Our visit to Thousand Oaks, CA-based BTO Sports was more of a walking tour than a sit-down interview, which gave us a chance to get a feel for how the motocross mail order company operates, and a chance to meet a few of their colorful employees.
Two things that stood out to us during our visit was how friendly the staff was, and how busy they were! All 30 of BTO’s employees were bustling around the building; helping customers, meeting with suppliers, and filling orders. All the while we strolled leisurely through the halls, snapping photos and talking with them to learn more about their business.
We have to admit; we were impressed with BTO, but rather than ramble on about the company ourselves, we talked with the CEO and founder of BTO, Vince Arimitsu…
TWMX: Vince, tell us about BTO’s roots, and how you got started…
Vince: We started back in ’98 or ’99, across the street in a little 1200 square-foot building. Back then it was just me and a computer. I had two computers on my desk; the UPS computer and mine. The phone would ring for an order; I would call it in, pick it up from the UPS driver, and then repackage it and send it to the customer. We’ve come a long way since then.
When I first moved into this building I thought I wouldn’t be able to use all the space, but now we are packed in so tight that we have a storage unit down the street for excess inventory. When the people move out next door we’ll end up expanding even more.
That’s a sign that business is good, I suppose?
Yeah, it is.
Let me show around a little bit…
This used to be a nice showroom, but I had to make a choice: do I want to look pretty, or be more functional. So I took everything out and transformed the space to hold inventory.
Did you used to get a lot of walk-in customers?
Believe it or not, we still do. But once they come here and learn about us, they realize that we will ship it straight to their doorstep. We’re constantly shipping orders. We work with the big distributors and manufacturers to bring in the product and ship it out to customers. We stock what sells well, and everything else is normally just a day away.
What inspired you to start BTO?
I started at O’Neal and eventually became the export manager there. Well, one of my export accounts in Japan wanted to open up a mail order company here in the US, so he hired me, and that’s where I learned the mail order business. From there I just decided to branch out on my own.
There must be a lot of competition in this business?
Oh yeah! When we started people thought it couldn’t be done, that the market was locked up. But one thing that really helped us succeed was the Internet. Back in ’99, Internet shopping was still a new idea, and we were one of the first companies to do it in the industry. We took it seriously, because I knew that was my advantage over everyone else. When you’re going up against the big boys without any money, the web allows you to start building an image without having to be a huge company.
Obviously you carry every motocross and dirt bike product under the sun, is there any one thing you sell more of?
It’s got to be the riding gear. Guys always want the newest, best stuff. I guess it’s just a fashion thing.
You guys are also carrying the Leatt Brace, is that right?
We are one of the few official Leatt dealers in the country, and one of only two Internet-based companies in the U.S. The braces are just starting to go out now. In fact, we had over a hundred of them ship out yesterday for the first time. The challenge right now is just getting them in, but it’s a new product and the demand is high, so people are just going to have to wait.
What’s the most difficult thing about running your busiiness?
Keeping track of all the part numbers. Keeping your computer right, and keeping the Internet up-to-date. It’s a never-ending job.
What’s the best part?
Motocross, this sport; it’s just the best thing you can do. That’s why you guys do what you do, right? In the beginning it was a way to support my family, and now I have lots of other families depending on me.
How many employees do you have?
We’re up to about thirty. This is just a great bunch of guys. I’ve got guys like Larry; we used to work together at Magic Mountain when we were fifteen. My brother works for me. Leo used to live across the street from me when we were in high school. Michael’s been with me since he was a little kid; he used to be one of my customers… It’s still a family business.
What’s great about our staff is they can answer any question you have about your bike. If a customer calls in with a question, they can help them right over the phone.
What’s your vision for the future of BTO?
Well, we’ve started doing the Supercross stuff. We’re one of the title sponsors for the Butler Brothers team, and the group of guys on the team is awesome. We help get the team some exposure, and they get us exposure; it’s a two-way street. There couldn’t be a better fit.
Does it do a lot for you, in terms of exposure?
Oh yeah. It started last year, and this year I can really start to see it.
Well, Vince, BTO is really an interesting business. Thanks for taking some time to show us around.
Visit www.btosports.com for more information.