How do you measure 'Value for money'? Is it the initial cost? Or is it a combination of quality, performance, reliability, longevity and customer service? We know our kit seems expensive when compared to low-end car cruise controls. So value has to be measured against what you receive for your money:
Car cruise controls are not designed for motorcycles. Connection to the carburetor or throttle body is generally via a floppy bead-chain arrangement. I know, because the first kit I put on my Honda VFR750 in 1996 was a car cruise control. it worked reasonably well, but i had nothing to compare it too. And three months after installing it i was doing an advanced rider training course at the Phillip Island GP circuit when at 235kph at the end of the main straight, the throttle jammed! That got a bit interesting, but I survived to tell the tale, identified the cause of the problem and a month later, conceived our 'cable interface unit' (CIU) to overcome the safety issues.
My brother happens to be a mechanical draftsman, so he turned concept into reality and we had a choice of building one CIU for $1200, or twenty for $2000. We took a chance, borrowed $5K from Dad and started our business in February, 1997.
The development of the CIU made it possible to interface car cruise controls safely to the throttle body or carburetors on modern motorcycles. Note the word 'safely', because that has always been, and still is, a keystone of our business.
The next challenge our business faced was ridiculous product liability insurance costs. The first premium paid in 1997 was $1500 per annum - until we sold product into the USA! Our first web site went live in April, 1997 and ensured that by May we were getting enquiries from the USA. As soon as we sold one kit to the States, the liability insurance jumped to $5000 per annum - for a maximum of 1000 kits per year. By year 2000, the premium for the same number of kits was up to $25,000 p.a. Then our insurer, HIH, collapsed. Similar cover written in the Bahamas wasn't worth the paper it was written on. Then 911 happened - and you couldn't insure anything, anywhere, anyhow. Certainly not our products. So we had a choice - continue to trade without insurance, fold the business, or figure out a way to make sure our products never produced a dangerous situation. We chose the latter, found a venture capital partner, sold him 34% of the business and poured two years and a great deal of money into designing and building our own cruise control computer module with every safety feature we could think of.
Ten years later we have not had one claim! But I am jumping past an important event in our lives and our business: in 1999 when we had a car cruise control in one of our kits fail in a very dangerous way. The owner was here in Australia - thank God! - and he had been very happy with his cruise control on his Honda VFR800 for more than 18 months. Then he took it in for a routine service. When he got the bike back, the cruise control kept dropping out for no apparent reason. It had been faultless beforehand. Unfortunately he didn't let us know about it and a couple of weeks after the service he was riding with his wife on the back at about 50kph (30mph) - tail end charlie on a club ride. Suddenly, with no warning, the bike pulled full throttle. I mean FULL throttle! Instantly! He didn't have the presence of mind to hit the kill switch or pull the clutch in - just kept applying the brakes, until the front wheel locked up and they both fell off. Fortunately no-one was seriously hurt - if you don't call his wife's broken ankle serious! The thing is they could easily have been dead! Our hearts stopped when we heard about it, as our suppliers had told us this could NOT happen. Well, let me tell you it can and it does with car cruise controls. Do a search on google for 'sudden unexpected acceleration'. You will be dismayed at the results. It is really scary. You do NOT want that sort of technology on a 100 plus horsepower motorcycle, let me tell you.
Well....the liability insurance cleaned up the mess, fixed the bike and the people, but we had to think long and hard about whether we would stay in business. We knew we had a good product, but if it wasn't safe, that wasn't acceptable to us, but we already had product out there, so the potential was there for another incident. We had no choice - we had to find a way to make these things safe.
My brother is a genius! From where I am standing anyway. His breadth of technical expertise is extraordinary. He put his thinking cap on and came up with a way to ensure the rider maintained control of the vehicle no matter what - and it was affordable, could be fitted to all new cruise controls we made AND could be retro-fitted. So we were able to keep trading.
In 2000 we started producing cruise controls for ATVs for agricultural spraying. They were an instant success and pro-active dealers recognised it. The product took off here in Australia for the next 2 years......and then the drought hit! Concurrently the price of grapes dropped from $2000 per tonne to about $300 per tonne and the market dried up. Who ever said business wasn't challenging?
Concurrently, we got an Austrade trade start grant and i went to the Tulare World Agricultural Expo in California to promote our product in 2001. The manufacturer of our only competitor in this market, PBM Supply in Chico, California, instantly asked to become a vendor of our product. We agreed and have had a close relationship with them ever since.
In 2003 we released our new product range based on the new computer module we designed, developed and manufactured - hardware and software. This product addressed core problems we encountered in the automotive cruise controls where trying to figure out why a cruise wasn't working was very difficult - especially over the phone from the other side of the planet! That product included special diagnostic functions so that the cruise could easily be tested before the vehicle went anywhere. It also had 'stop codes' built in which meant that if the cruise wouldn't engage or unexpectedly disengaged, the unit told us why and assisted in diagnosing the problem and correcting it - a huge leap forward in supporting the product.
Around 2005, the exchange rate to the USA dropped to about $1.00AUD = $0.48USD - so Americans could buy the product for less than half the cost here in Australia. Since around 90% of our product sold to the USA this made them very affordable. Over the ensuing years the value of the US dollar has dropped. Nothing to do with us - our product didn't change, our margin din't alter, but the cost doubled - in the States.
Despite this, we are still here. Not rich, but alive. Why? Because we make things that last, do exactly what they are supposed to do, are safe and we support them. It is that simple. That is real 'value'.