On-road manners and off-road capability are Stomper’s specialty
Olathe, Kan.—For the owner of a newly lifted Jeep, the honeymoon phase can be very short, said Jay Blazier, owner of Stomper Off-Road.
“Everybody who lifts their Jeep, for 30 days, they’re going to have a big ol’ grin on their face, because they’re going to walk outside and they’re going to look at it and say, ‘That looks badass!’ After 30 days, the reality sets in on what they did,” he said.
But making modified Jeeps trail-capable with good street manners has become a specialty for Blazier. He said he’s found that many off-the-shelf kits, as installed by other shops, are not set up correctly, which can affect alignment, ride quality, and the articulation that allows each tire to maintain traction over obstacles. Other kits even have poor geometry designed-in that cannot be corrected through adjustments, Blazier said.
The average full-blown build, with oversize tires, wheels and an optimized suspension lift kit, runs between $9,000 and $10,000, he said. His shop works on between 50 and 60 Jeeps each month, from LED headlights to big builds.
“We’re kind of a high-end parts dealer and installer,” Blazier said. “We test everything. Between my wife and me, we have three Jeeps that we drive every day. The coolest aspect of what we do is that all of our Jeeps are built to be daily drivers. For all of our Jeep builds, for suspension and other parts to pass the test, they have to outperform a stock Jeep. Even though it’s lifted and is bigger and badder, driveability is a huge factor for us. We go through and test and come up with our own setups.”
That testing may include using one brand of suspension lift with another brand of shocks or springs to arrive at the right combination, he said, along with a lot of measuring using angle finders and tape measures to find the correct geometry.
“We offer our customers a plusher tune, where the Jeep still has phenomenal off-road ability,” he said.
Blazier said he figures about 75 percent of his customers are “wheelers,” with many of them traveling 90 minutes to the nearest rock-climbing spot, the Kansas Rocks Recreation Park near Fort Scott; to Tuttle Creek ORV Area, about two hours away, north of Manhattan; and other, more-distant locations.
During a recent outing to rock-climbing mecca Moab, Utah, two Stomper-built rigs were the only Jeeps to make it through a couple of obstacles unassisted; the others had to be winched out, he said.
“We took a lot of pride in that,” Blazier said, “and our customers were just giddy. ‘You built us a Jeep that performs!’”
Parts business revamping after rapid service growth
About two years ago, Blazier bought out his partner, who had started the business about a year prior strictly to sell parts over the Internet. After buying the business, Blazier said his days were quickly consumed with turning wrenches, and he let his participation in the online parts business lag. But now, he said, he is revamping the website, which will be relaunched soon with additional features. His wife, Melissa, helps with daily operations by managing the business’ accounting and parts orders.
To keep overhead low, Blazier said he stocks only fast-moving parts such as shocks, upgraded ball joints, differential covers, LED lights, some bumper parts, wiring components, ring and pinion gears, compressors, mirrors, suspension parts, brake lines, CV shafts, and winching products. He said he has selected brands on the basis of quality, not for being the biggest name in the industry.
Although he’s able to buy direct from most manufacturers, Blazier said availability often determines where he orders the part. Competition from the Internet means parts are not a great profit center, he said. And although the shop will sometimes install customer-supplied parts, it’s never allowed for internal parts such as axles and gears, and he has an “approved list” for other parts because of bad experiences with other, even major-brand, parts.
Blazier recently hired some help for the shop, bringing his staff to three full-time technicians and four part-time technicians. In addition to full-blown builds, the shop, for the most part, stays away from stock-type repairs and instead focuses on parts and service for upgrades such as installing a heavy-duty clutch or a supercharger. Almost all of his technicians drive Jeeps, he said.
“It’s one of the things that gives us an edge over a lot of people,” Blazier said. “Since we work strictly on Jeeps, their skill sets are going to be very honed. I don’t have to have them know how to do a hundred things right. I just need them to know how to do two things right. When my customers come here, they know I’m not sidetracked with anything but a Jeep. They know they can walk in with a certain level of trust, because we’re so focused on one little segment of the entire automotive industry.”