Talkin’ Performance with Bruce Bennett

Mar 22, 2013

Bruce Bennett founded Stage 8 Locking Fasteners, San Rafael, Calif., after his Harley-Davidson motorcycle nearly fell apart at his feet. An inventor by nature, Bennett (who holds over 70 patents) took the matter into his own hands and crafted a fastener that wouldn’t come loose.

Enter Stage 8 Locking Fasteners, a very niche business built within the automotive aftermarket. For over 20 years, Stage 8 has provided everyone from the Harley rider to members of the military with fasteners, nuts and bolts that never come loose.

We spoke with Bennett about being in the business, working with his kids and shooting pool, his way to kill an afternoon at the office.

PB: Hi Bruce. Thanks for joining us. So, what got you interested in the automotive aftermarket?

BB: Making cars go faster-it’s pretty simple. I got a car and it was too slow, so I put a different motor in it and I never looked back.

PB: What’s it like working in a family business?

BB: I launched the business in 1985 and now my older son works with me. My younger son is coming with us here next year.

What’s it like working in a family business? (Laughs.) Well, it’s OK when you’re the boss, but sometimes it’s a little hard to deal with your sons. They know more than their Dad.

We also have eight great employees, but it’s taken years to find the right people and the right combinations. We use sales reps in the automotive industry. I am the only designer and my sons run the warehouse. It’s small and simple.

PB: Tell us about your company and its place in the performance aftermarket.

BB: We sell a small but important (product) that offers safety and reliability to the automotive market. We design and build locking fasteners and nuts and bolts that won’t ever come loose.

In 1985, I put an exhaust on my Harley and it fell off that day and I decided there was a better way to do it, so I designed one.

Today, our clients range from the Harley rider to the drag racer. Then there’s the crowd that drives their car to work, and those that work for GE or Caterpillar or the military. We have a wide range of clientele that need our product and no one does what we do exactly like we do it.

We’ve got a locking bolt on the space shuttle holding the camera onto the robotic arm. I have patents and trademarks on everything we do.

PB: Where do the ideas come from?

BB: We look for customers, find a need they have and solve it, and then sell it. It’s, “I have a problem, now solve it.” And so we do.

For example, we’ve designed a product that holds wheels on trains. That particular product is the first new item for railroads to be approved in 55 years. We just got approval about two months ago.

PB: What’s a typical day like for you?

BB: I get in about 10 a.m. and review my projects from the previous day or go over the projects that have kept me awake at night and go through my notes. I’m always designing or building something. Then I might finish a design on some prototypes, take the kids to lunch, play pool and call it a day.

It’s nice now, but it’s been a long road.

PB: What’s the best thing about your job?

BB: The best thing is being able to design things that have never been built before; that are totally new. That’s a challenge and I love it.

I quit college five units short of a degree when I realized I needed to make a living. Between physics and engineering studies, I just fell short of the degree.

PB: What’s the biggest challenge?

BB: Finding the proper customer that can make a decision is a challenge. Everyone’s got a problem, but to go through the chain of command and find someone that says, “I want that and I can buy it,” and who can write a check is the challenge. To get to that person sometimes takes an act of god.

I’ve not found a shortcut. It’s often getting to someone who then gives the decision to someone else.

PB: How do you see the current state of the performance aftermarket?

BB: From my perspective, it’s moving forward, but slowly. It’s not the 1970s; those days are gone.

The economy can be difficult. People just don’t have the kind of money to spend on their cars they once did.

PB: So, where do you think the industry will be in 10 years?

BB: Depending on whether they can make a good battery-and Boeing can’t do it yet, either-I see more and more movement toward electric cars. But first the battery technology needs a big boost.

It’s an interesting topic-the battery and the hybrid. Today they’re trying to pass a bill to make hybrids noisy because people can’t hear the engines running.

PB: Which professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

BB: Inventing the Stage 8 Locking System. It’s an active mechanical locking system that doesn’t require thread lockers or clamp load. It won’t go anywhere. It just doesn’t come loose and we’ve done 17 million pieces and haven’t had one come off.

PB: What’s your next big goal to achieve?

BB: Take an orbit ride to space. I’m going to do it. I’m getting in line to do the physical in August and we’ll see what happens. I’d really like to take that ride.

PB: Thanks Bruce. As a final question, what’s your advice for speed shops seeking long-term success in the performance aftermarket?

BB: There’s no shortcut; no short answer. Work long and hard hours and it’ll pay off. Keep it detailed, customer service-oriented and keep in contact with your customers with an e-blast or something like it.

And start that approach from day one.

More with Bruce Bennett

What was your first car?

A 1954 Studebaker.

What’s your dream ride?

Then: 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air; Now: STS Turbo Corvette.

What’s on your computer/phone wallpaper?

My secretary has three gorgeous daughters and we dressed them up at the PRI show and they’re sitting on my car.

Person you’d most like to meet.

Lee Iacocca.

If I wasn’t in the performance aftermarket, I’d probably be…

I’ve been an inventor; my license plate says, “Inventor.” I’ve built crazy stuff and have 78 patents on various things. I’d be building something, but I don’t know what.