President/CEO, National Cycle, Inc.
For Barry Willey, president and CEO of National Cycle, Inc., the aftermarket industry is in his blood. In 1937, Barry’s father Gordon Willey first began Nation’s Cycle Center in Maywood, Illinois. Barry took over the family business in 1974 alongside his brother G.B. Willey, who serves as senior engineer and partner. Barry’s wife Ann Willey serves as the company’s sales and marketing manager.
Fast-forward to 2017, and National Cycle is celebrating another milestone, 80 years in business.
“We’ve come to realize that in the aftermarket, you have to innovate,” said Barry Willey. “We measure our success by how many times we change the industry.”
Willey said that when OEMs begin to make products that assume the same likeness of National Cycle products, he sees that as positive for his business. One such case is the VStream windshield design, which Willey designed by inverting the traditional windshield model, making the widest section of the windshield at the top. The “V” profile helps to channel turbulent air better than a traditional windshield, and the company secured a mechanical patent on the concept. Currently, National Cycle offers VStream windshields to fit more than 110 different motorcycle models.
Among its popular offerings, the Quick Release Mounting System has also become a National Cycle staple. Willey came up with the idea for a Quick Release Mounting System after years of setting up exhibit booths at industry shows.
“You always missed a nut or a bolt. We came up with the Quick Release in the mid-1980s, and it’s a great concept. You only need a minimum of tools and then it’s easy on and easy off,” he added. The system streamlines the installation process. On its website, National Cycles’ SwitchBlade Quick Release Mounting System promises to “give you the flexibility to mount any one of four styles of SwitchBlade Windshields to your motorcycle with one mount kit. On and off in less than five seconds … without tools.”
One of the main differences between National Cycle’s windshields and those of its competitors is its Quantum hardcoated polycarbonate material. Willey explained that the material can withstand wiper abrasion and has increased durability.
“We’re the first plastic windshield that can say that we supply windshield wipers on the windshield, which is big for UTVs,” he added. In comparison, windshields that are made of glass have a lot of issues due to fragility and weight.
Recent market changes have caused National Cycle to continue its innovation and move into other segments beyond motorcycles: “There’s been a big change in our market. We were the number one manufacturer and supplier of the top five cruiser parts to the metric cruiser industry, meaning windshield, backrest, luggage rack, engine guard and light bar. That business hasn’t gone down; it’s gone away,” said Willey.
Along with the Quantum hardcoating that National Cycle is known for, the company has spent years developing curved 3D-formed windshields for both ATVs and side-by-sides. The company’s AirFlare windshield for side-by-sides won a 2017 Powersports Business Nifty 50 award.
National Cycle continues to grow its brand and aftermarket offerings. Willey said the company supplies more 45 OEMs around the world and the coming months will be big for the business.
“We’ve got huge plans underway. There’s a lot of enthusiasm at the OEM level to come back after this recession and grow their business,” said Willey. “With the new generation that’s the buying public, there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm that is translating into business for us.”
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position, and how have you dealt with it?
The biggest challenge for me has been the changing generations, from boomers to millennials. This has been the most challenging thing for me by far. Different product tastes (dark custom vs. chrome, for example), different types of motorcycles (retro instead of cruisers), different types of motorcycle shops (tattoos and haircuts?), different work habits — it’s just different. I’m still working on getting up to date. It also challenges me as, one by one, my core team, made up over the years of baby boomers — some with as much as 36 years-plus experience — move on. They either start retirement or move geographically to warmer climates. But life goes on. Beside the challenge of finding capable people, it’s kind of fun trying to train someone for a job you haven’t bothered to know since you last did it 20 years ago or longer. So I’m relearning a lot of my old skills. There are boomers I have already “replaced,” (of course, they are never really replaced) including G.B., my partner, brother and technical guru. And then there’s my wife Ann, our sales and marketing manager, and then there’s me. Wish me good luck please and send all resumes to my attention! Skilled Millennials with a business head, a Navy Seal’s heart and a motorcyclist’s soul go right to the top of the list.
What’s the biggest opportunity for the aftermarket industry, and how can the industry take advantage of it?
The biggest opportunity for the aftermarket is to go back to manufacturing everything here in the USA. It used to be that most everything we bought or owned was made right here. We had all kinds of capabilities. So let’s get back on our feet and invest in factories, learn how to be competitive again and bring back “Made in the USA” as something to be proud of! We can become ultra-competitive with good marketing merged with innovation in manufacturing. We aren’t at any kind of global disadvantage. If we just stop looking sideways and practice good marketing and the best manufacturing practices possible, then that’s how we take the lead again.
What is the best advice that you can give others in the aftermarket industry?
My biggest advice — and most people who know me know I love to give advice — is for all of us innovators in the powersports aftermarket: When you are “benchmarked” by the OEM, don’t lament this — it’s a huge success! This means you have changed the design direction of the industry, and all motorcycles and riders will forevermore be influenced by your invention. So take pause to rejoice. Now once that’s over, get back in there and come up with another great idea. That’s the sign of real success: how many times can you do this? To stay in business over the long run, every company must do this over and over. You must stay optimistic, beat the drum every day and always continue to innovate. I guess National Cycle must be doing something right. After 80 years in business, our formula only needed small course corrections, but never a wholesale change in direction.