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AMAIN: From Kitchen Counter to World Player

An interview with Kendall Bennett, CEO and Co-Founder of AMain.com
From RC Driver Issue: 133

040rbIf you are a racer your ultimate goal is to make the A Main week in and week out, to be with the top, fastest, most consistent racers. Simply put, to be among the best of the best. When Kendall Bennett began his online radio control hobby shop a decade or so ago he had one goal in mind, to be the best in providing his customers with phenomenal service and selection at a great price. The name he chose for this company is A Main Hobbies. Now known as AMain.com, his company has grown exponentially over the past several years to the point that there are close to 100 employees working at several locations to serve loyal customers. Recently I was lucky enough to bend Kendall’s ear for a bit to find out exactly how AMain.com got started, what they are up to today and where he sees this great hobby and AMain.com headed in the future.

040r1RC Driver: Hi Kendall. Thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat with us.
Kendall Bennett: No problem, thanks for having me.

RCD: Before you became involved with all things radio controlled, what were you up to?
KB: I first got involved in RC when I was 10, flying planes. So before that I was just a little kid. Before being involved in the RC business, I went to school and did computer science. After I got my honors degree in computer science I started a software company that developed graphics device drivers that was popular with computer game developers.

RCD: What was your first hobby level radio control vehicle and were you immediately hooked?
KB: My first hobby level radio control car was the Mugen Bulldog back in 1985—I drove it mostly in the street with a buddy of mine. I was really into RC airplanes when I was younger. My first radio-controlled product was actually an RC airplane for my birthday back in 1980. I loved flying and from about 1980 to 1985 that is all I did.

RCD: So when did you get the idea to open AMain.com?
KB: It was probably in early 2004 when we were selling products on eBay under a different name. At the time, we were parting out kits to make money. We had the concept of building an e-commerce website and selling other RC products and brands instead of using eBay. Our intention was to build a software package that we could sell to other businesses. A Main Hobbies was originally intended to be an incubator project to develop that software, but it took off for us on its own, and as they say, the rest is history.

RCD: Did you ever envision that AMain. com would grow to such proportions?
KB: No, not at all. It was a side project for me and we always had plans to sell the software as the primary business objective. As it started to grow, I realized the company’s potential. Once things started to take off and we moved out of our garage and into a commercial building, I knew that we could grow exponentially. Although we have changed locations a few times and continued to hire new employees, in reality we don’t feel that big. Kelly (Kendall’s wife and co-founder) and I are still very hands-on and it’s very important for us to stay connected and committed to the industries and communities that support us. Kelly and I continue to guide the company with our customers and employees in mind.

041r2RCD: Going from a home business to an operation with 100 or so employees is no easy task. What were some of the growing pains and how did you deal with them?
KB: Our first major growing pain was when we grew so big that we were no longer able to communicate with all of our employees directly. In the early days it was very easy to communicate with everyone when we only had 10 employees. It was also easy for people to understand who we were and what we were about in regards to A Main and our core values. If you’re not directly communicating with someone, the message can easily get messed up in the translation. When we hit about 40 employees is when things really changed. Since we had grown so fast, I could no longer be involved with everyone. At this point we really had to put in some management structure. Kelly and I had to be comfortable delegating work to others. It also took some time getting used to trusting others when you don’t see everyone on a daily basis. That’s why it was so important for us to formalize our core values and share them with our entire team. We had to really define what it means to be A Main and for our employees to understand it and live it.

RCD: The product line ProTek and AMain.com go hand and hand. When did you get the idea to start your own brand of products and accessories and did you expect the product line to be so expansive?
KB: We actually started doing our own line of products very early on in 2006. It wasn’t actually ProTek at the time; they were all under A Main Hobbies. Our first products were a complete line of bearings. We added screws, nuts, bolts and Lithium-polymer helicopter batteries when we moved everything under ProTek R/C. I knew the product line could do well for us, but it has become more successful than we originally anticipated.

041r3RCD: Tell me about your tracks, Outback Raceway and Silver Dollar RC Raceway.
KB: Our indoor track, Outback Raceway, started life as a carpet track. It was back in 2007, when I was really into on-road racing and I was sick of traveling all over to various tracks. We ran the on-road track for a few years until the “speed control wars” killed on-road racing. You had to have the latest speed control with timing advance, otherwise you were getting smoked. We ripped out the carpet and put in dirt and started racing off-road. Over the years, Outback Raceway has grown into one of the premiere indoor off-road racetracks on the west coast. With Silver Dollar RC Raceway, we wanted to create a world-class facility to host national and world championship level nitro off-road events. We also wanted to provide local racers with a great place to club race. We put a lot of time and effort into every detail at Silver Dollar and believe it’s one of the best facilities in the world.

RCD: Recently Silver Dollar RC Raceway hosted the IFMAR World Championships. How was the experience?
KB: It was very eye opening and we learned a lot. We figured out some things about attracting spectators and what they like and don’t like. To be frank, spectators don’t like our current racing format. During IFMAR qualifying a number of spectators left because they didn’t understand what was going on. Because of the pending rain on Sunday, we had to move the last qualifier for 4WD to Saturday night so we could finish earlier on Sunday. Since all the qualifying was over Saturday night, we asked IFMAR if they would let us run a dash for cash heads-up with the top drivers who were interested, and they obliged. We put on the heads-up race with the qualifying order reversed―no turn marshals, and if you crashed you were out! The spectators loved it and cheered during the entire race because they understood what was going on. We also learned a lot about managing our team and managing the event. The World Championships took a lot more manpower and hours to manage than we had anticipated, and it took a lot of work and a huge team effort to fix the track after it had rained twice. I am happy we managed to pull it off and put on an awesome race for both spectators and racers alike.

RCD: AMain.com has gone through a bit of a metamorphosis. Can you elaborate on the change from A Main Hobbies to AMain.com – Performance Sports & Hobbies?
KB: As far as the name goes, we realized quite a while ago that our customers referred to us as AMain and they often dropped “hobbies” when talking about us. When we started looking at carrying other products it became clear that we should change our name to something that can mean something to more than just the hard core RC car enthusiast. We originally tried to find a totally new name, but once I discovered the AMain.com domain name was available, we finally settled on shortening the domain name and changing our tag line to ‘AMain.com Performance Hobbies. This fits really well I think, because racing RC cars or flying RC helicopters and airplanes is more than just a hobby; it is very performance oriented. We are still using that name today for our brickand- mortar retail hobby shop. Later on, as we looked at new potential categories to get into, we eventually settled on bicycles. Riding bicycles is more of a sport than a hobby, but it is a little of both depending on the target customer. So we then decided to extend the tag line for the website to be ‘AMain.com Performance Sports & Hobbies’, which still fits really well for the RC enthusiast as there have been many discussions over the years about whether the RC hobby is really a hobby or sport. Now it can be both, depending on your perspective. Some of the most recognizable changes recently are related to our website. During the past year we have made more changes than we had since our inception in 2004 and we know that some in the radio control community have had an adverse reaction to them. I do want to take the opportunity to thank our customers for their patience, support and feedback since our new site launched. We do listen and all of our executives here regularly read and respond to customer suggestions personally. After our launch we spent a lot of time going back to modify and fine-tune the features and functionality of our website based on the recommendations we received from customers and we are thankful to those who spent the time to work with us. Meeting the needs and expectations of our customers and building a trusting relationship with them is one of our core values. That has been the backbone of our company and the reason we were able to succeed and grow the way we have. We have not forgotten that. There will be more changes based on our customers’ feedback, which we believe will improve the online experience and add benefits and value to those who love RC.

RCD: So when we talk about bicycles, I assume we are not talking about Huffy, but high-end bikes and accessories.
KB: Yes (laughs), we expect to sell a lot of high-end bicycles and high-end accessories because our target customer is the dedicated cyclist who is knowledgeable, knows what they want and is comfortable shopping online. We assume that the high-end cyclist will be shopping online because they are more technically savvy and know exactly what they want, as opposed to the new cyclist on a budget looking for a cruiser or commuter bike. That customer, we feel, is probably not shopping online and is better served with advice and help at a local brick and mortar bike shop. I also truly believe a new RC hobbyist is very similar and is often better-suited buying their first RC car or plane at a local hobby shop, so they can get help and have their questions answered.

042r3RCD: How much crossover is there between Cyclesport and AMain.com?
KB: There is very little crossover between the two stores, but with the growth and exposure of Multi-Rotor or “Drones” we do see a lot of interest in both locations. We also recently added a radio control skateboard that is exciting to bike and RC customers alike. As I mentioned before however, between the customers of the local store and online we do not expect that the online website will do nearly as well selling entry level bicycles and cruisers, which is something Cyclesport does really well. We are expanding the Cyclesport shop to carry more of the higher end cycling products and bicycles, but expect that those brands will be the bread and butter of the online business.

RCD: Have you ever thought of turning AMain into a chain and opening up brickand- mortar locations from coast to coast?
KB: No comment. (Smiles)

RCD: You’ve been involved with this hobby for 10 years now and have seen hot items and fads come and go. What do you predict to be the next big thing in the entire RC community in the surface category and beyond and for AMain.com?
KB: I wish I could predict that, as I could probably retire early! In all honesty, I knew electric would come back, but I am surprised that short course has dropped off as much as it has. I also expected that short course buggies would take off, but they never really did. I wish I had predicted a couple of years ago how red hot the RC multi-rotor and drone category has become, as that is probably the hottest segment for us right now in terms of growth.

RCD: Thanks for everything and best of luck in all of your future endeavors.
KB: Thanks, no problem.
AMain amain.com For more information

 

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