History of the Brand: RK Excel

Publish Date: 
Aug 11, 2013
By Mike Vaughan


The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers." We're all familiar with brands, and every product we buy or use represents some kind of brand. Brands are like the job-seeker's elevator speech; hearing or seeing the brand name of a product paints an instantaneous picture in our minds about the brand's quality, reputation and position in the marketplace.

Successful brands are built upon a foundation of quality, innovation, and consumer service. The RK Excel brand, represented by FTM and Associates, meets all of these requirements.

This is their story, courtesy Dealernews' Mike Vaughan.

VISTA, Calif. - Motorcycle chain is not a romantic product. As RK Excel owner Frank Miyake points out, “It’s a basic nuts and bolts thing, and ya gotta have it.” And Miyake’s been supplying it for more than 30 years.

Miyake has come a long way from the time he was hired by the Los Angeles Times as the ad sales department's first “token Asian." At Sudco, he learned the chain business. He introduced Daido to Interpart, and became the president of the company's sales arm, Progressive Sales Corp. He helped with the introduction of Armor All to the automotive and motorcycle world.

In September 1977 Miyake left Interpart, sold his Porsche 911, borrowed some money from his parents and, with about $12,000 in working capital, established an independent manufacturer’s rep firm under the name of FTM and Associates.

The next two years were tough. To keep things afloat, Miyake took a second job working for a prep guy who specialized in top fuel dragsters.

“I was losing money, and getting very frustrated," Miyake says. "I found myself doing the same thing as other company owners did -- not wanting to spend money, not wanting to go with my instincts and going completely against everything I’d learned at the L A Times.

"After a couple of years of losing money I woke up and said to myself, ‘Frank, what you’re doing is not following all the preaching you did when you were younger and salaried and working for someone else. Just because it’s your own money doesn’t mean the strategy should change.’ I started opening up and just following my gut, finally practicing what I’d learned at the Times about marketing and getting the product exposed. Then everything started turning around. I got RK Chain, and from that point on it’s been great, even to today.”

In 1980 RK Chain proposed that he represent its brand and establish a market for the company in North America. Miyake jumped at the chance: RK Chain was a quality product, but at the time there was nothing that distinguished it from any other chain on the market. Miyake had to present RK as something unique for the brand to be successful.

“O-ring chain was not something new, it had been developed in the mid-sixties but no one was marketing a sealed chain product either in Europe or here at the time," Miyake recalls. He felt confident that with the right kind of marketing and product, he could make a significant impact in this market.

Superbike racing was just starting to hit its stride in 1980. Miyake linked up with Yoshimura Suzuki to sponsor their Superbike effort, spearheaded at the time by a young rider named Wes Cooley. Cooley went on to win the Superbike Championship that year, and RK Chain and Miyake began to move forward.

Off-road enthusiasts use more than three times the amount of chain, tires and other consumables than the average street rider.

A friend, Irv Kanemoto, was in charge of HRC’s GP racing program, where he had under his wing another young racer named Freddie Spencer. Once again Miyake decided that an effective way to promote the viability of RK Chain was to up the ante and address the even more demanding race arena. After all, if a chain can stand up to the rigors of racing, then day-to-day use should be trouble-free and durable.

The industry was taking an economic beating in 1982, but the off-road side of the market was getting stronger, and Japanese motorcycles were leading the way. RK Excel joined with the American Motorcyclist Association as the name and title sponsor of the 125cc MX series, and partnered with Dealernews utilizing the magazine's dealer surveys, motorcycle stats and other data to confirm what Miyake already knew: that off-road enthusiasts used more than three times the amount of chain, tires and other consumables than the average street rider.

The chain was tested countless hours on machines in Japan. Independent labs did testing, measuring wear and stretching, and soon RK became the first chain manufacturer to offer a 20,000-mile warranty on its sealed ring chain.

This helped create an aura of superiority. “Our chains were not the cheapest, but actually the highest price, 30 to 35 percent more expensive than the heavy-duty chains people were buying, so we had to create a very compelling reason for people to buy a sealed ring chain from us,” Miyake says.

Two-stroke engines were eliminated from competition and off-road use, and the industry faced sound regulation from the EPA and the necessity for the OEMs to meet certain noise standards. The OEs responded in part by raising the gearing on their motorcycles. While this solution allowed them to meet the required sound level, it prevented the engine from running at peak horsepower. Consequently, the new four-strokes were not able to perform as well as they could.

Sprocket companies for years had been touting the fact that by changing sprockets you could lower the gearing and improve the performance of your motorcycle. Miyake saw an opportunity, and began selling 520 chain/sprocket conversion kits.

The kits consisted of what the people at HRC and other racers had been doing for some time. They consisted of a 520 light chain, made of higher tensile steel; a chrome molly drilled front sprocket with one less tooth; and a lighter, special aluminum 7075T6 rear sprocket. The combination reduced rotating mass by more than 5 lbs. and permitted the engine to run at a higher RPM. The consumer got a bike that he could sense was quicker, faster and more nimble than his stock setup.

"In reality, the sprocket manufacturers had been doing this for years. We just decided to put it in a kit form and make it easier for the distributor, dealer to get the product and sell it,” Miyake says.

Both RK Chain and Excel wheels were owned by the same company, Takasago Steel, which also built the rims for most of the Japanese OEMs. Miyake discovered that their aftermarket rims were technically superior and stronger than the OE rims, and concluded that they would be a nice fit for his chain business. 

Continued on next page