“The Northwest loves Yakima”

Check out this article in the Oregonian.

Yakima Products Inc. boosts roof rack sales, competes with Thule

Published: Friday, October 28, 2011, 7:10 PM
By Allan Brettman, The Oregonian
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Ray Whitehouse / The OregonianYakima Products Inc., expects continued sales growth in 2012. The executive team poses next to a Yakima-equipped Subaru, one of the promotional partners for the Beaverton-based company. From left, Richard Jeli, senior director of engineering; Josh Creasman, vice president of operations and supply chain; Ron Ten Berge, senior vice president/chief marketing officer; and Mark C. Reis, chief operating officer/chief financial officer.
To rack or not to rack: Two-thirds of America has not answered that question.

Executives at Yakima Products Inc.believe that a sizable chunk of outdoor sports enthusiasts would buy a vehicle roof rack, under the right circumstances. And, after acquiring the makers of an innovative rack design last December, leaders of the Beaverton-based company say they have a winning formula to bring more customers into the Yakima fold.

If that happens, it would contribute to what Yakima officials say has been double-digit sales increases over the last two years. The newer product also would help the company — whose roof racks and cargo boxes are known mainly in the United States — establish a firmer foothold in the 23 other countries where the Yakima-brand racks are sold.

“We’re on a mission,” said Ron Ten Berge, Yakima senior vice president and chief marketing officer, “to educate consumers that there is a better way and safer way to haul your gear.”

And, with the purchase of a New Zealand-based company, there’s also a way that is quieter, more fuel efficient and sleeker, Ten Berge said.

Yakima acquired Hubco Automotive Ltd. of Christchurch last December. The company designs and manufactures Whispbar, which has been touted as the quietest rack system as well as the most fuel efficient. The company has backed up the claim through wind tunnel research performed at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, as well as gear trade reviews.

The company began a quiet roll out of the Whispbar line — to accompany the existing line of Yakima products — with a small group of independent rack dealers.

“The key in our business is awareness,” Ten Berge said.

And, in the case of Whispbar, the first step in awareness-building will be word-of-mouth advertising. While the product may be quieter and more fuel efficient than its Yakima brethren, it is also about twice as expensive as a typical $200 Yakima setup.

Yakima recently hired the Portland advertising agency, North, to assist with building a marketing campaign and it hired Pollinate of Portland to assist with some aspects of that campaign. Yakima also expects to soon hire a Portland-based public relations agency. Advertising and PR used to be handled by out-of-town firms.

The company is girding to make a bigger effort at the international roof rack market, said Mark Reis, chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

That’s a big part of the reason the company hired 15 employees in the past year for the Beaverton headquarters — where strategy, design, engineering, sales and financial tasks are executed.

And growing internationally will require hiring 15 to 30 more employees in the next year, he said.

Yakima’s biggest competitor is Thule Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the Sweden-based Thule Group. Those two companies control about 95 percent of sales in the U.S., according to theLeisure Trends Group in Boulder, Colo.

Generally, Yakima is the dominant brand on the West Coast, Thule commands the East Coast and the Midwest is a battle ground, said Scott Jaeger, senior retail analyst of Leisure Trends.

Roof racks sales generally follow that of car sales — when car sales are up, rack sales go up, Jaeger said.

Also, “people are downsizing away from giant SUVs and they still need to carry all their toys,” he said.

That’s part of the explanation for the industry’s increase in sales over the past two years, he said.

Yakima, which is privately held, does not disclose sales data. However, Reis said sales growth in the past two years been in the double digits, a trend that is expected to continue through 2012.

At ReRack, a roof rack dealer on 2240 N.E. Sandy Blvd., owner Bo Grayzel, is neutral when it comes to assessing the quality of the brands he stocks, which include Yakima, Thule and Inno,a Japan-based brand that competes for the 5 percent not gobbled by the bigger two.

Generally, owners of European made cars prefer Thule, owners of Asian made cars go for Yakima.

“When it come down to it,” Grayzel said, “some of it’s style.”

But for sheer numbers, more Yakima products go out his door than any other, he said.

“The Northwest loves Yakima,” he said.

— Allan Brettman

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