Vortex Racing, a motorcycle parts manufacturing company based in the Tampa Bay area, hasn't always been as successful as it is now. In 1995, founder and president Matt Griffin moved to Palm Harbor with nothing but his car and its contents to meet his friend and business partner, Dan Geberth. During the past 14 years, Griffin has helped turn Vortex into an international brand trusted by the most famous motorcycle racers. The company now has a 24,000-square-foot factory in Odessa and worldwide distribution of its products, which include sprockets, handlebars and frame sliders, some of them their own inventions. It also has a successful clothing line.
What's it like owning a business in a recession?
I would say stressful for sure, but it would be more stressful if we were just starting. We're pretty well established, so I'd say we're in a little bit of a better position. Most of our industrial machinery is paid for, all of our inventory is paid for and we have a long list of customers now. If we were just starting now we wouldn't have any of that so it would be difficult.
What advice do you have for anybody who is beginning a business right now?
I would say that if you can't handle the feeling of despair and hopelessness, then owning your own business isn't for you. . . . Your driving force shouldn't be just about money, take something you enjoy doing and the money will come.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your career?
Getting people to give us that initial chance because it was just "no, no, no." There were 1,000 "no's" for every "yes." In the beginning, we just wanted to sell our own parts but we weren't known well enough to do that. So we decided to try to get other business (to work with) and I probably called every manufacturer in Florida — a book as thick as half of a phone book — and got no jobs. It was pretty depressing. I got so used to hearing "no" that it almost became funny.
What gave you the motivation to keep going?
Maybe the humiliation of "if I fail." . . . I had to make money, I had to figure out a way. I wouldn't have money to eat if I didn't do something. I remember June of 1996 was probably the worst month of my life where I was like, I don't know what we're going to do to make it. We went from having no jobs to getting a huge job for probably $800,000 worth of work. We had two new machines on order, and then the customer decided to pull out. So it went from not having anything to having a huge job to having nothing again.
How does one get into this business?
I'd say most of the people got into this business because they are into racing. As a kid I always had little minibikes, I raced motocross for 10 years. Most of the people in my industry grew up riding motorcycles and then decided to do something with their hobby. It was kind of like a hobby turned business. Myself and my partner grew up racing motocross in New Jersey. We met racing.
What is your biggest challenge today?
I would say just trying to get a feel for the economy. We want to have enough inventory to make sure our customers are getting a good fill rate, but you also don't want to have too much inventory. Keep the prices down, streamline things and I look at my sales data every single day. I'd say one of the most important things I did is about 10 years ago we were into the business for a couple of years and I started to track everything. I made a giant Excel sheet and I tracked every single week my expenses, receivables, cash, payables and I started to see the trends. I have line graphs that I compare every year and I pretty much have it down to a science where I know what is going to happen every single month, every single week of the year. With the economy now, I look at those graphs to see if I see a big difference and I'm preparing myself for cutting expenses a lot . . . We have almost no debt here.
If you could go back and change just one thing, what would it be?
Really nothing. I can't think of one single thing that would make a huge difference. Obviously if I knew our manufacturing techniques back then that we have now, that would be awesome.
What do you do outside of work for fun?
I still ride bikes. I don't really race anymore — too many broken bones. I like to go skiing and I like to do jujitsu and Muay Thai.