Conversations with Big Rich

PowerTank founder Steve Sasaki, from Industrial Design to Off-Road

August 13, 2020 Guest Steve Sasaki Season 1 Episode 19
Conversations with Big Rich
PowerTank founder Steve Sasaki, from Industrial Design to Off-Road
Conversations with Big Rich
PowerTank founder Steve Sasaki, from Industrial Design to Off-Road
Aug 13, 2020 Season 1 Episode 19
Guest Steve Sasaki

Not all off-roaders start in four-wheel drive, some come over from Hot Rods.  Meet Steve Sasaki, founder of PowerTank.  An industrial design engineer by nature, Steve took the leap to start his own business knowing he had limitations, like we all do.  Congrats on over 20 years of success and growth. 


3:23 – Daydreaming about Holley (carburetors, that is)

5:13 – This must be the end of the trail

9:34 – Learning all the things in off-road

14:34 – From bicycles to 4WD

16:35 – the inspiration for PowerTank

19:56 – are you a drug dealer? 

23:35 – my BIG mistake

27:07 – my BIG break

37:35 – Mrs. Kravitz and the HOA

43:16 – Businesses need rules too

49:01 – Tightening the wheels of the train

59:52 – Lessons in taking care of the customer 


We want to thank our sponsors Maxxis Tires and 4Low Magazine. 

Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.


Support the show (

Show Notes Transcript

Not all off-roaders start in four-wheel drive, some come over from Hot Rods.  Meet Steve Sasaki, founder of PowerTank.  An industrial design engineer by nature, Steve took the leap to start his own business knowing he had limitations, like we all do.  Congrats on over 20 years of success and growth. 


3:23 – Daydreaming about Holley (carburetors, that is)

5:13 – This must be the end of the trail

9:34 – Learning all the things in off-road

14:34 – From bicycles to 4WD

16:35 – the inspiration for PowerTank

19:56 – are you a drug dealer? 

23:35 – my BIG mistake

27:07 – my BIG break

37:35 – Mrs. Kravitz and the HOA

43:16 – Businesses need rules too

49:01 – Tightening the wheels of the train

59:52 – Lessons in taking care of the customer 


We want to thank our sponsors Maxxis Tires and 4Low Magazine. 

Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.


Support the show (

[00:00:01.080] - Big Rich Klein

Welcome to the Big Rich show, this podcast will focus on conversations with friends and acquaintances within the four wheel drive industry. Many of the people that I will be interviewing, you may know the name, you may know some of the history, but let's get in depth with these people and find out what truly makes them a four wheel drive enthusiasts. So now's the time to sit back, grab a cold one and enjoy our conversation. 


[00:00:29.660] - Maxxis Advertisement

Whether you're crawling the Red Rocks of MOAB or hauling your toys to the trail Maxxis has the tires you can trust for performance and durability, four wheels or two, Maxxis tires are the choice of champions because they know that whether for work or play, for fun or competition, Maxxis tires delivers.  Choose Maxxis tread victoriously. 


[00:00:56.220] - 4Low Magazine

Why should you read 4Low magazine, because 4Low magazine is about your lifestyle, the Four-Wheel Drive adventure lifestyle that we all enjoy, rock crawling, trail riding, event coverage, vehicle builds and do it yourself tech, all in a beautifully presented package. You won't find 4low on the newsstand rack. So subscribe today and have it delivered to you. 


[00:01:20.310] - Big Rich Klein

Thank you for joining conversations with Big Rich today. We have Steve Sasaki. Am I pronouncing that right, Steve. Yep. Yep. OK with PowerTanks. Steve has been an integral part of rock crawling history with his support of many of the teams and drivers and organizations, including my early days at CalRocs. We want to talk to Steve about the beginning, how he got into Off-Road, where he came from and then his product PowerTank. So, Steve, thank you for coming on board. And let's hear your story. 



Well, thanks for coming out here. Oh, let's see. You know, I was mentioning before that I feel like I'm kind of a late bloomer into rock crawling, even though it started in the 90s, just because a lot of the other guys are talking about how they were Jeeping when they were really young, you know, preteen and teens and high school.


[00:02:19.120] - Steve Sasaki

And and I didn't I had some influence from four by four because my dad had a four by four, he had a four wheel drive Ford truck with a camper on it. And, you know, I look back and I think I think, you know what that was like the first Overlander because he built these cabinets in it for food. And and we put the whole family in it and we camped. That's what we did. We went out camping. And I really liked that whole idea of this rig, this big truck.



I mean, to me, it was huge back then and it had like thirty one inch recap off road tires. But that was my I guess that was my influence, my off road influence. But as I went along in high school, it was hot rods and not four by four at all. And that's, that's what I did. I, I, I put motors into like my Camaro and changed three speeds to four speeds and I didn't still know a whole lot about Gearing and things like that.



And, but that was that's where it came from. I started and I actually kept this Camaro that I had in high school all through or not all through, but mostly through my college years. And then and then it went into the the Volkswagen Rabbit and things like that. But I remember in high school where I was so into the my V8 and my Camaro and getting it to run, right or to to get more horsepower, I, I tried all these different carburetors and I had this Holley carburetor and I would, I would mess with different power valves and, you know, all these different parts trying to get it to run just right.



And sometimes they would go backwards, I'd mess it up and and I would be working on it till midnight. And the next day I'd have to go to school. And I, I would just be daydreaming all day in class about what I was going to do when I got home and started working on that carburetor again. And I and I got pretty good at changing clutches. I remember I would I could change a clutch, I think,in a half hour on that.



But that was, you know, so I didn't get into four by four until way later. I went on a trip through the early slick rock. And so the guys that are local around here all know what's the slick rock trail was like and is like now. And it's different. It was a lot easier. But my brother had a 4Runner, a First Gen 4Runner. My buddy had a Nissan pickup and my other brother had a Toyota pickup. And we went through this trail and I had never done anything like this before.



And I remember I get into the stairstep, the famous stairstep. I thought it was the end of the trail. I thought we were going to turn around and my and I and I wanted to go back to camp and screw around.



And my brother got out of his rig and he started walking up the rocks and he was just looking he was scouting for I didn't know what he's doing, but he was scouting his line. And then we all one by one, they all drove up this this this area that I thought was the end of the trail. You couldn't drive cars up. And I know that that's I think is when I got hooked, I thought, this is. Crazy that a car went up that and so then I started shopping for a four by four after that.


[00:06:00.610] - Big Rich Klein

So what area did you grow up in? Did you grow up in this area here? Where? 


[00:06:04.760] - Steve Sasaki

Yeah, right in the valley. I grew up in Lodi, which is where our shop is. And and it was on a farm, little farm. And and back then, you know, it was pretty neat because we we drove our cars into the driveway or the garage or whatever, and the keys were left in the car. And we didn't know that people locked their front doors in their house.



We you know, there was no lock or key for the front door back then.



That's how it was. 


[00:06:38.170] - Big Rich Klein

So this area, Stockton, Lodi, Modesto, for those that are familiar with the movie American Graffiti, the shots that were taken of the famous drag race between John Milnor and I forgot the character that Harrison Ford played, but where they went down the farm road and then he wrecked was just out here and wasn't it? Yeah, it was outside of between Stockton and Modesto somewhere. So when I grew up in that in the 70s and I graduated high school in seventy six, we used to come over here from the Bay Area and we try to race people from the valley, there was always fast cars in the valley.



Yeah. You know, and you guys out here having these farm roads and these back highways with no population like it is now. Yeah. You guys could really get on it. Where growing up in the Bay Area, you know, with all the stoplights and all the people and the traffic. 


[00:07:40.570] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah. You still see big burnouts marks on some of the back roads back here because they're they're desolate and they're straight and they're great places to race somebody.



Yeah. And then the farm kids that grow up out here, you know, that's I would hope it's still that way. But they they have whether it's tractors or anything mechanized or or with a motor they want they get a chance to work on as a youth. And of course, that gets them into the hot rods or. Yeah. 


[00:08:09.810] - Steve Sasaki

Diesels. Now, diesel, I think. Yeah, I see a lot of the kids with diesels now and I go, how do they afford these diesels.



But yeah, they'll hop these diesels up. Yeah that's 


[00:08:19.980] - Big Rich Klein

I love the I love the Valley for that, for that kind of of reason is the but the natural atmosphere out here and people hot Rodden andbuilding stuff on their own in their garage and taken it out you know, and it's kind of it's kind of the same thing that all the wheelers eventually turn into. Yeah. Whether you buy a brand new JK or a JL or a Gladiator or a TJ whatever, you know, makes its change, we get a new influx of people coming into the sport and nobody ever leaves them.



I mean, very few ever leave them stock. That's true. 


[00:08:57.410] - Steve Sasaki

I think the one of the reasons that I liked the four by four thing was you got to build something. If you I mean if you liked playing with metal and big tires and gears, you you kind of had to gravitate towards the sport. And that's what I liked. I I kind of taught myself how to world. And I borrowed a welder first and played with it. And then I bought my own welder and a lot of the stuff on my first rig is stuff that I welded with a one ten MiG welder and it's still on.



And, you know, you wouldn't want to their crappy looking welds, but at least they held and but that was part of the whole sport was the the fab. I guess to me it's the fabrication, it's the it's the opportunity to to figure out how you're going to set up your rig and how you're going to where are you going to put your lights and how are you going to set your tools up and how are you going to balance everything out when you wheel and you know, so you just learn a little bit more every time you wheel, you know, about, oh, I've got a weak spot here or I want to move my like for me it was I had a lot of weight in the back and I wanted to move my weight towards the front more so I can climb better just because I learned from watching other guys build their rigs and how they climbed with different rigs.



So that, I mean, in any hobby, it's it's all, I think, a lot about learning. And as long as you're learning new stuff, it's it's exciting. 


[00:10:40.750] - Big Rich Klein

And back. Twenty years ago, we everybody was still experimenting. Yeah, that's true. And all the innovation, I think most of the innovation for trail wheeling and for buggy builds and that kind of stuff. Most of that stuff. Happened up until about 2006, at least rockcrawling, and then, you know, there's not been a whole lot of innovation.



I mean, guys like Jesse Haines are doing portals and doing some of the crazy stuff, smaller motors. Turbo's, right. Right. Really going after the gearing. And then you have the Ultra4 cars which have created you know, they they kind of took the rock crawling and the desert racing and molded it together, but had to make everything last through so much abuse that we've gotten innovation. But, you know, the true innovation for trail wheeling, what we what we were doing to our rigs back then, Jeep just.


[00:11:33.000] - Steve Sasaki

You got it. So you could buy it now. Yeah, right.



Oh, yeah. You look at the new features on Jeeps and it's a lot about, well, what did the aftermarket do. OK, let's, let's take that great idea and we'll incorporate it into the stock vehicle or the Rubicon or whatever. And and I kind of look at the Ultra4 as one of the steps that was after, you know. So the previous step to that was when, you know, when ARCA was going around, and WE Rock like you were doing, WE Rock and CalRocs, all that stuff, the true rock crawling competitions.



And then you see Bonderant coming out with Tiny, you know, that kind of blew my mind. And I think it blew a lot of people's minds where, wow, that that's a whole different way of thinking. And it is like the Ultra4 stuff where you see guys coming out with this stuff and just crazy ideas in Ultra4 and going, wow, what a cool idea, really kind of pushing the creativity.


[00:12:38.010] - Steve Sasaki

I agree. So when you went to college after high school here in Lodi. Yeah. I'm assuming where did you go to college? I went to San Jose State. San Jose State. What was your what was your field study?



It was industrial design. I wanted to design cars. That makes a lot of sense now that I know all your product. Yeah.



So, yeah, I was a product designer, I, I don't know how I got wind of this, this major, but it was it had to do with cars and that's what I liked. And I didn't really know anything about going to college because no one said, hey, you're you're going to college. I just kind of decided on my own that I was going to go and I didn't know where. And I kind of decided on this.



Industrial design in San Jose State was one of the few schools that offered it as a major. So I went out there and and really liked that product design part of of of school. Again, it was kind of like, you know, you're creating things, you're building things, you're using your hands, you're making things better and solving problems, essentially solving problems. So then I went into the bike industry to that. I actually got out of school and I went I was really into the model making part of it.



Model making is when you design a product and back in the day in order to to sell your your product idea to somebody, you actually made a lifelike model of it. As close to reality is so you can you can essentially tell so somebody how it worked. And even though it might be full of air, it could just be a, you know, aesthetic model. I was really into that part of it. So I after school, went straight into a machine shop.



I was doing product models in this machine shop and I really liked it, but it didn't pay very well. I didn't get a chance to do any create creative stuff. So I got a chance to work with a a bicycle company and was in the bike industry for 12 years, but always wanted to do my own product that maybe during the last half of it I always wanted to do my own product, but I couldn't do anything cycling related because all those ideas were owned by the companies I worked for that was, you know, Juro and specialized.



And that was excellent training for me, for, you know, I got to learn about marketing and product development to a higher level than than you get in school purchasing, things like that. All the skills that I actually kind of needed when I to start a business. So I didn't know what product I was going to do. I played with all these different ideas, but in the way it normally should happen, I guess, is naturally where after I went on this wheeling trip with my my friends and my brothers, it was like, this is a you know, I didn't think, oh, this is the industry that I'm going to design product for.



It was like, this is the hobby that I liked. And I really need to get into this, it's super fun and and it's just kind of like what I like, it's outdoors, its cars and and then the product came out of that, which I think is the way it should be. And the reason that it came about was back in 1997 or actually 1996 when I was wheeling the there was no way to air up a tire except for the first quick air compressor or a homemade system that you made with a York compressor.



And because I was wheeling on a Toyota, I had no room for York, I didn't have the money to buy two hundred and sixty dollars quick air. So I, I knew that I needed to air my tires because I chewed up a new set of mud trains. And I, I saw this idea from my other brother that wasn't on this trip. I have three brothers and he's a refrigeration mechanic, so he had the CO2 bottle he carried everywhere.



And it was to blow out condensers and to essentially for that. And I wondered if that energy could be used for tires. And so I tried it and it worked pretty good. I did a lot of research and regulators and tried a lot of different regulators, learned what worked and what didn't work. And I settled on one. And this is again, this is not for a product to sell. This is just making my own air system something that I could afford.



So I made one and it worked pretty good. And I used it for for a while.



I thought finally I thought after a probably a year, I thought this might be a product I can sell. And so I decided in order to do this, it was a pretty simple business plan. Nothing written. It was. Let's see how much money can I afford to invest in myself? And I said, ten Grand, I'll invest ten grand. I go if I can. If I lose ten grand, I'm not that's not the end of the world.



And so that had to, you know, had to buy my business license and all that stuff. It had to start my inventory and packaging materials and it had to start an ad. And my first ad, the little sixth page black and white ad in the back of Four Wheel and Off Road. And that's how I started. And back then they had these answer machines, had pagers and answer machines, drug dealers.



Yeah, yeah. Thank God for drug dealers. And so there was a Panasonic answer machine that had this unique feature in that if someone called and left a message, it would automatically call whatever other number you put into it and let you know or call you. The idea, I guess, was to call you at work or whatever and let you know that someone left a message on your machine. So you knew right away. And so I had it calling my pager number so the pager would beep on my little my belt and I would duck away while I was at work.



And I would call my answering machine and get the message. And if I felt I could get away with it, I'd call the, you know, the potential customer and I'd talk to them and ask them what they needed. And I guess I was taking orders back then. I can't remember it's so long ago. But so I started doing that and the pager started going off more and more and my boss noticed it. And then he asked me about what was going on.



And I.



Are you drug dealer? Ha ha ha ha. Yeah.kinda Yeah.



So I had I had to fessed up and I told them I have this little business on the side and I and I have this machine that beeps me on my pager. He was OK with it. I guess, you know, for the most part he said just, you know, make sure that you're doing your work and don't let it get in your way. And and so I. I kept doing it not for a long time, for a little while, but eventually.



Let's see. I think it was it took two years. I did it for two years that way. And it got so busy that I couldn't do the day job and the night business. So, yeah, I was coming home after work and I was building product till late that night because I needed to build my inventory. Back then it was like maybe two, two part numbers. It was either a ten pounder or a five pounder and. You had no options, there were no options and no cute colors, no cute colors.



In fact, there were no colors. It was silver. It was a raw aluminum bottle. You know, on the weekends I'd go and I'd and I'd buy components and I and during the day, actually, I would sneak regulator parts. I would have to take the regulators that I was buying and I would have to take them apart and I would have to take some of the parts to the shop at work and use their lathe and cut parts down.



So, you know, you sometimes you do what you have to do to to run a business. And that's what I had to do.


[00:21:35.640] - Big Rich Klein

And so they did the first event I did with the put up or shut up at Lake Amador in November of 2001. And I had a full time job at that at that point, up until that event. And as soon as that event that was over and I had taken some time off to put that event on, I walked back in and I maybe spent like two weeks, three weeks before Christmas, and I walked in and dropped my keys on the counter.



In fact, they were giving me my one year pin your company at the time. And I said, here you go, here's my keys. And they were like, you can't quit. You make too much money. All right. Well, first I said, you can't quit. I said, did I find something I didn't know about? And they were like, No, no, no. You just make too much money. I said, it's not about how much money I make.



It's how I get to live my life.



So I handed my keys and I walked out, 



you know, and that's and if if you were like me, that was pretty damn scary. Same with me. I mean, I had a paycheck that I was getting every week and I was going to give that up. And I had my first son. He was a he was four and a half years old. And I had a second son who was less than a year old and and I was quitting my day job.



It's just what you do, though, when you feel like you. It feels right and it kind of felt right at the time. And so, yeah, to continue the story, I, I remember I was in the office or one of the conference rooms with my boss and he was giving me a review and it was a so-so review. And it's not that I wasn't working hard. I felt I just felt like I might not have been a perfect fit for the company in a and so I, I kind of laid it on him, kind of softly said, well, I'm kind of thinking of leaving, I'm going to pursue this business.



I told them, though I promised him though I would finish my projects. I had a couple of projects, big projects I was working on. I said, I'll stay and I'll finish these projects and then I'm moving on. So I stayed for two more months and I finished my projects for him. But the big mistake, and this is probably my biggest first business lesson was I shut off my my ad because I said, well, I can't do both.



Right. It was it was too much to do both. So I'll shut the ad off now and that'll curb those those calls. And then as soon as said, I'll make sure that as soon as I leave the company, the ads will happen, it'll start up again. So what happens is there's a lag time. So the the calls did stop or slow down. And then when I walked out of the office for the last time and then the ad turned back on, no one called still because there's a lag time.



And now I'm sitting there, you know, we're going to buy a house. We have two little kids and we're moving back to a different town. And we're and I have no job and I don't. And my business is dead. Essentially, it was dead. So that was pretty scary. I was I was looking back then. You you look for a job in the classified ad in the back of the newspaper and where I was moving, there was no industrial design jobs.



It didn't exist. Oh, that's all Silicon Valley stuff. And so I thought about all these other things I could do, you know? I mean, but the call started to roll in slowly and it just, you know, slowly just started to come back. And but I had, you know, I tell people I had a lot of breaks. I had a lot of lucky breaks. And one of them was I lived in California, which is the same state as the magazine.



So back then it was all, you know, Primedia, it was all Southern California, which was not that close, but it was still California. I had a lot more access to them than some business in the East Coast. And it just so happened that my ad rep, Brian Cox, was a Toyota guy. He knew I was I was a Toyota guy and. He was told by Cole Quinnell, who started the first ultimate adventure to invite some people to the first ultimate adventure, and Brian invited me and he kind of told me about what it was.



And I thought it'd be a great opportunity to promote the business. I just built my 4runner at that point and still had I think you still had white fenders and a black door because I rolled it and I had to reskin the door. But I went on that trip and I and then that trip. Then you meet, you know, hopefully a lot of your listeners are from from the good old days. I met John Cappa and Christian Hazel and Rick Pewe and Cole Quinell before that.



I don't think they knew who I was, nor did they know what a PowerTank was. And so that really gave me a chance to be with them for a whole week during this whole adventure. And you get pretty close with people when you're trying to survive day after day on this ultimate adventure. And back then it was zero corporate, you know, it was just us wheelin and driving and wheeling and driving and and it was a lot of fun.



But I think it really gave me a break. They, I think, got a little more interested in PowerTank and they liked it. We we got some product to them and they liked it. So that was my first probably one of my one of my first big breaks. And another one was that my first dealer, my very, very first dealer was Pat Gremillion from Premier Power Welder. He probably had more clout of anybody outside the magazine industry in the industry.



He probably had one of the biggest businesses, which was the welder thing. And and so he was my first dealer. And he then, I think, gave my brand a lot of clout. If Pat liked it, there's got to be something to it, I think.



Yeah, that the club. Yeah.



Yeah. He was in the club. The club. Right. Who was in that club. Curry Frank Curry. And the guys out of there were the farmers, Frank Joel Randall, Harold Off, Harold Off and then also John Wagner who's who competed with John Curry. So yeah.



Yeah, yeah. The first guys in ARCA, I mean some of the first guys in ARCA, so otherwise who would have taken the time to meet this, this Asian kid with this cockamamie idea for an air system in an industry that that, you know, just was kind of out of his his realm. And and so that, again, I mean, I had these lucky breaks along the way. So, yeah. I mean, without that, I'd still be I'd probably be doing something else today.


[00:29:04.670] - Big Rich Klein

So when did you go from the silver tank to starting to paint and identify?


[00:29:15.080] - Steve Sasaki

It was soon after that, probably in within the third or fourth year. The very first magazine feature article I got was Trent Riddle was with Sport Utility magazine, and he called me up and he said, hey, I'm going to be out in your area doing something. And I wanted to see if I can swing back because I think at that time I was maybe advertising in sport utility and that was a great book. He asked if he can come by the factory, get a tour, do a and.



Yeah, do a feature article about it. And I and I didn't say anything. I just kind of chuckle and I said, yeah, I'll give you the tour. Come on by. I, I didn't know what he was going to think when he came to my garage because I had a two car garage with this big, heavy, rickety plywood door that opened up. And that was my that was PowerTank. You know, I really didn't care.



I mean, I said it wasn't that big of a deal, right. Power tank.



So he came by and he turned out he was really, really cool with it. He said, I started a business in a garage just like this. And he really he really could sympathize with me, you know, the hardships and stuff and trying to start a business. And so he was really cool and he took some good photos. And I remember that I still had silver bottles because we we we went out and we did some tests. And I still remember the the the photograph that was in that one page article, and it was the silver bottles.



And that was still in San Jose, so that was within the first two years, so soon after that I was I went into the first colored bottle, which was the dark blue. And I still see those blue bottles from time to time. 


[00:31:08.460] - Big Rich Klein

I still have mine. oh, really? I've had mine since 2001, it rides in the XJ. It's ridden in a lot of vehicles. Oh, that thing's probably been rehydroed a few times. It's been across the you know what? I had never had a problem filling those up, getting him not like you do with propane tanks where they make you go through every so many years and do it. I've never had anybody ever say anything about it. Oh, really? Yeah. And, you know, they get two big yellow ones and  Little Rich has one of them.



But, you know, we. Yeah, I've never had anybody say that needed testing. You know, these bottles, they're pretty bomb proof. And, you know, we only use the ones that are from U.S. makers and the valves are U.S. made and they're they're pretty. But in fact, that's why we decided to give them lifetime warranties. If you ever fail, a test we'll give you a brand new bottle. That's how confident we are that you're going to pass the test over and over years from now, decades from now, you know, and we we are into our second we're in a third decade in business and mine are 20.



I would say the blue bottle is 20 years old. Yeah, at least yet. So when did the the expansion of the product line. I know that you moved from San Jose. Yep. And you so you're back up here to Lodi in the Valley. Yeah. We got into a house in Elk Grove. Man, it was crazy. We had this little tiny house. I think it was like under twelve hundred square foot house in San Jose.



And with that two car garage where I had power tank and we decided to move to the valley, we were looking at these huge houses that I mean everybody had huge houses out here. Right too. I mean twenty seven square foot, three thousand square foot homes, two story and they were two thirds the cost of the house, the price of the house we were going to sell in San Jose.



So that's that's another reason I was able to start the businesses. That's where my funding my initial funding came from was we sell the house. We sell an eleven hundred square foot house. We we buy a twenty seven hundred square foot house. And we still had one hundred grand in cash.



Well, not cash because we hadn't had the other house fully, fully purchased yet, but we had cash. And so I took that and that's what I started the business with and and you know, just crossed my fingers. I mean every day crossed my fingers. And you know that to some degree, the crossing your fingers never ends.



You you when you you know and. Yes, I know. Yeah.



Your business can go in in an instant. Some stupid little thing can happen or it doesn't take much to crumble down a business. And and our business is still pretty small in relative terms. So, you know, you always you always have to play things a certain way, safe or less safe. You have to know where to take risk and not to take risk. It's good that you learned that lesson didn't affect where you're at now. And that was, you know, you have to keep advertising.


[00:34:34.460] - Big Rich Klein

There's so many businesses I hear that I talk to that say, oh, yeah, we're we're not going to do any advertising. You know, we've got to cut costs. We're we're you know, we don't have as much money coming in because of, you know, the housing slowdown or whatever. Well, those companies that cut their advertising cut their lifeblood. Yeah. Yeah. And and if they don't if you don't have potential customers seeing you, you know, you're relying on word of mouth like, you know, Joe telling Steve, hey, you know, you need to buy power tank because I don't want you using all mine.



There was a time when for a lot of years, I was trying to figure out this whole advertising game. OK, so so do we bumped the ad size up. Do we go full color? Do we go into more magazines? What is the secret formula? And no one could tell me what the secret formula was because no one knew. But we we have we at least I knew that we had or advertise. We had to keep the advertising going.



And part of it was probably the lesson I learned when we were in our first very first ad when I shut it down for, what, one month or two months and the faucet dried up. And then and and we were we only had that one ad in, it was the biggest Offroad magazine, but it was a tiny ad and yeah, it just stopped. And and as we moved along, we did try different things. You know, in the eight hundred phone number era, the it was suggested that we have multiple 800 numbers in each magazine, got a different number.



So you can kind of track what ads were bringing the calls in. And that was pretty much all we could do. It was very unscientific. So what we we did it, you know, our relationships with, you know, the magazine guys, Cappa and Hazell and and Riddle and Pewe helped a lot to, you know, they they they would do. I remember doing them doing a tire test or a shock test, and they would actually change tires and shocks in the field on some slope or something.



And they'd have they'd make sure that the power tank was in the picture showing that they're using an impact wrench to do all the work. They didn't mention power tank, but just having in the photo, I think helped us.


[00:37:11.460] - Big Rich Klein

 Absolutely. Yeah. The product that product placement is important.



Mm hmm.



So as you you left San Jose, moved up here you were. Elk Grove. Elk Grove. Mm hmm. When did you move out to your dad's shop?



Because that's. Well, OK. So I remember. 


[00:37:35.610] - Steve Sasaki

OK, so we moved to Elk Grove. We had we moved into this house that had a three car garage and and there was a downstairs bedroom right by the garage door. And so that was really cool. I really like that. I mean, you always think, you know, would you ever want to start a business? Never see anybody during the day like you did when you were working at the big corporation.



And you are talking, taking calls, taking orders, and you're doing the production all out of your house. And, you know, it sounds kind of like prison. And I didn't know how I was going to deal with it, but it turned out it was really cool. You just wake up and you run, you walk downstairs and you grab a coffee and you turn the computer on and you just start work. And I I actually liked it a lot.



I did that out of my garage for two years and the homeowners association didn't like that. I mean, you're not allowed to have a business. And there were a few of us because I talked to the UPS driver, there are a few of us that had businesses running out of our garage. Eventually, my one of my neighbors, we had one of those Mrs. Kravitz neighbors that that narced on us to the HOA. And we were given that fine and the letter and so we had to move out.



So, again, I mean, the business is still wasn't big enough to afford rent in a in a industrial spot. So I took a spot out of my my dad's my dad's property and his his business shop, and it was probably eight hundred square feet I think. And I carved a little section out and I offered to pay them rent and the utility that I was using and I ran my phone lines into there and that was my my new power tank, you know, for corporate office.



It was a ten by ten office that I built inside his shop. And I made a little assembly area that was kind of a just a kind of a cube. You know, I had I I really get into these efficiency studies where it's all about how fast I can build stuff and how efficiently I can build stuff. And I had this cube where I could kind of almost reach everything tape, guns, boxes, product in, you know, without taking more than maybe four steps.



And that's then how I ran the business. That was kind of the next phase was you you get into work, you you start, you check your messages, you start to take the phone calls and you start to process orders. And at that time I order invoice was just something I made on Excel. You. Try to get as many orders well, back then and that not that many, so you get them done in time to get them on the UPS truck because you know that ups the honks every time before he backs up.



And and you got to be there with your boxes and your labels done. And then back then all we used was one shipper, which was UPS. And as soon as he's gone, then you start building product for the next day. And again, I mean, I had to keep the number of products down to, like, I don't know, a handful, maybe a maybe five or six part numbers. So then I started that was the first of expanding the product line.



What was it? I think it was still one color bottle, but. I think they were different and I think there were three sizes then, you know, and then in between that you're you're running to vendors to get parts welded and you're picking up parts at the benders and you're you're receiving bottles and you're receiving all these things from different suppliers. And and it it's really, you know, it keeps you busy. And and then I hired my first employee there, and it was a kid that I still still know.



He's not a kid anymore, but sharp kid, Adam. And he helped me kind of build the business a little more because he was my first assembler. And, you know, and let's see, I was there at that location, which was, as you remember, it was it was surrounded by orchards. It was back then it might have been cherries or I don't know what it was, but because the different crops were around and it was surrounded by acreage of of agriculture.



But eventually I needed more space. So I then then rented my first two thousand square foot industrial spot in Lodi. And I got up and I you know, I bought my first pallet racks. You know, you have your own office and bathroom and you start to you're getting serious now, you know, and I had my first real manager. He really was good. Bob was really good at running the business. And in some ways he knew how to run the business and a lot of the aspects of the business better than I did.



Very sharp on on the accounting side and setting rules and things like until you die, I know for a fact that's important.



Yeah. You got to have somebody you can trust and somebody that kind of has your best interests at heart because then you can trust them. Correct. And I could. And so that helped me a lot. And he was with me for a lot of years and then we needed more space again. So from that two thousand square foot place, we got into a four thousand square foot place, you know, and it's four thousand square feet. That's still pretty tiny.



And that's what we're in now. Along the way, I had I was working with you kind of learn that your your your skills, your skills in certain areas of a business as it starts to grow are tapped. And my a lot of my skills and business were tapped a long time ago. And so fortunately, I had friends that were that were much smarter than me and so say like logistics and and software and things like that and accounting. And I got them to consult for me and then just just taught me a lot more to to try to get it to the next level.



And I remember we would I was with one of these guys, my buddy Ron, super sharp guy on on just operations of a business. And we would you know, we'd we'd pop a beer at the end of the day and we'd look around the the warehouse and we'd we kind of estimate what we thought we could output as far as revenue out of the space we were in and we'd throw out these numbers. We are actually outputting double the numbers we thought we could.



I don't know how we were so far off, but you do what you have to do and you you squeeze things into spaces that you swear are too small for, that, you know, for that that pallet or whatever. And you you try to improve your production as much as you can. And there's all those little things help, you know, and then you tell Steve the the the idiot that keeps designing too many products. So you've got to slow down and we can't bring that one out yet.



And we need, in fact, cut back on some of the part numbers to simplify things. And so, you know, there again, sometimes you need some outside voices to come in and say, hey, you're you're you're going off track here and otherwise you won't see you're going off track, you know? Yeah.


[00:46:07.350] - Big Rich Klein

I think all small small businesses have gone through those phases. I know I have with the events. And luckily, you know, meeting Shelley and her being a CPA and chief financial officer and all accountant type thing, you know, she she was really good at going, no, you don't need to do this. No, you don't need to do that. Right. You're going to start over with this. And I mean, we clean the slate after they have such a clear picture.



Yes, she. Because she had no. Conceivable idea of what what I was doing anyway. Yeah, you know, and she couldn't understand why somebody, you know, a company would go, here's some money, go ahead and put your event on. She didn't understand how that would work, you know, until she got out there and started doing it. And then she was like, oh, OK, now we're not going to let you discount it anymore, right?



From month to month. You know, I got to find I got to find another five grand. Who am I going to get that from? You know, I got to I got to pay these bills or I'm out of business. And so, you know, I would call somebody up and go, hey, you know, this is our normal package. I'll do it for half that. You know, she just went, nope, no more.



Well, see, that's that's that's where my son Tyler came in. He said, you don't have to do that. You're giving away too much when you sit, I guess, in your chair. In my chair, it's easier to do that. And you don't see if you're not seeing the the big numbers picture is clear. As you know, Shelly probably was you don't see the effects. And so, yeah, it's again, yeah, it's good to have that that outside more expert person to say, hey, this this we need to change this.



Yeah. We went win the year she came on board as my partner. We truly I mean, we didn't even have merchandise. We didn't even sell T-shirts or anything because we couldn't afford them.



You know, like before I was like, oh, I got to have this. And, you know, I just did whatever I had to do to make it try to make it work. And then at the end of the year, it was like, OK, what do I do for the next five months till the next event? Yeah, right. OK, we got to make our season longer. Right. That I can keep going, you know.



Yeah, yeah. Kind of the things that I got into and it changed all that.



It's easy to get stuck with what's right in front of you and it's easy to you know, that's that's like when I get my, my desk starts to get cluttered, I sometimes I have to step back and clean the desk up. And then I it kind of clears out my my future, my, my glasses so I can see further into the future.



And you have to I don't know for me, I have to kind of force myself to do that. You know, it's it's, it's good. And you got to clean up, clean up the the desk once in a while. 


[00:49:01.200] - Steve Sasaki

So your son has come on board. He's he's the one that had you eliminate a lot of those SKU's and parts.



Yep. Yep. And and he just he kind of cleared, he got us back on, he kind of tighten the wheels of the train. I mean we were going down the track and but but the wheels are kind of loose and he tightened the wheels up. And one of the things that he noticed was that when you kind of imagine this loose wheel, it's like those are the mistakes. Those a little the thousand little mistakes that can kill you, you know, customer calls or ten customers call and each one has a little mistake in their order.



And so so, yeah, you don't think about it. But all those things cost money and time and and by cleaning that up, you're more efficient. You're tightening the wheels up. And he he could see I guess I didn't know how to tighten the wheels up. He saw how we needed to do that. And he said we need a we need a an inventory software. We need to get a better handle on the product, the the money, the product and how where it's going, how it's being packed, how it's being controlled, when it gets into a box, that kind of stuff and bigger businesses.



That's that's business 101 for them. But for us, it's that that's we're still having to learn that. And not only that, it's like, well, how do you afford to do that? That stuff is that kind of software is really expensive. So he did all the research and and got that functioning. And it's it was there again, that's that's a good example of where that was way above my head, that that software stuff, the computer stuff.



But that's the stuff that he's good at. So that was that was one of the big steps that he made here to really get us smooth out the ride. And, you know, whenever your ride smooth, you're running much more efficiently. And and then on the advertising side, too, he he's got the time now to do the photography correctly and to do the instructions. Write the instructions. He's a good writer. And so and his major was communication.



And, you know, that's what marketing is, is just communication. How do you communicate? I knew the product, but it doesn't mean you can sell the product. You have to communicate to the customer what it is, what it does, why they need it. I thought I was good at it, but I wasn't. I I need way too many words. And that's what it was. Was always wrong with my ads was it was full of words.



And everybody used to tell me that. And I and I, I don't know if you know Danny Adair, but he was one of the first people to tell me that he is you just you got too many words in here, because I can't fit it on the in the ad. And he helped me to to just clarify what the message should be. And all it took was this to to send the message. And I had it it took me a long time to to get used to that.



I knew he was right. I guess when they say engineers should never be the ad guy, that's that's why, you know, so true. 


[00:52:34.760] - Big Rich Klein

You know, we all have we all have our skill set. You know, I look at especially our industry. Well, because I've been in it for so long. But, you know, we're we've always said that our industry is probably 10 or 15 years behind most industries, and that even though we look at, you know, how great and how big our industry is, it's tiny compared to most.






And the smaller Home-Made mom and pop type businesses like yours and mine and and all these fabricators out there and guys that have their own shops, you know, they're they're trying to wear all the hats. And then but then you get the companies that have all the layers and you have an engineer, you have a salesperson, you have somebody that's that that is shipping or whatever. Right. Or like in the magazine industry, you have the content creators, you had the ad sales.



And then all those magazines in the past were all bought up by, you know, investment firms. And all of a sudden they got all these layers above the content creators. Yeah, yeah. And that hurts the company just as well. Yeah. So there's that that fine line between, you know, too big. Even if you're small, you know, you get too big, you can't keep up. Yeah. And you're afraid to a lot of companies are afraid to invest in keeping up.



Yeah. So you scaled back or you stay there or you throw your hands up.


[00:54:14.820] - Steve Sasaki

Yeah that's I think that's a that's a pretty common conversation that, you know, any all business people have, especially small business because we're all trying to help each other, we're all trying to learn from each other. And, you know, you talk about you look at the companies that that just grew overnight and became something huge. And then you look at your own business and you wonder, well, isn't that what I should do or is that what I should do or what are the pros and cons of not doing that?



And one of the things that my buddy Ron told me was he explained what a lifestyle business was and he said, that's what you have and this is what it means. And because I always thought my goal was to sell to Home Depot or to sell to with my construction line, because, again, you know, the off road business or industry is small compared to the construction market. And we had a line of product for construction and he kind of pull the reins on me and he said, are you sure you want to do this?



Because this year, let me let me illustrate what you are becoming and what your business becomes if you go down that route. And he's saying I'm not saying that you don't do that. He's saying here's how he goes. He knew that. I didn't understand what that meant, selling to big distributors and to Home Depots and Lowe's and becoming that kind of business. We so once he explained that to me and he kind of showed me the advantages of staying kind of where we're at, you know, growing a little bit at a time.



And as long as we're happy and we're doing well for the employees, then there's there's something to that. The thing that mattered to me, I guess, was I want to be able to design a product and get it out fast. And I, I the the bigger the business, the harder was going to be to do that. It was we also wanted to make sure that the business didn't grow so fast that it got it got out of my control.



And if it did, then then it could just kill us. What was going to happen to our product support and customer service? You know what? I have to just. Rent the next building so that I could hire a bunch of bank of customer service people and how you train that that that person or those people and you know, that then didn't appeal to me, that kind of business to appeal to me. You know, it's super important to to make sure that we we maintain the the the level of quality that we have on our product and that we take care of the customer like like the old days, essentially.



I mean, that's kind of how I think it's going now. It's like more and more you you call to get customer service on something and it's it's either you don't get it, you can't do it because they don't have a phone line. You can only fill out a an email or it's just return it to Amazon or you know, and if it's a technical product, it's it's difficult to get that technical knowledge from from the company. And and so I guess we're kind of old school still, 


[00:57:44.440] - Big Rich Klein

but not everybody in our industry appreciates that, meaning the enthusiasts, the people out there that are mostly buying your product, the the guys that are now buyingJKs or have bought JKs or JLs and they're modifying the rigs and they're going out or the guys in the pickup trucks, that kind of thing that are that are using their vehicles and where they have to air down, air up have air tools with them.



A lot of those people are, are more to that Wall Street. I'm going to buy through Amazon, I'm going to buy, you know, through Trans or somebody like that. That doesn't have there is no customer service. You know, there there's a there's a guy that's going to sell it to you and then you've got to try to get that same guy to help you when something goes wrong. Yeah. Where if they call a Main Street company instead of a Wall Street company like yours or a lot of our people that are in our industry that haven't gone, you know, to that create to where they can make enough products.



The WD's are happy. You know, you cut your margin, you you increase the the the quantity that you sell, not quality. Yeah. You lose that customer, that touch with the customer. You know, that's that's why I'm in this business is in this off road industry is because of the customer, because of our teams, our spectators which are, you know, your your customers. Those relationships to me are important. Yeah. If I was working for a WD, it wouldn't those relationships don't mean anything.



It's when that phone rings the next time. 


[00:59:24.940] - Steve Sasaki

Yeah. You know, and I start to wonder what's happening with the WD's is that what is the future for WD's and is it I don't know. You know, business business is changing fast. You know, Amazon's really changing things. And we we do sell through Amazon, but we still take care of those Amazon customers. We you know, we technically, if they bought it through Amazon, they're an Amazon customer.



And we are Amazon's customer, too. I mean, so but we we know that that's frustrating for a customer. And and so we just take care of the stuff. I mean, it's it's easier. In fact, in the end, it's easier for us to just do it that way. We're lucky that we can you know, we can afford to do that. We you have to start to look at things, you know, versus the time.



It's it's what's the cost versus time? What's the cost versus bad press, what's the cost versus that kind of stuff. And to us, it's just this is if customer customers complaining about one of our products and usually we don't get a whole lot of that. But when we do and and it turns out they bought the stuff through Amazon, will we we don't like to tell them, hey, you have to go through Amazon. It's it's what is it?



What do you need? Let's let's get it taken care of. It's a it's a it's a it's not it's not a postage stamp. It's it's a UPS label that we pay for plus the product. But it's out of our hair and that customer's taken care of and we move on and we it's all about just moving forward. Just those things are they stop you, those things you and hopefully and if you and if you fight with the customer, you're going backwards and you're losing ground to to us.



It's just take care of it. Quick to take care of that issue as quick as you can, because then it allows us to put it aside and move forward, keep moving forward. And in the end, I mean, that's good. That's better for the customer.


[01:01:36.810] - Big Rich Klein

So. We're talking about moving forward, where where do you see power tank in 10 years? Do you have an idea? Do you have a game plan? Is there that's productss on them online or, you know, what's the newest, greatest widget?


[01:01:53.690] - Steve Sasaki

That's probably as tough a question as it was 10 years ago. Probably more so because I'm fifty nine now and I'm not going to be there here. Sixty nine. Yeah. Right now we're in the same age pretty.



And hopefully I'm not driving the Dodge with the trailer to Moab. And then, you know, 10 years from now, I don't know, you know, I don't even know. I don't really have a super clear picture of what power tank is in five years.



I, I, I think it's it's a you know, it's gotten to a point where the category, the product category strong enough where it'll live on and it's got enough momentum where we're that's not the issue. And the brand has a lot of momentum. So if it's not me that's that's running it, it's it whoever's running it, the product and the the as long as, you know, nothing drastic happens or something stupid happens, the momentum will keep the brand and the product going.



Yeah. You know, and it's it's been a long run shoot. 1997, was the June. 1997 was when my first ad came out in Four Wheel and Off Road. So I consider that the first, the start of the business, it's, it's been pretty, it's been pretty fun, pretty interesting, you know, got to do it. How can you complain when you know, you look outside and you got your your first 4runner that you ever you started the business with and it's nice and clean and shiny and you got and you will and you've painted it.



Yeah. Oh yeah. Five times man. Twice by me. Good job. Yeah. And and yeah. So that tells you something too. So by the third paint job I had enough money where I could pay somebody else to, to paint it and, and there's, you know, there's, you know, there's a truck out out there and a new JL that you can wheel and and you get invited to events and and you hang out with guys like you and other guys.



We both know we've known for years. We only see each other, some for me, sometimes once a year. They're good times, you know, see them at Pomona, see him at Moab and do do something you like to do, wheel out in the wilderness. Do you still get a chance to wheel? Yeah, you know, it's I was just out doing the Fordyce with with Rockstar guys and and if you. Yeah. That's a that's actually on YouTube now.



Excellent. And that was a great trip. We actually did that through the rain. Even the events like we're going to start doing whenever anything opens, everything opens, we're going to start doing the overland events and that will be kind of a new market for us. So, you know, again, when you're running a business, when you do the same thing over and over it, you can get boring. Well, for a product designer especially.



So getting into a new market is is more excitement for me, for everybody. I think, you know, you learn about a different group of people, the whole new market and their needs. And and typically you're adjusting the product. You're actually creating new product for the new market, things that you never needed for a rock crawler. But, you know, these overlanders, they they're they're wheeling they're off road in a different way. Figure out how to how to power their showers.



Yeah, well, I already know. I mean, yeah, I was I was I saw that big old black tube water thing that they have. And, you know, they pressurize that with compressed air so that they get some water pressure and, you know, but they air their tires down.



I mean, the guys that are really going off road and they want and those that are just sitting in the campgrounds, you're going to have to make sure you get the patches. Yeah, we yeah. Put them on their ceilings. We did we we do have power. Tank patches with Velcro on the back now. So yeah. We're learning, we're learning in the off road market. We're learning in. And so that's what I that's what kind of got me thinking about my dad's old Ford four by four with a camper shell on it.



I mean, he built there are house that my mom still lives in. So he was pretty handy. And he was he's a refrigeration mechanic. So he built all the benches. I remember the plywood benches and the storage cabinets inside the camper. You know, back then, no seatbelts. And we had a pass through rear window. That was kind of sealed off with this vinyl boot. Yeah, yeah. And so we were as little kids, we would go we get passed back and forth between the cab and the camper and, you know, whenever we wanted to while we were driving on the freeway with no seatbelts, no seatbelt.



No, no.



And he would go down trails and find spots to camp and and we fish in the stream. And we would you know, back then I think we were even I don't even know if we took water. We just probably got water out of the stream, no filters or anything. That's another subject I don't want to get into, which is why everybody, all the kids nowadays get sick because they they're never exposed to any germs.



We it's hard to do that in the basement, right? Yeah, exactly.



But I'm showing my age. So we and he had a I remember he had a twenty two handgun. So we shoot can we. All the stuff we like to do now, you know. And so that's, that's where I got it from. And that was. Yeah. We were overlending.



That's awesome. So is there anything that, that we haven't touched on in this interview that that you'd like to share? Is there you know any. I know just looking at your your tank selection, the colors, the new green tank that you have, the limited run, I guess, is gorgeous. So if anybody out there is looking for like a safety green lime when this comes out, it may be gone. Yeah, probably will be, because it's limited as people see it.



It's yeah. They're going to be hounded for it. But we'll have we'll be on to the next limited edition color. There you go. Yeah. Perfect. So everybody, if you if you need your air up tires, if you need to air down air up anything that you need product wise for air delivery, air air tools, you know, look at power tank power tanks, a great company. It's, it's Main Street. You know, Steve is a great guy.



The people that work for him or are excellent customer service, outstanding. He is helped out and been in the industry for so long. We were talking about the hoods and panels that he's got out here in the shop from Jeff Mello and Jody Everding and Dustin Webster and and Wayland Campbell. You know, and then the pictures that are up here with Matt Petersen and Jesse Combs in, oh, my God, you even got Greg Mulkey's Jeep up there, right?



You know, Nicole Johnson. How long ago was that Nicole Nicole with you here this year. I know that you're not in offroad anymore, but Steve's got you on the wall, you know, and you just look around, you know, and there's the Campbell clan and and overlanders and. Well, that's a cool picture right there. But, you know, it's it's a great place, great company. And people, you need to you need to need to purchase an air tak.



That's all there is. I mean, I bought I got some product while I was here. And, you know, it's it's great stuff. Wouldn't leave home without it. That's that's. Appreciate it. Yeah. Business is doing well. And I think we were one of the lucky ones through this covid thing, too. I mean, people were just ordering like crazy. I think they were staring at their jeeps. They couldn't do anything but build stuff.



And I can't explain it any other way. They were just man, they were ordering off off the hook. So, yeah, we we've been busy.



That's excellent. Well, Steve, thank you for taking the time this evening. Thank you for showing us around and give us a shop tour. It was fun. sitting down and talking with us for over an hour of your time. And we appreciate it. Thank you. Hey, you're welcome. OK, good luck in the future. Thanks.



If you enjoy these podcast, please give us a rating, share some feedback with us via Facebook or Instagram and share our link among your friends who might be like minded. Well, that brings this episode to an end. OK, you enjoyed it. We'll catch you next week with conversations with Big Rich. Thank you very much.