How did you get your start?
I was a service manager for a MB dealer. I had been ordering STI parts for my friends on NASIOC (North American Subaru Impreza Owners Club).
Then, I got fired , 8 days before my honeymoon. During then, I had about 5 orders for the JDM STI Pinks (pink springs). When I came back from my honeymoon, I had over 45 orders for the springs.
So through the forum, from selling springs, people began to ask for more JDM STI parts. This is during the GD era of Rexes. By the time Christmas came, we put in a big order for the STI V-limited front spoilers in Japan.
The timing of the order meant that we could deliver the spoilers in January, to American buyers way ahead of the people who live in Japan! As orders for STI shifters, trailing arms, lateral arms, motor mounts started pouring in by early January, I had to become a vendor on NAISOC in order to continue. On 2004 new years eve itself, I had orders for 20 sets of spoilers and springs in 24 hours. I literally was taking orders for spoilers and springs when the ball dropped at midnight !
I didn’t even have a website then, it was just people sending PM’s and calling in. You could call me 24 hours a day, talk to me about what you needed, and I’ll take your order if new parts were what suited you best.
2004 was really about selling STI JDM parts, then Cusco parts and then progressed to almost anything that was hard-to-get for the GD STI only. At that point in time, there were about 15,000 units in the country.
A good majority of owners were modifying them, auto-crossing them, tracking them. People didn’t buy the car as a status, they bought it to tune it, hence the need for parts.
How did that lead to suspension tuning?
I started as a Volkswagen guy in the mid 80’s, I started autocrossing GTI’s. During that time, the GTI’s had half the horsepower of the big V8’s, something like 110 horsepower. My GTI weighed 2100 lbs, big V8’s weighed 3800 lbs.
I’ve always valued the way a car handles, 5 to the 1 over the amount of power. Because, keeping your foot on the gas through a corner or backroad is faster than a person who has to keep lifting due to incorrect suspension setup.
It will take three times more power to make up the time lost due to improper suspension settings. After the GTI, I built an A2 Jetta – with a Corrado G60 motor in it. 4K box, with super short ratio 6-speed gear ratios. And it had 250 horsepower, at the wheel. Wheel! And it weighed 2300lbs.
It had custom valved Bilstein rally shocks on it, Recaro seats, BBS wheels and it started my heritage. My modifying go-to parts heritage. After the Jetta, I went for a Porsche 944 Turbo. Went from a divorce car, to a daily driver to a pure track car. That was around ’95. On all my cars since then, I’ve always had the maximum amount of suspension tune I could put on them. Good shocks, all the bushings, good sway bars, a real good alignment and track tyres, always.
What is your speciality today?
One area of speciality we had and were known for was the setting up a STI for track days. Because of my racing experience, I sought out all the manufacturers that were involved in pro racing and we started to work together with them.
At first, no one wanted to work with us because they didn’t know who we were. Eventually, once we were able to establish our name, we could show people that we have a niche within a niche – catering to Subaru track day enthusiasts.
What companies have you worked with?
KW was the first company we worked with. They agreed to do our private label, the Tarmac II! Eibach later followed and they agreed to make our springs to our specifications. They didn’t take springs that they already had and sprayed in our colours – they made the springs to our specifications, our rates, our progressions and our amount of lowering.
In 2009, Bilstein agreed to co develop shocks for the GH chassis. One thing that was special about this was Bilstein turned us down the first time. Siting that PRODRIVE UK, had an agreement with them to build shocks. That was in 2005. By 2009 the economy had changed and Bilstein agreed to help us provide shocks to our triple niche market. That was really a personal breakthrough, because I grew up using Bilstein shocks. My dad also rolled on Bilstein. My mom, had a 280Z which we put Bilstein shocks on. For us to be able to develop sport shocks for Japanese cars and sell it to the American market, was a big deal.
My dad isn’t the congratulatory type. When he found out that Racecomp was working with Bilstein, he actually called me and gave me big credit. And that was special. All we tried to do is to make sure that the customer gets the best advice for them, for their needs, for the long haul.
What sort of advice do you give customers?
We never try to sell people stuff, many forum-ers will attest the fact that I have talked people out of spending big money on something expensive. It’s rare, because our market is small.
Consider the number of Subarus there are, then consider the number of performance Subarus, then consider the number of people who are tracking their Subarus and how many of those track goers actually care about suspension. It’s a niche, within a niche, within a niche and within a niche. Shocks and springs are just what you need if you want something that handles better on the streets and feels a little safer. Swaybars? No. Endlinks? No. Bushings? No. That’s a thousand dollars right there. That’s money saved for those who are not going to track or autocross with their cars.
When people feel that they can openly heartedly ask you a question, they will do whatever you tell them. That inspires trust, and they are going to come back to you. That’s a lot of what we had over the years, a lot of repeat business.
All of that customer service comes from the 16 years of working at dealerships, being in tune with the customers and keeping high-line customers happy. Porsche, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes, for example.
Surely you have some car-related education, do they teach car stuff in US schools?
When I was in high school (SG equivalent: Secondary School), I had a major in Automotive Design. I started drawing cars in second grade. General Motors had a program where they would go to high schools to teach small groups of kids the basics of automotive design and how to apply the math.
By the ninth grade, I was drawing engineering cut-aways…all this knowledge eventually helped when I was designing brake ducts for the GD chassis which had to meet SCCA restrictions!
What does the future hold for RCE?
We are very happy to see the new 2015 WRX and STI being released. This shows how healthy the Subaru enthusiast market really is and gives us another 5 years to develop part. I will be involving my son in the business to develop his skills. That includes skills to run the business and skills to be a full-on race engineer…
But in the not-so-distant future, I hope to expand to cater for more brands and makes that have equivalents models to the WRX!
I could have not done any of this without a loyal and dedicated group of enthusiast over the last 10 years. Dan, Drew, Mike, Carol, Milena, Pat, Matt, Kelly and my wife. Many have come and gone but the core group still exist and are the only reason we have been able to survive in what is really an all power driven industry.