San Marcos, California
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Products: LED auxiliary lighting
Operations Manager Trent Kirby leads the top LED lighting company that lives, breathes, and races off-road.
According to Kirby, Baja Designs founder Alan Roach was a motorcycle enthusiast who simply wanted a better lighting solution. "All the products we started with, were all based on Alan Roach's needs as an off-road enthusiast," says Kirby. "At the time, motorcycles built for off-road were underpowered and Alan didn't want to carry a big, heavy light to ride at night. He decided to create a complete plug-and-play light kit for these vehicles and the product line ultimately grew."
Over the years, the company has provided LED lights for extreme racing competitions in Baja California Sur, Mexico, that are currently utilized on motorcycles, buggies, and 900-horsepower Trophy Trucks that race long distances at high speeds. "Motorcycles are still very limited in size and weight," says Kirby. " But racers also need reliability, too. So when many two-wheeled racers moved up to more powerful four-wheel vehicles, they wanted the same lighting systems. So we went driving with these racers and got into automotive driving lights in 2012. Now Baja Designs is well known in off-road motorsports events such as SCORE, Best In The Desert, and more."
Like Roach, Kirby is an avid off-road enthusiast and started as the marketing assistant six years ago. "I have been an off-roader, riding dirt bikes for many years when I started at Baja Designs, says Kirby. "I transitioned into project manager and have grown with the company to ultimately be in charge of all departments."
Kirby's story isn't unique, as the company looks for employees that are a part of the California off-road culture. "We often go to Glamis, Ocotillo Wells, and other California off-road locations to have fun and so we don't lose that core value," he says. "Many have off-road cars with our products on them so it builds a lot of pride in what we manufacture. Some of our employees have been here for up to 20 years."
The company assembles and manufacturers the hard components in-house, such as the light housings, optics, and mounting hardware. They start with CAD drawings and laser cut circuit boards and utilize CNC machinery and more to create what they consider the best LED lights in the business. The quality of product plays an important role in the company's success, as inexpensive imports from overseas dilute the LED lighting market. "Unlike products from overseas, we own all of our designs," says Kirby. "We work with key vendors that Alan has worked relationships with over the years. They are a huge part of our success. We're always looking for domestic vendors first and looking for them to be competitive in price. There are some processes, however, where America has lost its touch, so we purchase some of these items overseas, but it's our tooling."
The products are built to military specifications and feature the highest enclosure rating for dust and water penetration: IP69k. "It's important to point out that the consumer with a pickup truck or UTV, is getting the same product that is on military special forces vehicles, as well as off-road racing vehicles," says Kirby. "They're getting the same lighting used by champion racers like the Vildosolas, McMillins, and others. We're not building two different products. This way everyone can benefit from a high-quality lighting system."
Challenges: "There are people buying the less expensive product coming from overseas," says Kirby. "So our challenge is to educate customers to help them compare products and determine if their performance claims match ours. We've found that after they've purchased two or three less expensive products, and have had to re-wire them each time, they eventually want to go with a high-quality product they only have to purchase and install once. No one wants to do business with a company that is misleading them."
Opportunities: "We take advantage of grant opportunities through the state to become more efficient," says Kirby. "We're also taking advantage of California Manufacturing Technology Consulting's Lean program that helps us create a more efficient production line. The program helps us to get tooling to build faster and provides us with expert sales consultants to train and coach our sales managers into effective salespeople."
Needs: "Our needs revolve around hiring more off-road enthusiasts," says Kirby. "We're growing rapidly and recently hired 12 employees throughout all departments. We actually purchased more room for added inventory and assembly. We need more off-road enthusiasts that want to be a part of something great."