The USS Plaice
The Heininger Story
Bike, Surf, Skate, Shade, Sell: An Unconventional Path to More Than 3 Million Heininger Products Sold
If there’s a common thread to the history of Heininger Holdings, its motion—down the road, across the desert, through multiple businesses and ventures, always looking to the leading trail and the horizon ahead for the next challenge.
That may only make sense, given the history of Jeffrey Heininger’s father—a WWII submariner with the U.S. Navy, a gearhead who founded a company to produce motorcycling products for riders and racers—and who was the ultimate inspiration for Jeff to start his own businesses under the “Heininger” name.
Jeff was born several years after his father, Tom Heininger, was out of the service, in Pasadena, California, in 1950. The Post-War years in Southern California were where trends for the rest of the country were born, and surf culture left an early mark on Jeffrey.
Webco, the motorcycle accessory business started by Jeff’s father, also made a strong impression on young Jeff. So much so that he was the first entrant to race a minibike in the famed Baja 1000 in 1970. The next year, he (with co-rider Casey Folks) finished third in the 125cc class, and went on to compete in the International Six Days Trials in Czechoslovakia in the Fall of 1972.
Early on, Jeff recognized the strengths that come with working with good people. Soon, he was managing public relations for Kawasaki Motors, then co-organizing the world’s first Skateboard Indoor Tournament at the Los Angeles Sport Arena with Dick Graham, a former exec at the iconic Hang Ten® clothing. Working with the legendary crew at Surfer Magazine, he created the magazine’s first-ever “Products Division,” creating a profit center around Surfer’s amazing photography. It was there that he also met his soon-to-be wife (with whom he had two great kids, and to whom he is still married).
Recognizing that he enjoyed the world of merchandising, Jeff moved with Jayne to Bellingham, Washington, where he joined a growing company of entrepreneurs as National Sales Manager for consumer electronics for Allsop, Inc. Expanding into the automotive OEM market, Jeff fostered relationships with top automotive and audio component companies worldwide, went on to create a marketing agency, then returned to Allsop as vice president for several years.
Jeff then worked with the group that launched SOFTRIDE, a unique bicycle manufacturing start-up—supporting the team that helped Australian triathlete Greg Welch win the prestigious IronMan® Championship in Kona riding a SOFTRIDE in the bike segment. Then Jeff realized a dream and worked with friends to start his own company, focusing on bicycle racks. Thus, Advantage® SportsRack was born.
By 1999, the company’s V-Rack and GlideAWAY® racks hit retail, starting with REI and Frontgate. Realizing that there was a bright sales future in other automotive areas, the team launched Pet Partition, the product that would help launch PortablePET®. Early on, the company showed a knack for expanding into multiple sales channels—and developing successful products.
Within two years, HitchMate® and GarageMate® were born, and on the back of healthy sales (including the first big-box retailer order for the GlideAWAY®), business grew and the company expanded. Soon, the successful TireStep was born, eventually followed by the CellCup® (then sized to fit stylish flip-phones, since the smartphone was still years off), the BedRack and a host of cargo-management accessories marketed under the HitchMate® brand.
Through the 2000s, the Heininger product list expanded to include big sellers like InstaCloth®, BajaBuster®, CargoLoad® and a redesign to the million-selling CellCup® to accommodate the small revolution that started with a smartphone out of Cupertino, California. Product hits like Twistep®, a re-designed GlideAWAY® hitch rack and the Finish microfiber cloth keep the company going strong. At the same time, the Heininger hallmark of successful partnerships with retailers continued to grow, to include sales partners in Wal-Mart, E-Trailer, Costco, REI, Bass Pro, Amazon, Wayfair, and Herrington, among others. Most recently, DestinationGear was born, focusing on products to be applied, “once you’ve arrived.”
In 2014, Heininger Holdings made another acquisition in taking over the assets of a nationally distributed beach, market and patio umbrella firm, Parasol Enterprises. This addition to the company will allow for more diversity in distribution as it will fuel the DestinitionGear division while creating an opportunity to expand on the base business from the acquisition.
Through it all, the company has continued to honor its innovative and fast-moving roots, while focusing on responsible manufacturing, ethical production and honesty; delivering value and satisfaction to millions of customers.
Today, Heininger, the company, remains based in beautiful Bellingham, Washington, not far from the Canadian border and Vancouver, British Columbia. Heininger, the entrepreneur, continues to be involved in motorcycling by supporting the sport's various causes, and he is active with a group trying to improve the lives of a few in Nicaragua; while on the business side, he remains true to his history, focusing on innovative products, always in motion, always looking for the next great idea up the road.