you can’t find a class to race in, well, it ain’t our fault!” he says.
One of the more popular Sportsman classes at the event is the Pro Tree Door-Slammers, a dial-your-own bracket race for door cars only (no dragsters), run on the 1/8-mile track with a pro tree.
“I think it takes the sport back to how drag racing was meant to be. Cars with doors, with the delay box advantage negated by the pro tree,” says Holcomb. “We also feature the Outlaw 10.5 cars, Outlaw Drag Radial classes, Footbrake, Index and Open Comp classes.
Keeping up the family tradition, Blake has in recent years been running a racing series of his own called King of the Streets, featuring two heads-up classes as well as Index classes, with a champion being crowned King of the Streets for each class at the end of each year.
“So you can see we have always been devoted to keeping drag racing alive and at the forefront of our business,” says Ken.
A Passion, a Business and a Future
Ken Holcomb loves drag racing and there are few people in the South that would ever doubt that. But he equally loves the business of performance products as well.
“We started in businesses in 1993 and man, time flies!” he exclaims. “I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my 19 years here at Holcomb Motorsports. We get to deal with some of the nicest people in the world. Drag racers can be just like a big ‘ole family.”
Holcomb credits his membership in the Performance Warehouse Association (PWA) for bringing him a growing network of professional and personal contacts. With that base, years in the business making friends and business contacts, and treating his customers right, that network is growing by the day.
One small way he makes sure his customers keep coming back is by treating them to competitive pricing.
“Our pricing is generally consistent with the national mail-order houses,” he says. “I have always said, ‘Pick 10 items you want to purchase, price them anywhere you want to and then come back to us. I can almost guarantee you we will be the same or cheaper.'”
Another way to keep that network strong is by making it as convenient as possible for customers to engage with the company online. The company’s website offers online shopping for most all of its catalog products as well as all the new parts that come available during the year.
“We do several email blasts a year to remind our customers to always go back to our website to see what is new and exciting in the market,” he says. “Our website also features info on our race events, race rules and photo and video galleries.”
Through that simple strategy, the company continues to see increased online sales each year, says Holcomb.
Beyond its catalog and website, the company does a good deal of national print and online advertising targeting key customers, including print publications like RPM Magazine, Race Pages, Fastest Street Car, as well as online with Dragzine, Stang TV, Horsepower Junkies and Modular Fords. But even with all of that national presence, Holcomb does little in the way of local advertising.
“We really don’t do a lot of local advertising other than our race events, as it has proven not to be cost-effective,” he notes. “We are in a small town, and pretty much everyone locally knows who and where we are.”
More to Come
While business is growing overall, the company still faces various challenges, some of them significant.
“The slow economy, for one, is among the major challenges facing us in today’s business climate,” he says. “Many of our local customers are involved in the construction industry in one way or another, so that sector of the economy definitely needs to come back strong.
“We also need to make sure that our elected leaders don’t legislate us out of existence with their constant regulations and push towards alternative energy for our vehicles,” he says. “I personally think we have been hoodwinked over all these global warming theories. I say, ‘Drill, baby, drill!’ Let’s get gas back to $2 per gallon!”
While he acknowledges he has little control over those elements of the larger economy, Holcomb plans to continue to do what is within his control to keep things cranking along.
“Looking forward to the future, we intend to keep doing what we have been doing all along and just tweaking things to adjust to all the new technology that keeps developing,” he says, noting that he plans to continue to grow son Blake’s in-house engine building and performance shop services.
All in all, though, Ken Holcomb is a man with plenty to be happy about, he says.
“Most customers who call or come in our store want to spend money on their passion,” he laughs. “That makes for a pleasant experience for all!”