Where there’s a gap, you fill it. If there’s a hole, you plug it. And when opportunity presents itself, you take it. The year 2010 was a defining moment for Cory Bride of Towanda, Pennsylvania. Fresh out of college, he took the summer post-graduation to consider his professional path. “I was always working on trucks and cars all through high school and college. By October 2010, the drillers were coming into town. They were looking for a shop to take their vehicles and have things done. The very first job I did was a lift kit for a consultant in the oilfield and, man, once I did that, I had everybody knocking. That’s when I decided to make a go of it as a business,” says Bride.
Soul-searching led him to an empty storefront that would later become High Caliber Motorsports, an automotive aftermarket accessories retailer and full-service installation and repair facility. “There was no existing business at the location, so it was a true startup—we had to build a brand,” says Bride.
One-Man Show, Building a Brand
He went at it alone those first few months—constructing the front counter from the ground up, organizing the showroom, and securing inventory. “I’d answer the phones, sell the product, and then head to the back of the shop to install it. I carried a cordless phone on me at all times, and there was a little buzzer on the door so if someone would come in, then I’d run back up front,” he recalls.
Within three months, Bride hired his first employee and by mid-2012, High Caliber Motorsports became a LINE-X franchise. While strategizing the business model, he leaned on his experience as an enthusiast. “My first truck, somewhere around 2000, was a Chevy S10. We did a lot of work on the chassis, swapped in a new motor, lowered it, and added air ride suspension. Then I was looking for a way to seal up the bed of my truck. I didn’t just want any bed liner, rather something that could be color matched. This was my first experience with LINE-X,” says Bride.
Fast forward, “Within a couple short years in business, we worked our way into being a real shop here in Wysox and wanted to add bed liners. Naturally, people were asking for them, so that kind of brought me back full circle with LINE-X,” he says. “In my personal experience, LINE-X was the brand we wanted to partner with.”
The decision to franchise paid off. By 2015, there were eight separate businesses and 30 employees operating under High Caliber Motorsports. In less than a decade, the company expanded with two locations in Northeast Pennsylvania. “Wysox is really the home base of it all,” says Bride. “We have High Caliber Motorsports in Wysox and LINE-X of Wysox, and we also have LINE-X of Wilkes-Barre, as well as a small element of High Caliber down there, which does the car and truck and Jeep work,” he explains.
Knowledgeable staff and skilled hands have contributed to an enormous boost in business over the years, from retail accessories and custom vehicles to a steady flow of dealership and fleet contracts—there’s no customer High Caliber Motorsports can’t service.
Be the Exception
Asked what differentiates High Caliber Motorsports from the competition, Bride says that he’s never been one to stare at the front door waiting for business to come to him. “Most notably, our goal from day one was to be the exception,” he says. “So many shops have come into this industry as an enthusiast-only driven brand, expecting everything to be so custom and one-off. While custom and one-off has allowed us to take trucks to places like SEMA two years in a row or complete nice builds for the Keystone BIG Show, our goal has always been taking a more focused approach to the aftermarket,” explains Bride. “Second, we’ve always had salesmen on the road actively building relationships at local dealerships and with potential fleet accounts.”
Eye Candy on a Budget
At the consumer level, Bride’s practical mindset applies to those customers who wish to customize their vehicles, but perhaps do so gradually or with a budget-minded approach. “Our battle is to figure out how we mix the eye candy and the appeal of the trucks at SEMA, but make them attainable for the everyday customer in a way that doesn’t sacrifice quality and craftsmanship,” says Bride. “These days, consumers have access to a lot of resources at their fingertips. So, we need to make sure that we give them the best products we can at the best prices,” he adds. “Not only that, we have to make sure that regardless of whether they’re dealing with us in the event of some kind of issue or warranty claim, it’s going to be handled and handled the right way.”
That’s why High Caliber Motorsports chooses to only sell and install the most reputable brands—those with great warranties and excellent customer service so that no matter where the vehicle ends up along its journey, the aftermarket company and High Caliber Motorsports can stand by their word.
“That was a big problem early on. A lot of our customers were from out of the area, whether it was Texas, Oklahoma, or wherever the oilfield brought them in from. Within a month’s time, they could be thousands of miles away,” he says. “We learned very quickly that we can’t always bring them back into the shop to fix the problem. Making sure that the warranty and customer service follow the product from shop to shop has allowed us to build a really good customer base, and it brings in customers that I think otherwise weren’t comfortable dealing with an aftermarket accessory store,” he explains.
B2B Provides a Steady Workflow
Being the exception extends to a business-to-business model as well. In fact, “The first places I targeted were dealerships. They’re always afraid of the word ‘custom.’ We packaged products together in such a way that, again, they had a way to deal with any kind of problems or concerns that could arise. Our biggest accounts to this day, and probably since we’ve started, are fleets and dealerships,” says Bride. “They provide us with a steady flow of work regardless of what the aftermarket accessory market is doing—things that they don’t want to be doing, like bed liners, hitches, running boards, remote starters, grille or rain guards,” he continues.
“We have some really good fleet accounts, and now that we have these contracts going, as soon as the fleet has a truck that goes out of service, they just send us over a work order and we build that truck for whatever purpose it might be, whether it’s outfitting it with toolboxes, GPS tracking systems, seat covers, or cell phone boosters and inverters so they can run their printers and computers inside their truck,” he adds.
Perhaps what is most special about High Caliber Motorsports is that they represent a trifecta in the aftermarket—retail and installation of automotive aftermarket accessories, professional contracts at the fleet and dealership level, and impeccable custom work that has received recognition on the national stage both at the Keystone BIG Show and SEMA.
After High Caliber Motorsports beat the odds of disaster with their first builds at the Keystone BIG Show, a true Cinderella story that you can read here, “We were contacted by Klearz, a company out of Canada, that asked us to build their Tundra for SEMA 2017,” says Bride. “Every shop’s dream in the automotive world is to showcase its stuff at SEMA. To have a vehicle there is huge. We built that truck for Klearz and partnered with some of the biggest brands in the aftermarket, such as American Force, Bulletproof Suspension, S&B Intakes, Interco Tires, etc.,” he says. “And again, just like the situation at the BIG Show, we had our backs against the wall. People that were supposed to be part of the project ended up backing out, so we basically completed the entire build on our own. We earned a lot of respect and trust when we pulled that off, which led us right into SEMA 2018 where we had our very own 2019 RAM that we manufactured parts for and custom fabricated,” adds Bride.
Come SEMA 2018, it was important for Bride to secure a truck with a new body style—something that was fresh, something that was going to be challenging, and something that wasn’t going to be overly done so High Caliber Motorsports could flex its skills on the world stage.
“We knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of products available for the 2019 RAM. If we could even find some products and build the rest for the new chassis, we knew that we’d have one of the only new RAMs in attendance,” he adds.
The Right Team Can Overcome Any Challenge
At the heart of such success is the people. “It’s very easy to get burnt out in this industry. I’ve had a lot of really, really good employees come and go because they tell me that they were just burnt out. The stress and the pressure is overwhelming,” says Bride. “Everybody who observes from the outside looking in says, ‘Wow, you get to work on really cool stuff every day! That must be a dream job,” and yes, it definitely is. But that grind can really wear on your team,” he adds.
So wherever possible, Bride makes sure to align each employee with projects that highlight their strengths. “I want them to feel comfortable and enjoy what they do. We have it broken down to about seven or eight core positions and each guy that is in his relative spot, I think, has a true passion for what he does,” says Bride. “We have a Jeep enthusiast named Chris. While he doesn’t get to work on a Jeep every day, when they come in, he really excels. You can hear the passion and the drive in his voice when he talks to customers or even us about the project. Making sure he gets a fair amount of the work that he enjoys doing allows him to find the motivation to grind through some of those rough days when he’s not really doing exactly what it is he dreams about,” adds Bride.
“Same with Josh, Kelly, or Ethan. They each have something that drives them. Ethan is into 12-volt, wiring, and the car audio side of things. When he gets a job doing a new stereo or something like that, that’s his time to shine and kind of show off what he can do,” says Bride. “When it comes to Josh, he loves diesel engines. He gets to work on the newest diesel trucks that come out, with the coolest diesel parts that are available—from compound turbo systems to really cool upgrades for the transmission, or whatever else it might be,” he adds. “When I catch my guys taking pictures of the project or the parts they’re working on and posting it on their own social media, you know they’re excited to show off what it is they’re doing each day.”
Incredibly bright, talented, and accomplished, Cory Bride proves that success has no age requirement when grit, leadership, and perseverance are involved. “This ride has been nothing short of a crazy rollercoaster. We’ve had some amazing highs and some awful lows, like any business. But there’s only one direction we can ever move, and that’s forward.”