TWMX All Access: Team ECC’s Dave Ketcham

Obviously motorcycle manufacturers have to go racing to encourage sales. You know, the usual win-on-Sunday, sell-on-Monday scenario. But over the last few years, we’ve seen more high-powered shops like Yamaha of Troy, MotoworldRacing.com, and Team ECC (short for Escondido Cycle Center) step up to the big leagues with high-profile teams, full semi rigs for transportation, and factory support for their riders.

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We stopped by ECC’s 36,000 square-foot facility (something that large is hard to call a “shop”), and met with ECC’s General Manager, Dave Ketcham, to see what they were up to, and to try and find an answer to why they stepped up to the big leagues, and how they do it. We started by asking him about the shop’s history. “It’s a family-owned business. I own it with my father, and we’ve been doing it since ’87. We started at the other end of the spectrum, where we were consumers. That’s one of the reasons that led us into the industry. Being frustrated consumers, and wanting to make something better.”

While known for being a Suzuki team on the track, ECC also carries Honda, Kawasaki, and Bombardier. When we stopped by, the showroom was packed with new bikes. “On the floor there’s 300 to 350 bikes, but on site there’s anywhere from 600 to 800. If it’s not on the floor, we have it in the back. We tried to make it big enough to where we could at least one of each color of everything on the floor, and multiples of dirt bikes, because that’s our primary focus. We’ve been a dirt bike store since our inception, and that came via our own interests.”

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So how did they get into the big leagues of supercross and motocross? “We always sponsored riders in Baja racing and did pretty well. We’d get third place in the 1000, with some local riders…Tex Mitchell, he’s really fast. We’d always end up behind the Team Honda guys. While we did really well in Baja, you just don’t get any publicity and it doesn’t help sales.”

“We’ve always done a bunch of autograph signings, where we invite teams to sign autographs before the San Diego Supercross. I met Phil Alderton in like ’95 and he brought the Honda of Troy team. Maybe that was part of planting the seed for us. If he can do it, why can’t I?”

“We’d always wanted to go racing, and the opportunity came up with Mike Craig. He came in, and was kind of a major impetus for us getting into the industry, He told us, ‘I know a lot of people, and I can help bring in sponsors to this.’ It’s been a lot of work. It’s labor-intensive calling people, setting up the graphics, the schedule…just everything. It’s a major ordeal. So it hasn’t been a money-making venture, really. It’s fun. We’re enthusiasts, and we like to go to the races.”

Still, it if hasn’t been a money-maker yet, why do it? Are they hoping to boost catalog sales via the race team? Dave explains, “We’re trying to lead that way, following the model of those before us—mainly Yamaha of Troy. We thought that might be a direction that we could go with this. Obviously the team has to have something to support it. Being that the dealership alone won’t really support it, and sponsors alone won’t really support it, so that’s kind of a direction that we’ve headed. We want to commit our attention to it, but not to where it distracts from the store.”

“We also do very little internet sales right now, compared to what I think we can do. The store is still primary, and I think it will always be that way. We don’t want to be as big as Chaparral, because we feel like we lose touch with some of the customers We still want to be a service-oriented company. That’s our major goal.”

Team ECC has taken a couple different routes to grab attention, and both seem to be working. Their uniforms and graphics are eye-catching, to say the least, and they raised some eyebrows when they offered up a e million dollar bonus if one of their riders could win a championship. The bonus was backed by an insurance policy that would pay the rider in the event of one of them earning a number one plate.

Dave explains the reasoning behind the eye-catching graphics. “Troy Lee designed last year’s graphics, and this year I did them in conjunction with N-Style. We kind of told them what we wanted, then they’d come up with something. It took quite a few rounds to achieve what we wanted.” (Laughs)

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“The basic theme for the color scheme was we wanted to give some props to Hansen’s who is one of our sponsors. Also, we also wanted the guy in the top row of the stadium to be able to pick out our bikes on the track. That as our goal for last year with the red seats, and this year I think we did really good with that neon green. You can locate our rider instantly. That’s what’s nice about it, and it accomplished what we tried to do. We’re trying to balance everything out and have it look good as well. You can’t just throw any kind of color on there…like an aquamarine bike or something. That just doesn’t cut it.”

So how about the bonus, will they do it again next year? “We don’t know yet. It’s up in the air. We’ll see…it depends on the premium. The premium was affordable for us this year, even though we hired some past champions. We felt it was worth it to entice the riders. I don’t think you’d have seen Steve Lamson or Shae Bentley on our team if we didn’t have the million dollar bonus.”

“I can’t offer a factory-level factory salary. It’s an incentive the same way you’d get if you got contingency through the manufacturers.”

“That was the hope to get the riders to boost us to the next level. I think with all our motor development and the commitment by Suzuki with full suspension and testing and motorcycles for practicing and all that, we can attract the top riders in the next few years. They’re going to want to come here because they know the program is set to provide one goal, and that’s to win a championship. We’ll fully back the riders that we have and do everything we can to make that goal attainable if he has the skill and commitment.”

“I’d love to pay off if we could win a title, but I don’t think it’s going to happen in supercross. Outdoors? Who knows? I’m not going to kid anybody. If Bubba doesn’t complete the season, that’s probably our best shot. He seems to be the leader, and there are a few guys like Branden Jesseman and Mike Brown who are really hauling butt. Brown’s a veteran and he’s awesome and tenacious. You saw it at Daytona, the way he rode there.”

Wondering aloud, we asked Dave what the annual budget was for a team like theirs. “It varies, depending on how much traveling you do, and salaries, what you pay your riders. It’s a collaborative effort between us and all the sponsors, It takes everyone’s monetary efforts to support something l like this. You couldn’t start a team for a million dollars. It’s not something you can just jump into.”

“I think we always try to get 100 percent behind our sponsors. We want to believe in the product that we’re running. If we didn’t believe in it, I don’t think we’d run it.”

“Suzuki has been awesome with us. They’ve made leaps and bounds in the last five years. Their product has come way up, and I think you can see it in the results. Suzukis are on the podium more than ever. They’re backing us 100 percent. Besides bikes, they’ve commited to giving us factory suspension this year and I think that’s made a big difference for us. The riders feel really confident on it and feel like they’re getting factory equipment.”

“Varner’s engines are going really good. We do a lot of testing with him, and we feel like our engines are right there, too.”

“We’re not looking to just be there and happy that we’re making the main. We want to win. That’s been our goal from the beginning. We knew it would take baby steps, and we’re realizing some of those goals this year by getting on the podium. We’re looking at possibly by the end of this year at being on top of the podium. Having a rider get a first place at an event.”

“I think Shae can do it. A lot of people didn’t want to believe that he could come back after being injured. We believe Steve Lamson has immeasurable experience, so everything is behind him other than his injuries. It’s tough to keep up with the kids, but having that mental edge and having him be able to go back to 125s, which we think he’s really comfortable riding on is great. He seems to be healing well. He’s walking good, and focused on the upcoming outdoor season. That’s where he’s going to go.”

While Dave enjoys hitting as many races as he can, he still knows where his priorities are. “We travel to as many as we think we can without ignoring the business. I did the west coast swing, and Daytona. I’ll do the two west coast outdoors, but my focus has to be here. I balance a lot of stuff both ways, but if we don’t have a store, we don’t have a team. I try to do as much as I can, but I’m about to be a new father, so I know that’ll cramp my style from getting out to the races too much.”

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“We built this business over 15 years, and a lot of it is based on referral because we’re a service-oriented company. People who advertise low prices on bikes and gear and this and that, but when it comes down to servicing, will those guys be there tomorrow, and will they take care of you if you have a problem? The customers we’ve built up refer their friends, then their friends refers someone else, so it becomes this giant reverse pyramid. They know they’re going to get taken care of if they have a problem. They’re happy and they come back.”

“We’ve also always supported the amateur side, and it’s been great to see little kids that we sponsored on 60s coming in now as fathers and buying their own kids their first motorcycles. It’s great. Once again, they come to us because they know we’re going to be there.

While roaming the showroom, we spotted a slick-looking but obviously used shifter kart complete with ECC team graphics sitting off to one side, waiting for a new owner. When we mentioned it to Dave, he told us, “We tried to go into that area, because we’re a racing family, My father’s always raced, and we like the speed sports. It’s been kind of a family focus. But to do that, you have to be specialized, and we’re committed to motorcycles. We weren’t committed enough to the karting industry to continue to try to develop that part of it. Keep your focus, that’s all we try to do.”

Contact:

Escondido Cycle Center
1415 Montiel Road
Escondido, CA 92026
Tel: (760) 745-1615
Fax (760) 746-3436

www.escondidocyclecenter.com
www.teamecc.com

We want to win. That’s been our goal from the beginning. We knew it would take baby steps, and we’re realizing some of those goals this year by getting on the podium. We’re looking at possibly by the end of this year at being on top of the podium. Having a rider get a first place at an event.”

“I think Shae can do it. A lot of people didn’t want to believe that he could come back after being injured. We believe Steve Lamson has immeasurable experience, so everything is behind him other than his injuries. It’s tough to keep up with the kids, but having that mental edge and having him be able to go back to 125s, which we think he’s really comfortable riding on is great. He seems to be healing well. He’s walking good, and focused on the upcoming outdoor season. That’s where he’s going to go.”

While Dave enjoys hitting as many races as he can, he still knows where his priorities are. “We travel to as many as we think we can without ignoring the business. I did the west coast swing, and Daytona. I’ll do the two west coast outdoors, but my focus has to be here. I balance a lot of stuff both ways, but if we don’t have a store, we don’t have a team. I try to do as much as I can, but I’m about to be a new father, so I know that’ll cramp my style from getting out to the races too much.”

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“We built this business over 15 years, and a lot of it is based on referral because we’re a service-oriented company. People who advertise low prices on bikes and gear and this and that, but when it comes down to servicing, will those guys be there tomorrow, and will they take care of you if you have a problem? The customers we’ve built up refer their friends, then their friends refers someone else, so it becomes this giant reverse pyramid. They know they’re going to get taken care of if they have a problem. They’re happy and they come back.”

“We’ve also always supported the amateur side, and it’s been great to see little kids that we sponsored on 60s coming in now as fathers and buying their own kids their first motorcycles. It’s great. Once again, they come to us because they know we’re going to be there.

While roaming the showroom, we spotted a slick-looking but obviously used shifter kart complete with ECC team graphics sitting off to one side, waiting for a new owner. When we mentioned it to Dave, he told us, “We tried to go into that area, because we’re a racing family, My father’s always raced, and we like the speed sports. It’s been kind of a family focus. But to do that, you have to be specialized, and we’re committed to motorcycles. We weren’t committed enough to the karting industry to continue to try to develop that part of it. Keep your focus, that’s all we try to do.”

Contact:

Escondido Cycle Center
1415 Montiel Road
Escondido, CA 92026
Tel: (760) 745-1615
Fax (760) 746-3436

www.escondidocyclecenter.com
www.teamecc.com