"I Just Wanted to Advertise Some Stuff and Sell to the Average Joe" | Eric Phipps Discusses the History of Works Connection

We talked to the man behind Works Connection to learn the history of the iconic brand. From homemade skid plates to holeshot devices, Eric Phipps tells his story.

There are many iconic brands throughout the history of motocross and supercross. Works Connection has been a staple since the late 1980's. Eric Phipps has a story of passion for the sport and determination to make a better product. He gave us some time recently to tell his story. 

For the full interview, check out the YouTube video right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.

 


Jamie Guida - Vital MX: Works Connection is an iconic brand in moto. How did it begin?

Eric Phipps: We've been in business now going on 33 years, which is a long time. The years flew by. I've always loved dirt bikes. I remember going camping and we'd take the bikes camping. I've always been an enthusiast. I just love everything about dirt bikes. I did race a little bit, just on an amateur level and I realized I'm never going to make a living at it. I wasn't striving to get into the motorcycle business by any means. My dad had an opportunity back in 1988 in Southern California to build some street rod parts, hotrod parts out of his house. He says, “hey, I'm getting busier. I could use some help”. I was 20 years old, and I thought, “why not”? I decided to take the plunge and move down there. I thought, “oh, this would be cool. I’ll take my bikes, I can go ride Saddleback, I can go ride Glen Helen, and I can ride all these cool tracks and work for him”. And so, I did that. During this process he would design a product and I was in charge of going to the machine shop and dealing with that side of things. Or going to the chrome shop or the platers or stamping company. I learned the day-to-day stuff of how you put a product together. Right down to learning the photography side of it, the marketing side of it, so on and so forth. I did that for about a year. But I missed NorCal and I started kicking around products for bikes. In about that same time, I was looking for a skid plate for my ‘88 KX250. I wanted the one that Jeff Ward had on his supercross bike. I could only find bigger versions, like kind of off-road. I won't call them snow shovels, but big and bulky. So, I made one. I hacked it up out of some materials we had laying around and just put it on. It was rough and it was not ideal. But I'm like, I think I could improve this and I could get some brackets made. It just kind of got the wheels rolling. My dad encouraged me to try this. He said, “You might be on to something. It might be enough to make a few extra bucks on the side”. So, I made a couple of prototypes and just started down that road.

Vital MX: As I recall Steve Lamson and some other guys started using the product. Is that how the ball started rolling?

Eric: I met Lamson through a friend of mine. Eddie Reed introduced me when I moved back from Southern California. I started making some prototype parts and I was talking to Eddie and his dad had some metal equipment. He was about 45 minutes away from me, and I'd use his shop area to build some of the prototypes and work on things. I was talking to Eddie one day and he goes, “Well, I know Steve Lamson pretty well. I can introduce you”. So, we kind of struck up a friendship. And he was the first guy that started using our skid plates on his bikes.

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Vital MX: How did you get involved with the Team Peak, Splitfire, Pro Circuit team in ’91?

Eric: Steve went to Team Peak in ‘91 and that opened that door. We were on the team bikes in 91, which was amazing, getting that first championship with McGrath. Backing up, we won the West Coast title on the 125 with Ty Davis in 1990. He gave us our first championship. Then, when Steve moved on to Suzuki, we were able to get the parts on the Suzuki. Steve was a huge part in it. I still am very appreciative of what he did. He opened a lot of doors for me back in the day for sure.

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Vital MX: Back in that time frame, there was no social media, there was no internet. It was really word of mouth to become successful.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. I'd be scared to start something today to be honest. Back then I was young enough and maybe dumb enough. At the time if I could sell two or three skid plates a day, I could quit my day job and just do that. It would be enough. I wasn't really focused on the big picture. I didn't have a big business plan. The first six months I did well. And every month was getting a little more solid. I was able to quit my daytime job and do it full time. It was pretty cool. I was putting ads together and doing different things. In the Fall, bikes started coming out and things started picking up. This was about nine months in. We're not setting the world on fire, but it's enough. It's paying my bills. I'm generating a little bit of income, and everything I'm making is going right back into the business. 

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Vital MX: Were other teams and consumers starting to take notice?

Eric: When we worked with these teams it seemed like it would snowball. Other teams thought, “they're on the Pro Circuit bikes, so it must be pretty good”. I had no business plan to get on the factory bikes. I just wanted to advertise some stuff and sell to the average Joe. The more teams that you get, the more confidence in the product there is. Things were changing rapidly. We started adding some new products around that time and slowly gaining and doing different things.

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Vital MX: What were some of the other products that you were working on?

Eric: When we first started skid plates were the main thing. We also did front and rear caliper guards. Those were the three products that we made from the get-go. And then the frame guards got really popular around ‘93. Team Honda had frame guards on their bikes, and we made some replica looking ones. Those were super popular. That probably put us on the map more than even the skid plates did. In ‘96 we came out with radiator braces. We had a lot of guys bending radiators without even falling. Just from squeezing the bike so hard. That was a good product for us. And then we moved into building clutch perches, probably around ‘97 to ‘98. Every couple of years we were at that point of coming up with a new product.

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Vital MX: With new products and growth comes the need for more space and new equipment. How was that?

Eric: When I started, I just had a spare room or makeshift garage that I converted into an office in my mom's house. She had a garage in the backyard where I stored all my skid plates. I built everything. I'd bring it up into the house to package it, meet the UPS guy, and ship it off. I was there for a couple of years. Then I moved in with a buddy and we rented a place that I used. But again, we're growing. I need a little bit more space. I still wanted to keep it small, and home based. A few years later I rented my first commercial location. At that point I needed about 2000 square feet. We added stands at that time, too. Stands are bulky, so we needed more space. Then we built our first building which was 5000 square feet. We thought, “we'll never outgrow this place. It's forever”. Things were evolving quickly and gaining a lot of momentum in those years for sure. We just purchased some new equipment. I've got a new design guy who's very efficient with all the CAD programming. It's exciting moving forward. 

Vital MX: Where did the Pro Launch Start Device come from? I would have to assume that's one of the top two or three best-selling products you have.

Eric: I believe it was 2002. I got a call from Mike Gosselaar, who was at Honda at that time. He said, “hey, we're working on this thing. I think you should look at it. And I think it's going to be a good product”. To back up a little bit, Chad Reed had come from Europe and was racing for Yamaha that year and he brought over from Europe, it was a little bit crude, but they literally just had a hook that attached to the fork tube, and they had a hole drilled in the fork guard. The mechanics would compress it and push the fork guard back. And this hook would just pop through the hole in the fork guard. All of a sudden, the Honda guys caught onto it. That's when they first decided they needed to build something. They couldn't do a hook style because they didn't have the clearance between the fork guard. They created a spring and pin kind of like you see nowadays. Mike let me know about it. We've changed the design due to a patent lawsuit. We started seeing that if we change it, this works better and it's easier to latch and it's more consistent. It was one of the best things that happened because the new design now is the lightest one on the market. It perfectly engages every time. And it's just been a game changer for us. Our goal all along was to provide the average Joe with the same products that the factory guys use.

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