By Mike Vieira | Apr 02, 2019
Off-road racing vehicles
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Off-road racing vehicles
Founded by Navy engineer Jim Julson in 1975, Jimco Racing has evolved from crafting hobby-level, one-off race cars into to an award-winning one-stop shop for professional racing teams.
Pierce, who bought Jimco in 2018 from the Julson family, has been around the off-road racing industry for decades. He's owned other race component manufacturing businesses that were suppliers to Jimco, such as MasterCraft Safety and Impact Racing Products. Pierce is also an Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee for his innovations and commitment to safety in off-road motorsports, and also developed mass-production methods for welding titanium golf club heads and aerospace components.
Pierce's experience isn't just in fabrication and safety equipment, however; he's also a competitor racing a Trophy Truck (a 900-horsepower, tube-chassis, off-road racing machine).
"There's a little area here in East County San Diego, out in Santee, that's like the 'Gasoline Alley' of off-road racing," he says. "It's pretty hard to be born and raised in this area without being involved in off-road racing in some fashion. When I started my first company back in 1981, I was literally about a block and a half away with my welding shop."
While the company builds complete, ready-to-race vehicles that can sell for about $500,000, 20 percent of the company's business is also as a supplier of various racing parts and equipment that it manufactures. "The bulk of our business is probably about 80 percent fabrication, the building of off-road race trucks and race cars," says Pierce. "For the most part, we are delivering turnkey vehicles that are ready to race. We do have some customers that are also fabricators that want to finish up and put their own engine, transmission, electronics, and do the final finish work for themselves. We do that for a few, but we won't do that for just anybody. At the end of the day, it still has to be a Jimco vehicle, and because it has our name on it, we want to have control of what the end product is like."
A skilled staff of engineers, mechanics, welders, and more are a necessity in this niche manufacturing field. "It's kind of a two-edged sword," says Pierce. "The good thing is that we probably have a larger pool of those type of people here in Southern California than elsewhere because this is the home of off-road racing. But with that, you also have more competition for those particular people. We'll take somebody who's been through some basics, knows how to use tools, and has some basic fabrication experience, whether they've gone through fab school or they've worked at some other type of high-end fabrication company. If they can bend tubing, understand geometry, and things like that, we can train them. It's like anything else, it's about having that will to work. It makes all the difference."
Most of the metals that Jimco uses are sourced locally in Southern California, while fiberglass and component parts are often brought in from other states or countries to get them direct. "When you're in business, you're going to negotiate everything and try to go direct as much as you can, so that you can avoid the two-step or three-step distribution process," says Pierce. "When you're dealing with building a $585,000 Trophy Truck, $300,000 of that cost is in outside components, so you certainly don't want to be paying retail, no matter what is. You want to be negotiating what your discounts will be and what your margins will be on each piece."
Managing the build of a high-dollar vehicle build is a unique part of this manufacturing business, he adds. "This one by far has the most difficulty with cash flow, because you are funding a half-million dollar vehicle, and you're putting up all the money up front. You've always got six or eight of them in the works with $300,000 worth of components in each of those vehicles. Add in labor, and the fact that you're not turning one out every day, the realization is that my cash flow is more critical than any other business I've been in."
According to Pierce, the knowledge base and the history that Jimco has in designing and building race cars gives them the edge over the competition. "We take everything that we've learned over forty years of experience and transfer it down. I've been fabricating and building parts basically my whole life, and I would say our history, heritage, and knowledge base exceeds most other companies doing this. It also always comes down to customer service. We always take care of the customer and make sure they're getting what they need."
Challenges: "Jimco has a lot of competition," says Pierce. "They are actually building some pretty good vehicles, but I've always felt that competition is good."
Opportunities: "It's a great time to be in the off-road racing business," says Pierce. "People often talk about the golden era when the factories [for Ford and Chevy] were here. But at that time you didn't have 45 $500,000 vehicles, all self-funded, at a race like you do now. NASCAR is struggling, NHRA is struggling, but there's continued growth in off-road. The addition of UTVs has also brought off-road racing to more people."
Needs: "We need to develop new cars and trucks, and want to expand the retail side of it," says Pierce. "With my background, I want to keep advancing off-road safety and promote off-road motorsports."