The name says it well - Unlimited. In this case, unlimited refers to the mindset of Off Road Unlimited's owner, Maurice Rozo, who set out 15 years ago to create something truly different -- a business dedicated to customer service for a needy and growing contingent of off-road enthusiasts. After having spent a number of years working for George Adler of 4 Wheel Parts Wholesale, and racing with George's son, Greg, Rozo decided to strike out on his own. He started with one shop in Burbank, Calif. and steadily grew his clientele. Eventually, the amount of work that came compared to what his personnel and facility could accommodate reached a bursting point. The wait to have scheduled work done was averaging up to three weeks. Rozo knew it was time to open a second facility to service the new volume of customers.
But opening a second facility presented a new set of challenges. At the top of the list was finding a suitable location and new qualified service and sales staff. Timing and contacts being critical to success, Rozo contacted his friend, former Dick Cepek Inc. General Manager Mike Duval. Duval had access to serval former Cepek employees from its recently closed 12-store retail network, and went to work assembling the staff, while Rozo negotiated to take over and refurbish the former Cepek Burbank store location.
In September of 2000, ORU opened its second location. The two operations, ORU-2, which is more dedicated to retail with a large showroom and a series of installation bays, and the original ORU with a smaller showroom, another set of installation bays and parts manufacturing operation, complete the company's holdings today. All of ORU's research and development, along with manufacturing, is conducted onsite at both facilities.
Beginning with a total of three employees when he opened shop the 30 employees he now manages and two shopes operating at full capacity, Rozo is proud of delivering on his original vision.
Off-Road Retailer first introduced Off Road Unlimited in our premier issue where we utilized the expertise of the showroom staff for information concerning the sale of reservoir shock systems. ORU sells a wide variety of shocks from all the major manufacturers. Through the sale of these products and knowledge of their customer base, ORU has learned not only how to sell these specialized products, but also how to manufacture ancillary products that complement them to the benefit of his customers and profit line.
"We really do build and test the products we sell. At this year's SEMA show, we had our Chevy Dually on display," explains Rozo. "It features not only products from a variety of manufacturers, but also serves as our proving ground for many of the products we have under development."
Case in point the prototype air bag overload system that Rozo used for the rear suspension. He says he positioned the bags in a completely different way and built a cantilever set-up that keeps the bags from inhibiting the travel of the custom soft-ride springs, as is the case with most 'bolt-on' systems. The result, he says is "a very functional suspension that provides a great ride, supremely functional off-road capability, and maintains load-carring features at the touch of a button."
One of ORU's original success stories is its straight axle kit, which replaces the factory GM independent front suspension (IFS) with a straight axle assembly. Rozo originally was doing all of his straight axle conversions on a custom basis. He had a goal; to provide a truly bolt-on kit that anyone could buy. After a great deal of testing and trial and error, he was able to provide an affordable bolt-on kit that has since opened to a national market and is one of ORU's best sellers. ORU also sells a variety of optional upgrades for the kit. Rozo recently took his Chevy HD Dually, which is equipped with the latest conversion kit, out to Azusa Canyon, Calif. to test the suspension set-up. It worked extremely well and confirmed that ORU had another winner on its hands, Rozo notes.
"We build these kits because one of the parts most prone to failure during off-road usage is the front IFS suspension," he says. "A front-end with a straight axle is much stonger. We've also developed a steering upgrade package with crossover steering and hydraulic ram assist. Customers are constantly giving us positive feedback regarding the ease of operation with the system installed." To Rozo's knowledge, ORU is the only company offering this kit.
The ORU product line is constantly evolving. "I'm constantly looking for new products to add to our line," touts Rozo. "We've recently added sevaral items for the Ford Super Duty line of trucks. Our next big push will be in four-link suspension coil over systems for HD [2500 and 3500] GM trucks. I think there is a real need for that kind of product in today's market. It's on the drawing board and I expect we'll have something mid-2005."
But ORU's success isn't based soley on its signature products as they sell a full array of aftermarket parts and accessories, including wheels and tires, which let them provide a "total package" for customers. Rozo believes that providing unique products and exceptional customer service builds an ever-growing and loyal customer base. This has proved to be true for him as ORU continues to expand its products and offerings. Through ORU's network of qualified dealers across the country, the company has created and impressive business model based on well-tested products that they not only believe in, but also constantly improve.
Rozo estimates that 75% of ORU's customers are looking for appearance rather than function from the off-road products they purchase. But the remaining 25% are true off-road drivers who mainly use their vehicles in the off-road environment. An important focus of ORU's counter personnel is in accessing its customer's exact needs and wants along with the best way to achieve them. It is critically important that they receive products that will perform as expected and not disappoint them the first time they head for the dirt, Rozo says.
"We build our off-road parts to deliver -- not to break," states Rozo. "When a customer takes their truck off-road, we want him/her to know that they will be driving (rather than towing) the truck home after a day of playing in the dirt. We have a lot of repeat customers and I believe this is part of the reason why."
The ORU line is sold through its tow retial stores, various other retailers, mail order and the internet. "I have a dedicated staff who conducts all of our sales, including tracking trends, which dictates where we spend our advertising budget," says Rozo. "We know exactly what works for us, and what doesn't. I'd like to say I'm always right about what we sell, whether it's over the counter or through our mail order advertising, but the ever-changing marketplace often suprises me. Regardless, we do have a great trac record of keeping up with current trends.
"Most of the customers who come into the store are looking for advice on how to outfit their vehicles," says salesman Glen Yamashiro says. "This is often based on something they have head about or seen in the many enthusiast publications in which ORU regularly appears. Seeing vehicles we've previously built or talking with past customers lets new customers know that we have an excellent sales and service reputation."
"The magazine exposure we've receieved over the years has certainly helped us build a great reputation. It was part of the key to my success when I first opend my stores, and it keeps growing today," says Rozo, whose yellow '57 Chevy pickup was featured on the cover of an off-road magazine twice. "That type of exposure helped our reputation alon with word of mouth among hardcore enthusiasts that we're fair and build products that can take it," he says.
The ORU dealer network is, in part, a result of this magazine exposure and word of mouth. According to Rozo, many of his current dealers became familiar with ORU after seeing their products or technical articles in the magazines. Today, ORU has a nationwide network of shops selling its products. "ORU's reputation has blossomed bigger that i ever imagined," Rozo says.
Part of the beauty is having the manufacturing facility located on the same grounds as the headqauarters, installation bays, and retail store front. Rozo and his staff monitor both facilities and handle product and personnel issues personally. No facet of the operation goes unnoticed.
Althrough we won't discluse the exact figures, Rozo says Off Road Unlimited's 2004 revenues reached in the "multi-million dollar" range. "We have the right people in place to really make some big strides in 2005," Rozo says. "My staff will be key to making that happen."
In and industry often "fat" with several different versions of similar products, ORU continues to build unique products with the enthusiast in mind. With innovative product, excellent staffing, and his total immersion into the operation, Rozo seems on the right track to ensuring ORU's future success. Having modeled his business after the 'commitment to excellence' kind of spirt he attributes to his favorite NFL team, the Oakland Raiders, it is clear that Rozo was accurate when he named his company Off Road Unlimited.
ORU's larger showroom is more elaborate and serves a high volume of walk-in clientele. A full complement of work bays and trained mechanics are also available for immediate product installation.
Off Road Unlimited President Maurice Rozo in front of his Chevy Dually, which was displayed at the SEMA Show in 2004
Displays in ORU's major showroom are key to making the sale. The showroom is clean and all products are neatly displayed.
Straight axle front-end conversion is a signature product changeover for ORU. This conversion was completed on a full-size Ford Econoline van.
ORU recently developed a new extended fender treatment for GM Dually trucks. These fenders were created originally for ORU's SEMA Show exhibit trucks.
High profit, high volume products are reservoir shock systems.
ORU's original showroom in Burbank displays the highest volume components. Counter personnel are trained in real life off-road preparation to better service ORU customers.