There we were, saddling up outside the El Rancho Relaxo compound, a quasi-secret location in the high desert region of Southern California. It’s a hideaway far removed from most living things, out near the wilds of Joshua Tree and the Johnson Valley.
In our group was Eric Anderson, Dealernews columnist and VP of sales and marketing for Motorsport Aftermarket Group, Scott Highland, MAG’s director of off-road and sportbike markets and GM of its DragonFire UTV brand, and El Rancho’s Commander in Chief, Paul Golde, industry bon vivant and all-around good dude.
Our plan was to check out some new DragonFire products and learn about the company’s shift from a race-centric brand to one that is now operating in the UTV sport and outdoor markets. The company is also planning a major push on dealer programs.
We were prepped for a desert outing with a Kawasaki Teryx Sport featuring DragonFire’s new suede-wrapped, quick-release racing steering wheel, a DFR half windshield and a new DFR harness bar, which holds the four-point harnesses in place. The MAG crew also brought along a Polaris RZR sporting a DFR William Yokley special edition suspension kit, DragonFire shocks by Fox and a DragonFire by Yoshimura fuel management system and exhaust. The latter products are examples of partnerships DFR has with other manufacturers to develop accessories for the SXS/UTV market.
We set out into the desert with necessary supplies — a cooler/grill combo loaded with beverages, sausages and carne asada. (Tough times call for tough measures.) After a few hours of rambling up rocky hillclimbs, blasting down miles of sand wash and charging through acres of pristine desert nirvana, we had a chance to chat with Highland about DragonFire’s evolution since MAG acquired it three years ago and its place in the burgeoning UTV market.
While the core of the business had been built around racing — it was founded by a Baja racer — MAG repositioned it to tap into the different segments of the growing UTV market and shifted it’s focus to a worldwide audience.
Dealernews: Under MAG, DragonFire split into three divisions: Racing, Outdoor and Sport. Could you explain a bit about each?
Scott Highland: We have studied the market and actually see five segments for UTV/SXS usage, but we are positioning ourselves to be active in three areas for the short term. Since the beginning DragonFire has been racing and continues to participate by offering support for Baja and sponsoring other racers. We even launched a race and racer sponsorship program this year to remain active and help grow the sport. We understand that many consumers love racing, but many want to enjoy the vehicles for various recreational uses. If a customer desires performance upgrades, we refer to this movement as Sport-oriented because they run through the woods, play in the mud and blast through the dunes. The Outdoor customer is one who hunts, fishes, and enjoys the outdoors, in addition to using the vehicle for light work, such as cutting firewood.
There’s a close link between sport and racing. For Sport, they might be satisfied with putting an air cleaner system and an exhaust system on and calling it good. A Race customer is going to have that and new pistons and a camshaft. He’s going to really try to get more out of the engine and suspension and take it to the extreme.
For Outdoor, we’re working on products that will be suited for the hunting market.
DN: Tell us more about DragonFire’s partnerships with manufacturers to develop co-branded parts for the UTV market.
SH: Yes, there are the products like the Fox Shocks and Yoshimura exhaust. We obviously have our own brand, but where it makes sense we’ll definitely co-brand. It gives both parties credibility in this marketplace. This gives aftermarket companies not involved in the UTV market an entrance into the segment and allows DragonFire a chance to develop parts it wants to develop. That’s what we live and breathe here every day. We’re all things UTV.
DN: How will DragonFire expand and improve its dealer network?
SH: We’re going to have sales aids to help dealers sell products and are looking at a store-within-a-store approach. I want to create awareness of the brand and pull-through on the retail side to get consumers into the dealerships asking for DragonFire add-ons.
I grew up visiting dealers and dreaming of motorcycles from a young age, and believe the health of the industry [and dealers] is dependent on more dreamers and life-long buyers like me. We are trying to aid the dealers by developing products that allow them to make good profit margins, and are being proactive regarding the products consumers desire when purchasing a new unit.
We have partnered with some great companies in the industry such as Yoshimura. This gives the dealer and customer confidence that they will receive a product that performs, allows good margins, and will not have to worry about comebacks. These systems were developed to observe sound level requirements and USFS approval, so we are trying to protect the long-term interest of industry as a whole.
DN: What dealers are you targeting?
SH: Our goal is to target all independent or franchised dealerships. Our vision is to have DragonFire-approved dealers where ever the end consumer is located, to provide convenience, help build dealer-customer relationships, and help grow local business.
DN: What other dealer-related plans are in the works?
SH: We’re creating excitement at the retail end through advertising, racing, event involvement, social media, and other avenues to create brand awareness along with [retail] pull-through for the dealers. On the dealer side we reach out to them in trade events, dealer visits, calls and emails. We are currently improving on POP displays, training, catalogs, providing images for websites, videos, and a host of other resources. We believe that the market is still young and will grow at a good rate and we want to grow with it. — Dennis Johnson
This story originally appeared in the Dealernews August 2011 issue.