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Executive sees money in motorcycles

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A professional motorcycle racer and investment banker on Wall Street, President of BikeBandit.com Ken Wahlster said his financial experience helped him be successful more than his time in the Grand Prix.

Perhaps the drive to win helped Wahlster establish one of the top selling motorcycle parts businesses in the country.

“I wanted to get into motorcycle parts because I knew there was a lot of money in it,” he told students at California State University San Marcos on Wednesday.

Wahlster started in 1999 with an online parts catalog scanned from microfiche. Now, his company has 8 million parts on that catalog, which is electronic. He stays separated from the ill-fated dot-com market, however.

“We are not a dot-com,” Wahlster said. We ship motorcycle parts, that’s what we do. Everyone in the company has an incentive to ship motorcycle parts, including me.”

Though he is attached to the company, Wahlster said he always knows what he would sell it for should the right offer come along. As chief executive officer, he doesn’t plan to out-stay his time.

“You have to have the character to do what’s best for the company,” he said.

With 76 employees and $30 million projected revenue, Wahlster just has one objective for the future.

“My only goal right now is to hunt down and kill my largest competitor,” Wahlster said -- meaning his aim is to put the unnamed Oregon-based company out of business.

One of Bikebandit.com’s business strategies is to guarantee efficient shipping. Wahlster said he knows his customers are generally fixing up their motorcycles for a weekend ride and will be willing to pay the higher shipping rate to get the part in time.

“We don’t compete on price, we compete on service,” he said.

Sure, some of his competitors offer free shipping and lower prices, but Wahlster said that many of the venture-backed startups disappear from the marketplace in months because of that.

The competitors do cause problems for BikeBandit.com, such as driving up search engine fees and luring customers in with low costs -– and Wahlster takes advantage of that.

“I do it, I order parts from my competitors because I like to see them lose money,” he said.

Wahlster used this example as a reminder for the students that they need to keep their business expenses low. He has moved BikeBandit.com four times in the past nine years in order to maintain low rent costs. Being Internet-based allows the company to expand when it needs to without worrying if customers will lose track of it.

“If you’re going to start a business, be aware of your fixed expenses and keep them as low as possible,” he said.

As for keeping his personal life separate from his work, Wahlster told the students that the mental divide is impossible -- but that one can keep the two worlds separate by never hiring family or friends, because that can damage corporate culture. He made the mistake of hiring and eventually firing his brother.

The executive is focused on work and doesn’t want to be bothered with details, like deciding what to wear. He owns 22 of the same black shirt, matching socks and underwear, as there are 22 workdays in a month.

For the rest of the days of the month, Wahlster doesn’t work. In the years since opening BikeBandit.com, he has never worked a weekend.

Related Videos:

* Effective corporate leadership: Ken Wahlster

* Interview with Ken Wahlster

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