Ellensburg’s Rich Arlt finds market for Slingshot hitch
Over the past year or so, a hitch has developed in Rich Arlt’s retirement plans — a Wycked Hitch.
Arlt started his Wycked Hitch business a little more than a year ago to create a hitch to use with the Polaris Slingshot. A Slingshot is a three-wheeled, two-seat vehicle. Arlt, who lives in rural Ellensburg, works as a shop teacher in the Wahluke School District in Mattawa. He has 32 years of experience as a teacher.
A life-long motorcycle rider, Arlt suffered a number of injuries, including a broken neck, that led him to give up motorcycle riding in 2015.
“I quit riding on two wheels, sold my motorcycle and bought my first Slingshot,” Arlt said.
Since the Slingshot has passenger seat, Arlt was able to take his daughter on a road trip with him to Sturgis, South Dakota, for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. There was room for a passenger but not much else.
“We were able to take little except for a few clothes,” Arlt said.
When he got back, he thought about what would be needed to attach a trailer.
Runs in the family
Rich Arlt is a shop teacher, and comes from a mechanically minded family. His dad Spike Arlt is a long-time entrepreneur, from software for training distance runners to quadcopter drones and robotics.
So when Rich decided to pursue the idea of a hitch he was able to tap into a family resource.
“My dad has been a builder and an entrepreneur all his life,” Arlt said. “His grandfather was a blacksmith. We’ve always worked on all our equipment.”
Arlt’s dad and his brothers, Bob and John, helped him with the prototype for the Slingshot hitch. His nephew Eric has become involved with the production.
“We came up with the prototype and it went well,” Arlt said. “We put together a YouTube video and pushed it on Facebook. People said, ‘Wow, they’d never seen anything like it,’” Arlt said.
Sales of the product started April of last year.
Based on the preliminary designs, Magic Metals of Yakima cut the pieces. Arlt said he also got input from them on how to improve the product.
Along the way, many other individuals and businesses have stepped up to help. He’s has focused on involving local businesses in the process, such as Fastenal, the Copy Shop, Auto Zone, Shirts and More, Oxarc, Yakima Federal, Luft Trailers and Finish Line Power Coating of Yakima. Arlt said the people and businesses went out of their way to help him.
“They gave me more support than I even feel I deserved,” Arlt said.
While the assistance in Ellensburg and Yakima has been critical, Arlt’s big break may have come when he connected with someone in Florida — Noel Hughes of Cycle Springs in Clearwater, Florida, the No. 1 Slingshot dealer in the world.
Arlt said Hughes agreed to install his hitch as the only hitch system put on a custom Slingshot.
“At the same time I was talking to Laurie Haberman and she said I need to patent it,” Arlt said.
Based on that advice, Arlt began the patent process and now the hitch is patent pending.
This past year, Arlt said Jim Armstrong and Bill Hansen of the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce encouraged him to enter the Enterprise Challenge, a business plan competition sponsored by the chamber and the Yakima County Development Association for new businesses in Kittitas and Yakima counties.
Whipsaw Brewery of Ellensburg won the competition. Wycked Hitch came in third.
“It was like going to school,” Arlt said of the competition which requires businesses to develop detailed business plans and financial analysis. “I went to business school at a cut-rate cost.”
Arlt said he’s worked as a teacher his entire career and did not have the business background or expertise.
“The Enterprise Challenge was one of the best things I’ve done in my life,” Arlt said.
The market and its challenges
Arlt’s market is anyone who owns a Polaris Slingshot. The vehicle is gaining in popularity, particularly with people who are switching from motorcycles such as a Harley Davidson. He said the Wycked Hitch fits into the accessory market for the Slingshot.
Arlt said Polaris has a fairly hands-off approach with the accessory market, allowing products to develop to meet customer needs.
Being part of the accessory market has its challenges. Arlt said Polaris recalled all Slingshots last year, which put about a six-month hold on the market. Also, the company could at some point change the design of the Slingshot, meaning he would need to redesign the hitch.
Arlt sells the hitch through dealers but also on the company website.
Arlt said one piece of advice he received was to build the business slowly and avoid taking on large debt.
“We’ve been taking it really, really slow,” Arlt said.
After the pieces are cut in Yakima, they are assembled in Ellensburg, right now at a shop on his dad’s property. Eventually he will do the work in a shop on his property. His nephew does the welding.
So far Arlt said they are managing the demand, keeping ahead, with a few on stock to meet orders.
Planning out just a couple of years, though, Arlt said he could see the business earning enough to replace what he makes as a teacher.
“That’s based on a projection of the number of Slingshots sold,” Arlt said.