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Made In Valdosta: Steeda

October 29, 2015

Made In Valdosta: Steeda

Posted on Oct 25, 2015

by Stuart Taylor 


VALDOSTA — In the mid-1980s, Steeda was idling at a crossroads.
 
Owner Dario Orlando grew up in a suburb of Detroit. His dad worked for the Ford Motor Company, helping design the 1964 1/2 Mustang and the Futura, which was the basis for the 1966 Batmobile.

“My dad is my mentor,” said Orlando. “He always over delivered and had integrity. He was always on time and was very brilliant in his designs. I saw his success in that.”

The family moved to Florida in 1968 and Orlando’s father went to work in the boat industry.

But for Orlando, cars were already a way of life.

“I always loved the automotive manufacturing aspect and the technology that goes into a vehicle,” said Orlando. “It was in my blood. Once we moved to Florida, I was always working on something.”

Orlando rebuilt motorcycles and raced them, then switched over to racing cars, something he continues doing today.

When he and business partner, Steve Chichisola, started Steeda (the company name is a mashup of their first names), the company made tennis accessories: bags, apparel, etc.

They were weighing going into the bicycle business, but ultimately, Orlando wanted to bet on his blood and get into the aftermarket performance parts for cars, particularly Ford cars.


“It was a quick decision,” said Orlando. “The textile industry wasn’t the challenge I wanted it to be.”

It started running out of Orlando’s condo in Pompano Beach, Fla., in 1988, with a tiny shop to work on parts and cars.

“The early years were a lot of fun,” said Orlando. “I had to get my name out there and get credibility. I had been racing for 12 years and the only way people would respect you was if you built the part and took it to the road race track.”

Orlando had spent some time working with Ford Motor Company as a test driver and wanted to gear his parts to Ford vehicles. In recent years, Orlando has started manufacturing parts for other companies under the brands LSR Performance and MPR performance.

Steeda quickly became a seven-day-a-week job. Orlando would work on designing and building parts during the week, race on the weekends with his custom parts and then take orders on Monday.

That work ethic paid off.

Steeda’s facilities grew during the next few decades, from its first 1,500-square-foot shop to its combined 150,000-square-foot facilities today.

A large chunk of that is Steeda’s Valdosta facility which opened in 2008.

“I wanted Steeda to be competitive on a global market,” said Orlando. “In Florida, you couldn’t do that. The cost of living is too high, the cost of doing business is too high. Georgia just offered the right economic incentives to compete on a global market. Taxes are lower, the incentives are better, the cost of living is better, the dollar goes further. We’re competing against companies in California and I don’t know how they do it.”

Steeda started with suspension parts. The first part was a strut power brace, the second a g-track brace.


Today, Steeda manufactures 4,000 unique parts, from dye train components, to performance engine parts to brake rotors, shipping out 500,000 parts a year.

But Steeda doesn’t just manufacture. Like the early days, the company’s products still start with ideas and design, then go through engineering, prototyping and testing before going to the market.

Usually, the testing is the longest period of the process, as parts are put on cars and tested at the track to check their endurance and stability.

“Racing either proves the theory of building a better product or destroys it,” said Orlando. “We take it to the racetrack and beat the car for months to try and break the part.”

Since moving manufacturing to Valdosta, 20 percent of Steeda’s business comes from the international market with the other 80 percent in the United States.

“I’d like to continue raising our exports, maybe have a 70/30 split,” said Orlando. “But I like the mix. Right now, I want to continue to grow the North American market.

“We want to continue to grow the aftermarket business. We want to do more private label programs where we’re making parts for our competitors, making parts for other people in the automotive business.”

Orlando also plans to get in the medical-device business, producing medical equipment such as hip and knee replacements.

“The best thing for any company is to diversify,” said Orlando. “We have the technology. We want to see those pieces made here in the U.S.”

But while it’s diversifying, Steeda doesn’t have any plans to leave the performance parts industry.


“When the first car rolled off the assembly line, someone made a better horn for it or a better wheel, a different light,” said Orlando. “This industry is never going to go away.”

Stuart Taylor is a reporter for the Valdosta Daily Times.



 

 

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