Right-Sized Off-Road Performance

Dec 1, 2009

From the outside looking in, Roy Carl is a businessman-a businessman with a business/management degree from the University of Northern Kentucky. He is also a strategist, always looking for a new and demanding challenge within the off-road performance world.

During his career he has opened two Web-based businesses, an off-road park, an associated company and four store locations.

He’s managed to change and adapt to market demands over the years, all the while maintaining the one constant in his business plan that turned out to be all he really needed-his shop, Performance Off-Road.

The History

Carl says he’s has always been interested in the off-road industry. When he was 3 years old, his father bought an old 1947 CJ 2A Jeep, a smaller model that looks like, and has the feel of, an old Army Jeep.

Carl was mesmerized by it and started driving it when he was 8 years old. Since then, he has been fascinated with the speed and power of Jeeps, (a fascination, he notes, that unfortunately has led to numerous speeding tickets!)

Performance Off-Road is located in Alexandria, Ky., where Carl was born and raised. Alexandria is in the tri-state area of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, just south of the largest city in the area, Cincinnati.

The shop was originally called Roy’s Toy’s when he opened it in 1989. At the time, Carl worked on his hobbies, which were Jeeps, Corvettes, and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Then, around 1992, he made a full shop transfer to nothing but performance off-road manufacturing. He now does everything from high-end chassis buggies to straight accessory installations like seat covers and bug guards. The shop is 10,000 square feet, 1,000 of which houses its retail operation, offices, showroom, and shipping and receiving. The rest is dedicated to the machine shop.

Expansion, then Contraction

As Carl’s original business grew, he branched out into other areas of the performance off-road industry. In 1998, he opened Kentucky Outback Adventure Park, which was an off-road park for all types of vehicles. Then he started two Web-based businesses as well.

The first was Extreme Terrain, which specialized in Jeep parts. The second was Truck Stuff For Sale.com. He then opened three additional store locations for Performance Off-Road. On top of that, he had an associated business, JeepGuru, a consulting company for the off-road industry, mainly Jeeps.

With all this big business, however, came big headaches.

“The more the business grew, the more my job became a corporate job,” Carl says. He was dealing with accountants, attorneys, employment problems and employee issues. “It wasn’t fun anymore.”

Turns out, he wasn’t making a lot more money with the larger businesses. Plus, he was working 70 to 80 hours a week and he was risking more and more every day.

But, maybe most importantly, Carl believed Performance Off-Road was losing its identity as a premier performance shop. So, he made the executive decisions to close the off-road park and sell the two Web-based businesses, focusing his efforts on JeepGuru and a single Performance Off-Road location in Alexandria.

As he’s gone through the downsizing over the past 36 months, Carl’s profits-not to mention happiness level-have risen. Performance Off-Road has recaptured more of its original comfortable machine shop feel and is less of a shiny retail shop-a move he says his hardcore customers appreciate.

“That is what I personally wanted,” he says of his closer, more personal relationship with his clients.

Yes, the bottom line of the business is smaller, but the margin is a ton better. Plus, Carl is working 40 hours fewer each week than he was.

He did have to lay off some employees-he’s now down to two, who have a combined 20 years of industry experience. They both were once customers of his, and they have been friends with him ever since they met.

“They are well-diversified craftsmen at what they do,” Carl says, noting they share his goal of offering a quality product. In some ways, he says, what they do in the shop is almost like an art form, with all the technical parts and challenges that are laid out in front of them every day.

Strong Approach

As many of the retail parts that once stocked his showroom shelves make way for an expanded machine shop, Carl sees his company becoming more focused on a client base that isn’t as tied to the current economic climate.

“We stratify the market, look at it, and go after people who have disposable incomes and want quality,” Carl says of his business philosophy.

Presently, he is also doing major research on parts for customers, in order to provide them the best fit for their particular project. Carl tests to determine the best part for the price for what the customer needs. “We want 100-percent efficiency for people,” he explains.

With the bigger company, Carl remembers, there were a lot more problems with prices and parts. With a smaller business, problems are now cut in half.

Performance Off-Road does not have a set price for anything. The shop’s labor rate is $75 to $200 an hour, depending on the type of work involved. Carl explains that market conditions, costs and parts availability all play a part in setting a price that’s fair to the customer and his company.

Performance Off-Road serves a variety of customers, working on projects that can take three to 18 months to complete. For the past few months, the shop has been focusing mainly on industrial, commercial and government jobs.

The company’s off-road vehicles are often called upon to make remote trips to service machinery or equipment. Clients need to send someone out in the middle of nowhere to retrieve or fix an item that needs to be serviced, and Off-Road Performance gets them there-sometimes in a larger vehicle, and sometimes in a quad.

The company has also done high-end custom building and restoration, with a client list that includes Disney and Busch Gardens. Month to month, Carl and his staff stay busy, often with projects from returning customers wanting Performance Off-Road to do more quality work for them.

Carl agrees the parts market is hurting, but his shop benefits from not having a lot of competition in his area at the level of custom building and service he offers. Because of this, he doesn’t invest much in advertising.

The shop does have a Web site, (www.por4x4.com), and Carl notes that he may increase his advertising investment in the future.

The Future

Speaking of the future, Carl takes things seriously in his shop, but even as a businessman he has fun with the whole concept of working in the off-road industry.

It’s what he lost when his business grew larger, and what keeps him motivated now that’s he’s focused on the job at hand.  “It all comes from inside,” he says.

Tackling every technical challenge thrown his way, Carl says that the best part of his job is when a customer sees everything as he does. He loves when the client gets involved, does the research, and is up to speed on the project at hand.

“I don’t think anybody knows the future,” Carl says, but he knows that, after trying it all, he’s now positioned to take on whatever comes his way.