They retail for upwards of $10,000 a set, are promoted by rappers and professional athletes on MTV and have spawned a raft of imitators.
They are the ``continuous mo-tion'' custom wheels-known more colloquially as ``spinners''-developed and built by Davin Wheel Co., a 5-year-old, privately held Providence-based company.
Davin, which debuted the spinning wheel technology at the L.A. Auto Show in January 2001, expects sales to more than double this year, to $8.5 million, as it gears up assembly at its 7-month-old factory in Norwalk, Calif., and launches two new product lines.
The company reported a 400-percent increase in first quarter sales over 2002. Davin Wheel attributed much of this success to the contribution of its 12,000-sq.-ft. assembly plant, which opened in November 2002.
Prior to opening the facility, Davin outsourced all production, which limited capacity and the ability to manage output. By assembling at its new plant, the company now controls the quantities produced, the production schedule and quality of the products, according to CEO Ian Hardman.
``In 2002 we evaluated our business and took the time to make the changes that would have long-term benefits,'' Mr. Hardman said. ``In addition to acquiring our own manufacturing facility, we streamlined our processes, added employees and initiated a full branding and marketing campaign. Our sales are now starting to reflect the fruits of our labor.''
Additionally, Davin recently rolled out an 88-spoke wire version of the spinner wheel in partnership with Dayton Wheel Products and is readying a design for the Hummer H2 to be launched in the first half of 2003. The firm also recently debuted its Revolution 4.0 line, which features authentic wood and carbon fiber inlays in the wheel spokes.
Founded in 1998, Davin Wheels designs and builds high-end custom wheels for the elite auto enthusiast.
The spinning design was the idea of David Fowlkes Jr., the founder, president and COO of the company. He first sketched the idea for the spinning wheel in 1990 as a project for a class at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. After leaving the school, Mr. Fowlkes went into designing footwear, working for Reebok International and the avant-garde shoe company And 1.
In 1998, Mr. Fowlkes made the acquaintance of Mr. Hardman and Hank Seemore, at that time a vice president of Fleet Bank Private Clients Group and now chief financial officer of Davin Wheels. Mr. Fowlkes showed his two future partners his design and eventually they agreed to form Davin Wheels.
Throughout 1999 and 2000, they set up the company and worked to perfect and patent the design, which then was launched at the aforementioned 2001 L.A. Auto Show.
For dealers wondering about mounting and balancing, Mr. Fowlkes said the wheel is handled like any other high-end custom wheel. The spinner is left off during mounting, balancing and installation. Installing the spinner takes an extra 15-20 minutes per car, he said.
The wheels themselves are three-piece forged aluminum and the separate spinner is forged as well, Mr. Fowlkes said. They come primarily in 20-, 22- and 24-inch sizes with a few 19-inch sizes available as well.
Davin strives to come up with ``classic'' designs-ones that will have a shelf life of several years, Mr. Fowlkes said. ``And besides,'' he added, ``our core customers own two, three or more cars, so we strive to develop designs that will appeal to them for all their cars.''
Davin Wheels are distributed through more than 80 wholesale and retail distributors nationwide, he said, but the biggest customer base so far has been on the East and Gulf coasts. A list of distributors can be found on the company's Web site, www.davinwheels.com. Davin is derived from the Greek for ``from the gods.''