BUELLTON, CA (BRAIN)—Don’t be surprised if you turn on the TV one of these days and see Bob Fox sitting at the final table of the World Poker Tournament. Before Fox started his now multi-million dollar suspension company in 1974, he put food on the table by moonlighting as a professional poker player. During the day, he passed the hours as an engineer.
After a couple years, he realized he was making more money playing poker part time at night than he was working as a full-time engineer so he quit his day job.
“Back then I don’t think it was too socially acceptable. I don’t know if it’s socially acceptable now. I think my family looked at me as the black sheep,” he said. Fox recollected his poker playing days as he talked about the early years of Fox Racing Shox during a media dinner in Buellton, California on Wednesday night.
Thanks to his new profession, Fox had plenty of spare time on his hands so the motocross rider started tinkering around in his friend’s garage and built his first air shock in 1974.
He sold 200 the next year.
The following year, the company took off when professional rider Kent Howerton won the 500cc national motocross championship on Fox’s air shock.
“That really got the company on the map,” he said.
In fact, business was so good that he couldn’t keep up with the flood of orders. As the backlog grew to eight weeks, the few dealers who did have shocks in stock started selling them for $150 over the suggested retail price.
“That’s how much they were in demand,” Fox said.
But, in 1980 sales plummeted 50 percent and Fox decided he needed to diversify. He expanded into off-road cars and trucks, snowmobiles (Fox’s first foray into OEM business) and, in 1992, mountain bike rear shocks. In 2000, Fox started making mountain bike forks.
The bike division is now Fox's largest. The company continues to branch into new markets—it recently supplied shocks for the new Ford F-150 Raptor truck and the Bombadier Sea-Doo.
Today, Fox still operates in the Bay Area, not too far from the 1,600-square-foot warehouse in Campbell, California, where Fox started the company 35 years ago. All its products are assembled in factories in Watsonville and Santee, California.
Early last year, Fox sold 76 percent of his company to Compass Diversified Holdings, and also gave up the chief executive officer title. He still works full-time for the company, but spends his time in the engineering department instead of the head office.
That’s given him more free time, some of which he’s spent back at the card table. He recently placed 34th out of 400 players at a tournament in San Jose.
For pictures from demo day at Zaca Station click on the link to the BRAIN Blog.