It's been a little over a year since Tosha and I quit our day jobs, cashed in our 401(k)s, gave away a bunch of our belongings, enrolled our kids in online school and put our downtown Oklahoma City dream home up for rent. As if that didn't read crazy enough on it's own, the fact that we did all that just so we could buy an RV and live in it with plans to we travel over 15,000 miles in the next year might raise your eyebrows.
We're now well into our journey, which we've dubbed "The 2020 Bison Tour". At each stop we meet dozens of new people, and almost every one of you asks the same questions: "You live in this RV? What made you decide to do that? How do you like it? How does shipping and receiving work in an RV?!" While we're always more than happy to answer these questions, I thought what better topic to address in our first blog? After all, if you’re reading this you are a big part of our journey!
First, let's talk about the why's:
- Growing the Bison brand through hard work on the ground level.
As the 2018 season drew to a close, Tosha and I knew we had something special brewing. We had to make some decisions:
- Would we hire people to carry on our vision as we oversaw the company, or quit our jobs, go all-in and do it ourselves?
- Which direction did we want to go in terms of company growth? Did we want to pursue retail outlets primarily, or stick to custom gear with the enthusiast crowd?
- And lastly, we had to decide if we wanted to add new products to our lineup to expand our reach (more street and motocross offerings, for instance), or instead keep a focused selection of items and instead expand the geographic reach of the company itself.
In the end, after many brainstorming and whiteboarding sessions, we decided to take the approach of retaining our custom gear lineup, focusing on trackday riders and racers. We loved the idea of telling the rider’s story through the unique designs of their bespoke leathers and gloves. We made the decision to quit our day jobs and do the legwork ourselves. And the absolute most extreme part of our business plan was to live in an RV, base our travel schedule around the 2020 MotoAmerica season and hit as many trackday and club racing events in the regions around the MotoAmerica venues along the way as possible. We went all-in, from top-to-bottom.
- The unequivocal importance of family and making memories.
In our "prior lives", Tosha and I were very busy people. That's not to downplay the amount of hard work and stress that we put into Bison these days, but it wasn’t unusual for us each to work over 60 hours a week. As you can imagine that didn’t leave much room for family activities. In fact, we looked up and realized we hadn’t been on a family vacation since our youngest daughter was born seven years ago. Even worse, I have extended family on the East Coast who have never met either of my daughters! Now we have plans to drive our home to them and hang out in their region for several weeks. That’s something we’d never have been able to do while working our management and executive-level jobs. And while we may each still work 60 hours a week, we mostly do so on our terms, and in the same room as the rest of the family.
As you might imagine, living in a home on wheels means we get to experience new things every week. For instance, I’m writing this blog from outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Madison isn’t necessarily a place I would have on my list, but here I am loving it. We have a beautiful view of a rolling cornfield just outside our window with an amusement park on the horizon. And this weekend, we’re headed back to Road America for the third time in just a month. The kids are loving the racetrack life, seeing their friends in a new state every month and making new friends along the way. That brings me to my next point...
- Living the “Track Life” and hanging with the “Track Family”!
Now, we get to see some pretty cool spots along our journey but to be honest, the racetracks and the people at those venues are where we feel at home. I may have put my own racing career on hiatus this year but to be honest (prepare for cheesiness), every time I see a rider go by wearing Bison gear I feel a little part of myself is on the track with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s as professional racer on the #1 box, or a first-time trackday rider. I’ve found a comfort in placing my own racing aspirations aside in the interest of helping those around me, and I see the fruits of that labor come to life at the track.
As I mentioned above, Carter and Edith have really taken to the racetrack life. Every week they want to know all about the next track destination, and who they might see there. On Sunday night as we’re leaving, they always ask when we’ll be coming back to that track or seeing whatever new friends we just made because they “had so much fun”! It’s truly amazing, and frankly it’s a dream come true.
Now, let’s address some of the hows:
- Working and learning in an RV.
Let’s get this off the table right away: we couldn’t do this remotely without technology being what it is today. Mobile WiFi is a big challenge for us, but as long as we have it we’re in business - literally. Internally, Bison communication and coordination between our employees, factories and clients is done via video calls and a business website which allows us to track all order statuses, design work and client commuinication in real-time. The kids attend Epic, an Oklahoma Public Schools online charter school. They have a teacher and virtual classmates, but Tosha and I do guide them through a lot of their curriculum.
- Shipping and receiving.
When we started this journey we tried coordinating our parcel deliveries with the address we planned to be at on the estimated date of arrival. Racetracks, RV parks, and friend’s places for instance. From there we unpacked, quality controlled, boxed everything back up and made a few trips to the FedEx store with carloads of product. As you can imagine, it didn’t work very well. When business increased rapidly in early 2020 we realized we needed a central point for shipping and receiving.
After considering many options we hired Tosha’s mom, Kathy Wagoner to handle all delivery logistics from a central location in Wichita, Kansas. She operates behind the scenes for the most part, but she is a huge part of Bison! When you get your carefully-wrapped items in the mail, remember that was all Kathy! As you can see, this is a family operation in all aspects!
- Measuring and design.
Much of the time the measuring process is handled right here in the RV by me personally, but our authorized measurement centers are handling more and more clients every day! On the design front, I typically help face-to-face clients get started with the design however we work with several talented designers who finalize the perfect designs for our customers.
- The Calvary.
Despite Tosha and I’s best efforts to stay on top of the inner workings of Bison, we get busier with each passing week! For that reason we are incredibly grateful for our Calvary. I’m referring to this person as such because, just as we were becoming overwhelmed and discussing hiring someone in late 2019… The Calvary arrived! Her name is Tamara Smith and not only is she the perfect fit for Bison, she came at the perfect time.
When you place your order on our website, Tamara will be the one who reaches out and takes care of you. But she isn’t just some order taker! Tamara is a motorcycle racer herself, and an all-around rockstar. She came to us with a desire to break into the industry, looking for a means to feed her passion for the sport and protective gear. Today Tamara continues to expand her role within the company, and we couldn’t be more thankful for her help in executing the company vision of creating the best gear possible with the industry’s best customer service.
- Track time(?)
As I mentioned earlier, I put my own racing on hold for the season but I still need seat time so as not to get too rusty! And hey, it seems all of you really want me to get out there and ride with you! Trust me, I do too. More than anything. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for me anymore.
Despite carrying my SV650 around on our trip, I have only been able to ride it once. Part of that is financial, but mostly I am just too busy trackside to take time for myself. A good problem to have… but still painful. Thankfully I have an amazing life/business partner, and at the beginning of July Tosha granted me the “okay” to buy a Honda Grom for kart track/parking lot training. Best of all, our son Carter has started his racing career aboard a KLX110 so I have been blessed to chase him around the track and help train him in real-time! I do hope to race a bit of WERA this year and possibly run the GNF at Barber at the end of 2020, but again we’ll have to see if it’s financially feasible.
So that pretty much sums everything up! I guess the one big question I haven’t answered yet is, “Do you like living in an RV and traveling track to track every week?”. To that I would say, without hesitation, WE LOVE IT. Of course not every day goes smoothly. In fact just a few days ago we had a major mechanical breakdown along with some renter issues and personal struggles which combined to result in a lot of (undirected) swearing and some tears. The RV breaks a lot. It’s not inexpensive to maintain or fix. It gets 6 mpg. But it does feel like our home and it does do it’s job very well all things considered. The important thing is even when everything goes to hell for a couple days and we’re at the end of our “full time RVer and entrepreneur rope”, one amazing day comes along and washes away all of our doubts. That last paragraph refers to our Saturday, Sunday, and Monday respectively.
All-in-all this has been a very challenging journey with massive risks but even bigger rewards. Of course COVID-19 destroyed our early 2020 momentum and forced us to lop off almost half of our entire trip from the docket (thanks mostly to event cancellations), but we’ve made the most of it and remained flexible and open-minded. Just in the last month we’ve had a very successful stay in the upper midwest thanks in large part to the community in the area referring us to the next “big event” and our ability to be agile. This went from being a planned “quick stop on the calendar” with just a couple events to a full-fledged stay, with events every single weekend.
We have sacrificed a lot but we’re confident because we see the potential in Bison and we’re playing the long game. If you are reading this, we truly want to thank you for your support and your business. Even if you haven’t bought from us, just subscribing to our newsletter, browsing our website and especially referring your friends to Bison means more to us than you know.
When you see our RV or Bison Track Ford Ranger at the track or anywhere else for that matter, please stop by and say hello! This RV may be our home, but our doors are always open to friends.
Go Fast, Be Safe
Rob Lackey, Co-Founder, Bison Track LLC