By CATHERINE HOGUE
**As printed in Area Auto Racing News Vol. LII, No. 7
Kevin Nouse began his graphics business, Nouse Signs & Graphics, in 2008 with a “24-inch vinyl cutter and a dream.” Now in addition to his graphics company, he is the only authorized dealer for K1 RaceGear in Pennsylvania for his own Hotmark Custom Apparel. The closest K1 RaceGear dealers to him are in Virginia and New York. “K1 RaceGear is our main safety equipment provider because we have built a tremendous relationship with them over the past few years,” said Nouse. “We are actually their largest dealer in the USA for Custom SFI Rated Racing Uniforms, which makes me very proud.”
In addition to his businesses, Nouse is also a regular 358 sprint car driver among the Central Pennsylvania dirt tracks circuit. Balancing all three of these aspects gets a bit hectic for Nouse, who said he takes care of his sign customers year-round while during November to April he gets racers looking to purchase new safety equipment and suits for the next season. “It gets pretty crazy from December to April because I also am lettering racecars, on top of taking care of my sign customers and all of the people who ordered custom suits and safety equipment,” he said. “There are many 18-hour days during that time and it’s pretty much guaranteed that I am in the shop seven days a week.”
However, K1 isn’t the only brand Nouse sells. In October 2013, he became an authorized dealer for Design 500 and Lady Eagle Racewear, which he said “are probably the most respected suit manufacturers in the industry.” He also recently fostered a partnership with another company that expanded his prospects as far as safety equipment goes. “That partnership enables me to sell entire product lines from Alpinestars, Arai Helmets, Bell Helmets, Stilo Helmets, Carbon X, G-Force Race Gear, HANS, Impact Racing, NecksGen, and Simpson Racing Products,” said Nouse.
While Nouse is a dealer for these brands, he doesn’t actually stock any product because of the large inventory costs as well as the amount of overhead it creates. As of right now, he drop-ships orders directly from the vendor to the customer ordering the product. Someday he hopes to have a fully stocked showroom where his customers can shop and purchase in-store, but said it may be a few years down the road until that dream becomes a reality. Nouse and his wife run the business and fund everything 100 percent on their own. “We pay for everything out of pocket when we get it because we don’t want to be in debt,” he said. “I am very proud of what we have created and were able to do so far.”
Motorsports booth, displaying K1 RaceGear suits and Pat Cannon’s sprint car. Photo courtesy of Kevin Nouse.
Nouse went to school for graphic design and said art has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember, so the decision to start the sign business was an easy one. However, the suit and safety equipment business wasn’t something he had originally planned on getting into. Nouse said a few years ago he needed a new custom suit but couldn’t afford one. He got measured at the Motorsports Show by a company with reasonable prices and ended up becoming a dealer for them. The experience wasn’t the best, however, because of the company’s lack of customer service, so Nouse soon split from them. “That experience motivated me to find another company with a quality product at an affordable price,” he said. After several weeks of looking around, he stumbled upon K1 RaceGear. “The rest is history. Best decision I ever made in business to date because they have been wonderful to deal with and their customer service is amazing.”
Nouse said that while he’s always felt as though Design 500 provides the best suits in the business, their prices are at the top end of the scale. “I wore them for many years and loved every one of them,” he said. “The attention to detail with every aspect of their suits is incredible.” However, for racers who might not be able to afford the higher-end prices, Nouse highly recommends K1 RaceGear suits. “They allow you to get a fully customized suit for an amazing price. I feel that is extremely important for racers, to look professional for their sponsors and fans.”
With the two businesses working sort of hand-in-hand, Nouse has a very interesting client base. Many of his signs customers are local businesses, much of that business being concentrated into the spring and summer months. He also letters vehicles (box vans, pickup trucks, tractor-trailers, etc.) for companies and is even affiliated with a local body shop which brings them some business. In regards to racing, he letters Quarter Midgets, Go-Karts, Micro Sprints, Super Sportsman, Late Models, and Sprint Cars.
As far as his safety equipment business goes, he designs and sells custom suits to drivers in any division. “To date, we have sold K1 Custom suits to drivers in PA, MD, DE, NJ, NY, CT, MA, NH, RI, TX, VT, and AZ. And we have sold suits to many customers throughout the Midwest also.” Nouse hopes to soon expand his suit sales to the Midwest Area.
Lately, business has been booming for Nouse on all fronts. He attributes this to three factors. First, customer service as Nouse Signs & Graphics and Hotmark Custom Apparel is top of the line. “We try very hard to provide unmatched customer service with every service we offer,” he said. They are quick to respond to customer calls and emails, which is a vital part of good customer service. Nouse said that poor customer service “is unacceptable and something that should never happen.”
Second, Nouse believes that people are attracted to the prices of the K1 RaceGear custom suits. They are able to offer the same quality suit as other brands but for half the cost of some of their competitors. Lastly, Nouse credits his successful business to their designs. “We constantly hear from potential customers that we design the nicest suits they have ever seen,” he said. “We are also very proud of our racecar designs because they are ‘clean’ and not cluttered by stripes or crazy fills. You can read sponsors from a distance with our designs, and that’s what is most important.”
K1 RaceGear suits displayed at Nouse’s Motorsports booth. Photo courtesy of Kevin Nouse.
Anyone involved with racing knows the dangers connected to the sport, and each and every driver recognizes those potential threats every time they suit up and strap into those cars. Nouse has first-hand experience with this. Every track has their own safety regulations, but Nouse said that many tracks don’t have enough rules regarding safety equipment. “In most cases, their hands are tied,” he said. “If they mandate a rule, then there is a liability issue if someone gets hurt, and nobody likes to get sued. That’s why most tracks list things as ‘suggested’ safety equipment. It’s a terrible way to do things in my opinion, but I fully understand why it’s done that way.”
Nouse feels as though there are some safety issues that are overlooked to an extent. He said there are some rules that are just plain black-and-white but are never checked. “I can’t tell you the last time I had the date on my helmet or seat belts checked at a race track, unless I was racing in New Jersey, and that’s not acceptable,” he said. “If there are black and white rules regarding specific safety equipment, then those rules should be enforced by someone.”
Regardless of how the tracks handle their safety regulations, each driver has a responsibility to protect themselves, and Nouse’s apparel company can help them do just that. “We have every type of safety equipment for every type of racer, on any budget,” he said. Nouse Signs & Graphics/Hotmark Custom Apparel is located in Carlisle, PA.