All Slowtwitchers know John Cobb. Few of you know Don Park. John sold his company, Cobb Cycling, to Don Park a few months ago. John is still around! He’s still part of Cobb Cycling and he’s not going anywhere.
But I thought you might want to know about Don Park, because Don’s earned his own palmarès earned in the world of business. As you’ll see, I asked about treadmills and stationary training near the end of the interview and Mr. Park was reticent to engage on that topic. Just, considering his business and engineering background I can’t help but wonder.
John Cobb (right, in the image, Don Park at left) was in the room during the interview, and jumped in near the end to make a rather startling statement regarding the location of Cobb saddles manufacturing. There are some things that just aren’t made in the United States anymore. Vitamin C. And bike seats.
Let’s get to it.
SLOWTWITCH: First, Don, I don’t think triathlon knows about you yet. When I poll our readers, four in ten own a treadmill, and an additional quarter of them run on a treadmill in a gym. They don’t know what you’ve meant to them. Can you tell them a little about your background?
DON PARK: I’m an electrical engineer. I got my degree from Georgia Tech. I moved into industrial automation. I moved into applications engineering for Magnetek. I set up the North American operation for LG in the USA. Then I moved to ABB, I was responsible for the Americas, anything involving motors controllers, robotics, servos, anything to do with energy. I decided to try my own venture, and started Kimatek. We grew pretty big, from scratch, in 3 years. Among our markets we saw a potential in treadmills; they were based on old DC power technology, which limits the life of the motor. So we devised the first AC controller for treadmills, and introduced this to Precor, Cybex and other treadmill companies. Then we moved to high-energy-efficiency AC motors, and linear actuators.
ST: But then it seems like your interest veered away from impersonal tech and into solving discrete consumer problems.
DP: The fitness market was becoming mature. The next stage this industry was M&A. You see this in the bike market now. The consumer simply didn’t see any new technologies. I thought, what if we came up with something new? That’s when I found Mr. John Cobb. My own opinion, sometimes when I ride my bike, when I run, I don’t have energy anymore. Is it the energy, or is it the pain that stops me? Am I quitting because I’m exhausted, or because it’s painful? Is there any machine that could help people to enhance their experience by isolating the pain, solving the pain, and move to the next level of performance?
ST: Are you taking about pain in the context of contact point pain? Versus exhaustive pain?
DP: I begin to feel the pain internally. Is it a nerve? What does “it hurts” mean?
ST: So you’re taking a step back? Casting a wider net? Taking “it hurts” and then trying to solve that problem, regardless of the class of the problem, whether exhaustive, or pressure-based, or any other category of pain?
DP: I see myself limited by so many things. There is so much we can do. So much we can produce. The point is, when John dreams something up he now has Kimatec backing him up.
ST: Can we look at Cobb Sports from 30,000 feet? Is there a company ethic? A theme?
DP: We’re still focused, but John started with a small piece of the market. We’re interested in swim, run and in the bicycle. So far our products have been function driven. But we’re also interested in the leisure or social aspects. We’ll remain in the field of extreme sport. We don’t want to be Nike.
ST: And that means…? Help me!
DP: Existing saddle enhancements. Better looking, better fitting, much lighter. Also other components. Maybe apparel. Maybe sportswear. I don’t want to create anything where we compete in price. John’s concept, we respect our sales channels. Our dealers. We want to produce for them things that are distincitve. Innovative. So that the consumer must come to them. We want to be the very last company to abandon the retailer.
ST: Okay, but you pioneered motors and controllers for stationary training.
[John Cobb jumped in, pivoting to saddles. We talked saddles for awhile and then he made this unexpected statement…]
JOHN COBB: We’re moving all our seat production back to america. At the longest, 90 days, we’ll be a made in USA. That is so hard you can’t imagine. But right now we assemble all our popular seats here. The plastics injection molding will be in Louisiana.
[A lot of boring shop talk about saddle manufacture, and then I pivoted back, asking again about treadmills, stationary training. But Mr. Park did not take the bait. He ended with…]
DP: The tech is just a supporting tool. It’s the personal experience when you use our stuff. My goal is to focus on the community, because that’s something I can relate to. John relates to the professionals, the podium people. My focus is on people like me. How can I help them – people like me – to feel better?