By Alicia Cunningham | Oct 31, 2017
Salt Lake City, Utah
Skid Plates, Armor Kits
Salt Lake City
Industry: Lifestyle & Consumer
Product: Skid Plates, Armor Kits
Don H. Gibbs, owner and founder of Ricochet Off-Road, was only 23 years old when he decided that the time was perfect to open a small shop and strike out on his own. "I quit school, and I started my own business," he explains. "And now, 40 years later, we're still in business. It has had its good moments and tough times. But it was a good decision."
Though the business is still thriving decades later, it's not the same shop bike shop Gibbs opened back in 1976. A few years into the business, Gibbs started receiving specialty requests for skid plates to help protect bikes the owners wanted to take off-road. From that moment on, Gibbs essentially opened a machine shop as he custom manufactured the plates. Along the way, he caught the eye of a large distributor who recognized the plate’s potential and wide open market. "I started making them around 1977 or 1978, and I have been building them ever since. I sold the shop back in 1985 and kept making the skid plates."
Gibbs believes that Ricochet Off-Road is the most comprehensive manufacturer in the world for skid plates. Worldwide domination was simple because way back in 1999 when people were still trying to figure out how utilize the Internet, Gibbs had an immediate resource: the father of his office manager. "Her father was a computer nerd, and he built us a website back in 1999, which was still rare. That website and our business really took off. We started selling online, and it opened not just a national market but an international market. It definitely changed everything."
Just because he's selling the same product he made 40 years ago doesn't mean he's doing it the same way. "I've continued to modernize," he says, and with great efficiency results. What used to take minutes doing by hand now takes seconds. "I'm amazed by the things we can do, and how it's helped us grow and keep our costs down," Gibbs says. "Just considering the volume, if I was still doing it the old way, I'd need hundreds of employees. Where we once needed a pattern and a pencil, now we just need a laser and a few seconds."
To reach his customers, Gibbs has a three pronged system: distributors, dealers, and selling directly to the consumer. The internet continues to be a major player in his marketing efforts, particularly through online retail opportunities such as Amazon marketplace and EBay.
"Other retailers set up online shops, and they sell our products for us. They take the order, and we fulfill it and send it to the customer. It has really taken off and been an effective marketing tool for us," Gibbs says.
Challenges: The challenge of time. With 40 years of experience behind him, Gibbs looks back and sees many challenges he was able to overcome with time and patience. "We've been conservative in our growth," Gibbs says. "And I'm not a real high maintenance guy. That has helped me weather the down times without too much trouble. I put in the time, and I put in the effort. I show up for work every day, and I do what I need to in order to make things work. And I try to treat my employees well to ensure very low turnover. It's worked."
Opportunities: New products. Gibbs recognizes that he can only stay on top as long as he delivers what the current market demands. "We can't get dated," Gibbs says. "We have to freshen up, switch things around, and get involved in new materials, new machinery, new development processes. We revamped our plates last year. We changed the design, and we cleaned things up to stay ahead of the competition. We're also doing a lot more marketing on social media because the old trade magazines are getting thinner and thinner. Social media uses algorithms to help us target our customers. We know what they're clicking on and what they're focusing on. It helps us find people already interested in buying our product."
Need: To stay ahead of the trends. "We are product driven," Gibbs says. "We need to ensure our product goes over well, that people like it, that they want to buy it. We need to stay ahead of the market."