KC HILITES BLOG
Smiley Faces in China: An exclusive Interview with CEO, Mr. Michael DeHaas
In this past May 2011 issue of Overlander 4WD Magazine (Issue #59) in China, KC HiLiTES CEO Michael DeHaas was featured in an exclusive interview giving prominence to the path in establishing an off-road culture for all off-road enthusiasts in China.
To download the full PDF Article: Complete Overlander Article w/ Images Download
The text based full-featured article follows below:
Poised for Takeoff, Ready to go
Exclusive interview with CEO of KC HiLites Mr. Michael DeHaas
Unlike most other American lighting manufacturers that are pushing aggressively to expand their market share and presence in China, KC Hilites is instead, taking a long-term approach with their brand. Not in a rush to expand their market share in China, KC is taking one step at a time getting “ready to go”. Michael DeHaas, CEO of KC HiLiTES, believes that the most important goal is to establish an off-road culture for the everyday Chinese off-road enthusiast.
OL: Overlander magazine / MD: Michael DeHaas
OL: KC has always held a presence in the off road lighting world. What are some differences that make your brand stand out from competitors?
MD: We started the off road lighting business in the United States during the 1970’s and have since been heavily involved with desert racing, which all of our products are specifically designed for. We have always maintained rigorous race testing procedures, making sure that all of our products are able to withstand the harshest off-road racing conditions. Only then, are our lights released to the mass markets. We also have a very strong presence in the worldwide off-road industry, and are always there to provide the highest quality lighting and test equipment for the races.
OL: As a market leader of off road light manufacturing and an established high end brand, how did KC maintain its competitive edge during the past 40 years?
MD: This is because we have 40 years of history behind the name. During the past 4 decades, KC HiLites has appeared in many big production films and wherever you go, people recognize and associate our trademark smiley face to the KC brand. Another KC competitive advantage comes from our strict policies on quality control. For example, after our lights finish chrome plating and are ready to be packaged, we will reject approximately 25% of the production. It’s not saying that 25% of the product is inferior, but that we want our customers to have the highest quality products possible. In the past, we have actually shown our customers the lights that we rejected and in this regard, they feel like the ones that don’t end up being rejected should be “gold”.
OL: We heard that KC has designed some products specifically for the Chinese market? Can you describe some of these products briefly?
MD: In the latter part of this year, we will introduce 2-3 new product lines but as a general rule of thumb, we don’t get into too much detail about the products that we are about to introduce. But I can assure you that the products we introduce will be well received by the Chinese market and have very aggressive pricing.
OL: Normally, lighting will have specs on lumens, range, and color temperature. In this regard, how does KC decide on these lighting standards?
MD: We will take all lighting standards into consideration and use different lighting patterns for different countries and regions. Whenever we develop a new lighting system, we will first reach out to the customers in that region, listen to their suggestions & recommendations, and use it as a guideline for our product. With respect to color temperature, whiter does not always mean brighter and better. For human eyes, 4100K – 5000K is typically a comfortable range. If you use a higher color temperature, the image will typically appear more vivid. In a test we did using yellow lighting of an object that was 900 meters away, it was obvious that the “yellow” lighting of the object was clearer in this particular application.
OL: If a customer had a specific request for a light, would you be able to accommodate this?
MD: Of course. If a customer has a specific need, we will do our best to fulfill the requirements. Our normal procedure is to find out and set up light pattern and color temperature specs to what the customer requests. Then by using existing rapid prototypes, were able deliver a workable light. Whatever is not up to par to their requirements, we will then fine-tune the specifications to meet their needs. But with a highly custom project for a single customer, the cost will be much higher.
OL: Please briefly explain KC’s marketing strategy and distribution / sales channel.
MD: (James Du’s Company) is the exclusive distributor for KC HiLites in China. They have done a great job marketing our brand in the Chinese racing market. But frankly, we’re not feeling anxious to push our product in China or set up immediate sales channels because the off road lighting market in China is still very young. We have the time and patience to develop this market. When this consumer market matures, we will bring in our 40 years of off road racing experience over to China, enabling the Chinese off road enthusiasts a deeper understanding of our world. One of which is racing off road…at night.
In the US, we have races that take place during the night and we have been the major sponsor of these races for decades. The night races start at 5am and participants usually won’t arrive at the finish line until 7pm or 8pm at night. The minimum run for most of these races is 300 miles, so the auxiliary lighting is very critical. As for the Chinese market, we are not in a rush to jump into this big market. If your product is very good, you need to let the off road enthusiasts first understand and gain exposure to the culture. I also believe that our 23-year warranty is one of the best in the world.
OL: A 23-year warranty sounds very attractive. What kind of benefits does the consumer get from this 23 year warranty?
MD: During the 23-year lifetime of the lights, if there is a manufacturing defect we will replace the defective parts. In certain cases after some 10 odd years, we may have already introduced new parts but will still warranty the old parts and provide the necessary components for our customers. For example, the relays will deteriorate with time (about 5 years) so if you purchase that product from us, we will replace it for free. In China, all of our warranty issues are handled through Mr. Du’s company. As our exclusive distributor, (he) will set up multiple dealerships. If the end consumer purchases the product at our dealerships, Mr. Du’s company will handle the warranty. All of the defective products will then be sent back to our national headquarters. Our main priority would then be to study why these parts did not perform and take the necessary steps to correct the issue.
OL: With regards to maintaining and up keeping KC products, what should the end consumer be aware of?
MD: There is not really anything that the customer needs to do to maintain the lights. A good cleaning with just soap and water once in a while will do just fine.
OL: In China, there are many off-road lights that look similar to KC Lighting. What is your strategy with respect to competing with these lights?
MD: Yes, this problem does exist. For example, when patents on our Daylighter and Slimlight expired, there were many knockoffs but we developed a new POD light. These lights were designed strictly for off road racing. When analyzing the materials to use for these lights, we studied the demands of off-road racing, and as a result decided on carbon fiber. You have to know that during Baja races, every ounce counts, thus we needed to use something high quality, durable, and light weight. Durability was a must as with every other one of our lights. This carbon fiber housing is standard across this whole family of POD lighting. Because of the complexity of this product line, we are only able to produce 30 pieces per day in our US operations. This carbon fiber material has been used by the US military during the Iraq war. I was once told after a barrage of gun fire, the one thing that remained intact and usable was our PODs. I believe this is living proof of the quality of our products. Other brands of off road lights use regular cold rolled steel while most of our housings are made with the highest grade stainless steel. I strongly suggest for everyone to try other brands of off road lighting to get a feel of their construction; only then will the customer understand our level of quality.
OL: As an end consumer, many cannot identify one off road lighting system from another and have a hard time understanding and identifying what makes a quality light. How does KC deal with this?
MD: We have been in the Chinese market for about 2 years now and have seen that most of our customers are using our lights for off-road and long distances in remote areas where a vehicle must rely on auxiliary lighting. So these are the people that really have a need for supplementary lighting and understand that they are not merely decorating their cars. They truly understand what makes a light of high quality. But for those that are not as experienced, one thing to look for is mounting. For example, if you use a regular light that does not attach very well to the car, KC’s light is attached VIA a 3 point system. This is an important thing to look for and is something we pride ourselves in.
OL: As far as product promotion, is KC going to be involved with off road racing in China and sponsor events? Or even form an off road night racing team in China?
MD: To participate in and sponsor China racing is our goal but is not something we want to do in the short term. What we want to do is first have the Chinese market recognize and get to know KC. Also most of the racing right now takes place during the daytime, so to put our products on those cars don’t make much sense at this point. As far as organizing a night racing team, the China market is not ready for this as we need to get permits from the Chinese athletic administration to allow this. We would need to apply and be approved. Of course, also comes the great responsibility associated with sponsoring these races. If night racing does become a reality in China, we will most definitely be there every step of the way.