SAN MARCOS — Twenty-five years ago, Alan Roach was a 33-year-old off-road racing enthusiast with a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo degree, a garage and an idea.
He wanted to make lighting for his off-road vehicle that would make it street legal. With that, Baja Designs was born.
On Aug. 26, Roach and his wife were surrounded by more than 1,000 people. They were there to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Baja Designs, which has long shed Roach’s garage and has become one of the leaders in the off-road lighting industry.
“It was a lot of fun, our marketing guys did a great job with it,” Roach said on Aug. 29. “My wife and I had just got home, we had done a military show in Oregon, stopped off to do some off-roading and then visited her parents, and we got back late the night before and just showed up. Our marketing guys did a great job with the celebration.”
Baja Designs, which employs 48 people at its headquarters on Bosstick Boulevard, is widely considered to be one of the two leaders in the industry, which equips recreational, military and civilian off-road vehicles with lighting that allows them to drive at night and on roads.
Roach estimates that half of the racers at the SCORE Baja 1000, the world’s most recognizable off-road race, equip their vehicles with Baja’s light-emitting diode lighting.
How was the company able to rise the ranks? Roach said it starts with the employees.
“I think it has to do with our passion for what we do,” Roach said. “I think we are a passionate group of people about our product. Most of our staff is into off-roading and they love doing something they are excited about, as opposed to, you know, making toilet brushes or something mundane.”
Roach started off-roading at age 13, and has raced in at least 12 Baja 1000s. He started Baja Designs in 1992 when he developed lights to make his Honda XR600 dirt bike street legal.
Since then, the company has been on the cutting edge of technological advancements in lighting, including high intensity discharge (HID) lighting in the late 1990s and LED lighting during the 2000s.
Keeping ahead of the curve has allowed Baja Designs to survive as other industry giants faltered, Roach said.
“There was some large European and Japanese players, and they’ve pretty much gone by wayside because they didn’t keep up with technology,” Roach said. “They were comfortable to rest on laurels with their product, and primarily us and another company blew up that market.”
Baja Designs is on the pricier edge of the market, Roach said, but quite simply, you get what you pay for. Roach takes pride in the fact that the company manufactures in the USA and uses only the finest materials and the latest technology.
“I’ve been racing off-road since 1977, and have done hundreds of desert races, and our other engineers are racing enthusiasts, so we develop lighting from what we know we need as a racer and a user,” Roach said. “We’re on the bleeding edge of the technology, and that is something we are proud of.”
Roach said he isn’t sure he’ll be around for the 50th anniversary milestone in his official capacity, but he said he is confident that the company will continue to grow and stay at the industry’s forefront.
Currently, he said, the company is working with laser technology and anticipates bringing a new light to market fairly soon.
“I plan on subtly retiring but still working for the company as a consultant to do lighting design and development,” Roach said. “I’ll off-road until I can’t any longer, but I feel I have valuable things to offer the company in the future and our new crew of engineers.
“We’re training people to take my place who have the energy of the 25-year-old that will push things to the next level,” Roach said.