Client Spotlight - Ken Wahlster
Q: What happens when you combine a love of powersports with a background in computers and finance?
Bike Bandit was started by Ken Wahlster in 1999 and quickly turned into one of the largest motorcycle part retailers on the web. The San Diego based company has found success by putting their customers first and having a great website backed by reliable service and support. After touring their expansive 65,000 square foot facility in May of 2009, Baja Bound caught up with Ken for a quick interview about BikeBandit.com and riding in Baja...
BB: How did the idea to start Bike Bandit come about?
KW: After working my way through college at a motorcycle shop, I left the industry for 10 years to pursue a career in finance that literally took me all over the world. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about what differentiated great companies from the rest of pack. After moving back to the US, I decided to take what I had learned about business and apply it to an industry I was passionate about powersports. The powersports industry has always been dominated by the local shops and a few catalog / mail order companies. The internet changed all of that, and I wanted to be a part of that change. Customers now had choices and with that competition, I saw the opportunity to make a difference.
BB: In a 10 year period, you turned a small business into one of the largest motorcycle part retailers on the web. What have been the keys to the success of Bike Bandit?
KW: I think the biggest driver for BikeBandit.com is that we are passionate about the business of motorcycles. A lot of people in the industry are passionate about motorcycles and motorcycle riding, but we are first and foremost passionate about the business aspect. It is a subtle difference, but critical. The other big driver is that we put listening to our customers ahead of everything else. We constantly ask for feedback, send surveys, go to events, and request product reviews Our most valuable resource is our customers and we listen to what they say about us, our service, the BikeBandit.com website, delivery times and the products we sell.
BB: What are some of the challenges you face on a day to day basis?
KW: By far the biggest challenge is managing growth.
We have been fortunate and experienced significant growth every year over the past 10 years. From the early days working out of my San Diego home to today working out of a 65,000 square foot facility, one thing that has been constant growth. We've moved 4 times in 10 years, gone from 2 employees to over 80 and now ship over 10,000 items per day. I love it! I love providing a service that motorcyclists value and tell their friends about! However, managing growth can be very difficult. You have to balance priorities on a day to day basis.
BB: So, is Bandit a real dog?
Bandit is a real dog (I picked him up the same week I started the company) and comes to work with me daily at the company offices. We officially adopted him as our mascot (although I guess he always was) at the suggestion of an advertising agency we used a few years ago because they thought the Labrador Retriever image embodied hard work, loyalty and trustworthiness. BikeBandit.com's ads are very different than others in the industry most have girls in bikinis or pro riders flying through the air. We have Bandit the Labrador Retriever and I think our customers really identify with that. We are not the sexiest company in the world, but we are freakish about providing good service, we are loyal to our customers and we view them as friends. That's why Bandit is such a great mascot!
BB: How do you see the company evolving over the next 10 years?
KW: Over the next ten years I see more growth. Motorcycle riders are generally passionate about their sport and we feel that our focus on providing the best service in the industry will help us gain market share. When you need a part fast for a ride this weekend, you know BikeBandit.com is the place to go.
BB: How long have you been traveling to Baja?
KW: I have been going to Baja since I moved to San Diego 13 years ago. I've gone motorcycle riding, 4WD truck exploring and even flown my airplane down a few times. The scenery is amazing and the people are great. I hope to buy a house and possibly retire there.
BB: Where are your favorite places in Baja to ride?
KW: Wow, that is a tough question. There is so much great riding in Baja and every time I go I find something new. Picking a favorite is tough
For off road motorcycle riding, riding on the beach is an experience because most places in the US are now off limits for motorcycles. However, I would have to say riding from the Sea of Cortez through the desert up into the mountain pines and then to the Pacific Ocean is my favorite ride. The changes in scenery and temperature are amazing! There are very few places in the world where you can experience a ride like that.
For road riding, the toll road from Tijuana to Ensenada is a great day ride. The road twists and turns down the coast with several places where you can stop and enjoy the view. I love to stop and have a nice lunch at one of the seafood stands in Ensenada. The food is so fresh! I am a big guy and in the US I'd pay $50 for a lunch like that, but in Baja I can eat my fill for less than $10. From Ensenada I prefer to ride the inland route up to Tecate. The twisty turns are challenging and the scenery changes to desert landscapes.
Those are both day rides, but if you really want to have fun, load up the bike (street or dirt) and just head south. From San Diego to Cabo San Lucas will take you a few days, but it will be an experience you remember for the rest of your life.
To learn more about Bike Bandit and the motorcycle parts and motorcycle accessories they offer, visit BikeBandit.com.
Updated: May 06, 2009 12:00 PM