Big Bear Choppers: Don’t Scare the Big Bear

By Koz Mraz, Pics by Koz and Art Hall

Big Bear Chopper is still standing on all fours. Despite the economic wash out that’s devastated the custom motorcycle industry, Kevin and Mona Alsop have taken advantage of a slow market to improve operational efficiency. They have always built their business from the ground up. Since the inception of their “build your own bike in a box” their business model was Build to Order. In other words they have always built for the demand. Implementing lean manufacturing last year and reconstituting the organization, BBC has cut lead times in half in order to ship cycles for the ‘need it now’ demand, all this with increased quality control. They’ve brought savvy new talent into the fold. The new general manager, David Ryan, comes from the automotive industry with over two decades of experience, and has been instrumental in building a lean mean BBC machine.

Also, Rick Urban the new Dealer Development Director added, “We introduced new strategic dealer incentive programs that will not only benefit the dealer, but will also benefit the customer in the end.” Of course Big Bear Choppers has been impacted by current economics. Kevin stated they sold approximately 700 bikes last year and with current sale numbers are looking at a 15% decrease in sales. But compared to the total demise of American Ironhorse and others, this is a minor hic-up. Even for Big Dog Motorcycles, an admittedly high-quality VTwin manufacturer, sales have gone from a barking 450 units monthly to a whimpering 64 a month, that’s an 85% drop. To a manufacturer that can be devastating.

Inventory Sinkhole

Other manufacturers have flooded their dealers with so many inventories it’s a clog that ends up affecting BBC. That’s never been their philosophy but dealers are stuck with that other inventory, with a show room full of 07’s 08’s and with ‘09 products being released their choked. That’s just not the case with BBC inventory.

Unfortunately other manufacturers have been using a build-to-forecast model which employs P.H.D marketing grads, bean counters, and voodoo witchdoctors all looking into crystal balls. That’s never has been the BBC model.

Several elements factor into BBC’s sustainability:

First, international demand has dramatically increased. They have dealers in Europe, Australia and Saudi Arabia. In fact Dubai just ordered 10 bikes. Suddenly people abroad want a Big Bear Chopper; sure the dollar is weak and American products are a enticing but the BBC brand associated with the quality has spearheaded sales. Network growth commitment in the eastern European block is 225 bikes over a 2 year period. And BBC was recently in front of 24 million people on the A&E channel for the premier season four viewing with international celebrity Criss Angel Mindfreak.

Secondly, customers are coming to BBC for a reason and that’s style and quality. Because of that BBC has instituted a Customer Management system CRM routing calls that come to BBC directly to appropriate dealers via a call source tracking. They also implemented a data mining system that emails those customers’ dealer specific specials.

Thirdly, BBC has developed retail financing sources offering customer a variety of financing options and dealer advertising co-op. Ask any motorcycle shop and they’ll tell you that financing these days can be a challenge.

And last, but certainly not least, Big Bear Choppers in currently the only manufacturer employing the completely compliant X-wedge engine. They are 100% emission certified with the fuel injected EVO throughout Germany and E-3 compliant. Already USA emissions compliant till 2009. Orange County Choppers actually wanted to BUY their compliancy. BBC is selling bikes to Taiwan and their vehicles are compliant in China. In Taiwan vehicles cannot be over 100 inches long so the BBC Venom shipped to Taiwan is 99 inches in length.

New Cubs in the Den Ride 2-Up

Big Bear’s new releases include 2-up configured Venom and Devil’s Advocate ProStreet designs, now totaling 18 models and variations in BBC’s expanding fleet. Showing the fairing component for the GTX bagger, it attaches to the frame instead of the forks giving better stability aerodynamics. The propriety patent-pending GTX design places both riders on the frame keeping the center of gravity equally distributed. There is also a reserve gas tank under the seats bringing the gas capability to over 6 gallons and the bags have large storage space. The Paradox is sleek in styling, an X-Wedge engine coupled with all things BBC Cool makes this bike truly impressive. The GTX and the Paradox are bold steps forward. Cool is cool and cool will never die.

When Bear Markets Get Bullish

BBC is embracing a Bear Market with products that will keep this Big Bear thriving. Their in-house production, quality control and minimum company debt has allowed BBC to stay one step ahead. Kevin has always pushed the envelope in design. He and Keith Garcia, a designer from major manufactures, work in tandem building what consumers don’t know they want until they see it. That’s a challenge.

Showing off their S.S.187, an aggressive looking Super Street bike that’s got a six thousand dollar front end, premium Brembos, Scott dampening, Kevlar fenders and dual gas tanks its a prototype that will see the light of day depending on economic climate and customer demand.

In Bear or Bull markets, Big Bear Choppers remains grounded on all fours.