Life in the Fast Lane
Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting Is a Venture on the Right Track
By KEVIN FLANDERS
It was there, he recalls, that he not only developed an affection for the sport, but started dreaming about one day opening his own operation in Western Mass. In fact, he told his parents that this was his career ambition — or at least one of many.
It would take more than a decade for that dream to become reality, but today, Bouvier is the proud owner of Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting in Hatfield, a business that only two years after opening is already on the fast track, serving a growing number of customers in all age groups.
PVIK, as it’s called, has been a wild ride for this entrepreneur, who left a job as a commercial-lending officer to pursue this venture full-time, and it’s really just getting started. The operation boasts go-karts capable of reaching 35 mph and a winding, 1,000-foot track that keeps drivers on their toes.
PVIK attracts serious racers and families alike, hosting everything from leagues to birthday parties to corporate outings that offer something much faster — and exponentially more fun — than a conference-room table. Visitors come from across town, throughout the region, and even beyond, because there just aren’t many facilities like this.
“This is definitely a destination for people, many who don’t live around here; some people will travel one or two hours every week to get time on the track,” said Bouvier, who works closely with manager Wilder Gulmi-Landy to handle daily operations and promote the venture. “Just like any business, you want to always get the word out there about what you offer and keep people coming back.”
Bouvier spent more than nine years researching the karting industry, saving money, and honing his vision. Often, he thought it would be beyond his reach, because while the business is unique and has vast promise, there are also some considerable risks and expenses that come with the territory.
“When I was researching, I never thought it would be possible for me to open a business due to the expense involved,” he said, adding that, after much due diligence and introspection, he decided to take the plunge, and he hasn’t bothered to look in the rear-view mirror — not that there is one on these karts — since he opened the doors.
Instead, the focus is on what’s down the road, meaning likely expansion — on several possible levels.
Bouvier is already moving ahead with a plan to invest in new vehicles, double karts that will enable young children to ride with parents and also allow disabled individuals to also experience the track’s speed and tight turns. He’s also exploring the possibility of opening another karting operation, potentially farther south in the Pioneer Valley, and is already thinking about one day having multiple karting locations.
“We’ve done really well for a young business with young people operating it,” said Bouvier, who is 29. “I’d love to own multiple locations by the time I’m 40.”
For this issue and its focus on sports and leisure, BusinessWest goes behind the scenes at this operation, where the phrase ‘getting up to speed’ has many different connotations.
Start Your Engines
Take a walk through the PVIK facility, and you’ll be quick to spot its many auto-racing inspirations.
The track, flanked by carefully laid tire barriers, can be completed in less than 20 seconds by the expert drivers who take part in PVIK’s many leagues, perfecting the sharp curves over thousands of laps. The high-performance adult and junior karts meet the industry standard, and the track officials even use flags like those seen on the NASCAR circuit — blue and yellow to indicate a passing situation and checkered to signify the completion of a race, among others — to keep traffic moving smoothly.
It’s an environment designed to keep guests feeling like they’re in the fast lane, making each second of PVIK’s eight-minute, $20 sessions riveting.“The cool thing about karting is that you really feel like you did something when it’s over,” Bouvier said. “You get what you pay for every time, and we’ve never had anyone come out disappointed. We’re in the business of making people happy; that’s the most important thing for us.”
The PVIK staff is also in the business of keeping people safe, an emphasis reflected in its many course policies. Before they even step through the doors to the track, guests are required to watch a brief video explaining safety regulations and equipment. They are then guided by track officials in selecting a helmet and neck brace of the appropriate size prior to entering the karts. As yet another layer of safety, each kart is equipped with seatbelts to minimize the risk of injury in the event of a collision into the wall or another kart.
“Safety is our biggest priority,” Bouvier said. “We want to keep people safe at all times when they’re on our track.”
For Wyatt Pease and other track officials, ensuring guest safety and good track conditions are part of a multi-faceted job description. When officials aren’t helping guests with chinstraps and seatbelts, they’re monitoring the vehicles on the course and waving the correct flags for specific situations. In the instance of a spinout or another incident on the course, it’s up to the track officials to wave the red flags and indicate to drivers that they must stop.
“It’s awesome working here — we have a lot of fun every day,” said Pease, one of 20 PVIK employees who collectively serve as the engine that makes the business run.
The Road Ahead
From a revenue perspective, the race has just begun for the PVIK staff, and they believe they’re off to a fast start.
Bouvier estimates that about 80% of his customers are new to the facility, and his primary mission is to turn them into repeat customers, many of whom will participate regularly in events and leagues. He said PVIK has already developed a solid core of regulars, some of whom travel from other states to get behind the wheel of its karts.
“New customers walk through our doors all the time,” Bouvier said. “We’re constantly getting new people from all over the area, and we want to get as many of those people as we can to come back for more.”
Through leagues, shows, and ironman events, as well as promotions and occasional free races, Bouvier has seen a rise in repeat customers in the past year. But it’s PVIK’s future plans that are expected to significantly increase its exposure and customer base.
For example, there’s the plan to order several double karts to accommodate a broader spectrum of guests. The PVIK staff is excited about the opportunities these new karts will create for people who previously wouldn’t have been able to enjoy karting.
“We’re hoping to have them in by the holiday season,” Bouvier predicted. “If people know someone who’s disabled who has always wanted to do this, now they’ll be able to ride.”
Bouvier said the new karts will be equipped with specialized steering wheels located in the passenger compartments, which will enable individuals without the use of their lower extremities to steer the karts while the operator focuses on the brake and accelerator.
Meanwhile, Bouvier is hoping to make major improvements to the track as well, a project that could include the addition of 10,000 square feet of drivable space. One of Bouvier’s main goals for the planned upgrade is to elevate the track by adding a raised deck that spans other sections of the course, then loops around and connects back to the starting point. Currently the course doesn’t feature any elevation changes, but that could soon be a thing of the past.
“At this point, it’s just a matter of getting the financing together,” said Bouvier. “It’s hard to put a date on the project, but we’re definitely looking into the possibility of expanding.”
Indeed, Bouvier has researched several locations with good potential, and he may decide to partner with an investor if the right opportunity presents itself.
It’s an ambitious goal, but the word ‘complacency’ isn’t in Bouvier’s vocabulary, and while he’s still somewhat new to the industry, he’s knows that, like his kart drivers, he has to focus on what’s ahead and be ready for it.
Getting Revved Up
It isn’t always high speeds and smooth driving in the indoor karting business. When the doors close for the night and the customers head home, that’s when the hard work starts for Bouvier and Gulmi-Landy, long hours of readying the equipment for the next day and devising new marketing strategies, with the constant goal of making customers’ experiences as enjoyable as possible.
“It’s been a ton of work, a lot of 100-hour weeks,” recalled Bouvier, who has had a hand in every aspect of PVIK’s growth, even the initial construction of the building and the track design. “It was a huge help to have him [Gulmi-Landy] helping me when we first opened up. Sometimes we’d be here at 4 a.m. trying to figure out certain things and working on different projects.”
One of the biggest challenges is getting the word out and bringing people to the facility on West Street, just off I-91, he said. But once they get there, he added, they are drawn to the sport’s speed and exhilaration.
That’s because, like Bouvier, they enjoy life in the fast lane.