W228 S69 25 Enterprise Drive
Big Bend, Wis. 53103
Owner Jamie Strasser started building custom bikes and doing custom paint jobs out of his home in Waterford, Wis., without the slightest intention of becoming a retail business. “I built my first bike back in 1996,” Strasser said, “and it just kind of transpired from there.” As demand increased for his product, he wound up leaving his garage and renting two shops, one for manufacturing and the other for painting. However, he discovered running two buildings was inefficient, so he built a state-of-the-art facility in Big Bend, Wis., in 2002. He continued with his custom bikes, but about a year later, he became a dealer for American IronHorse. “I have to say 2002 and 2003 were probably the hardest years of my life,” Strasser said, “trying to construct a building and turning two shops into one and trying to get employees.” To make the transition easier, Strasser partnered with Frank Lisiak, former general manager for a local Chevrolet dealership. Lisiak focuses on bike sales and marketing. The business continued to grow as they added Big Dog Motorcycles in 2005 and Big Bear Choppers about six months ago.
With less money to spend because of the slowing economy, Strasser says customers need a reason to buy products that are considered recreational for the most part. His biggest concern is V-twin manufacturers won’t continue to give him new and exciting products that will flush out the old generations’ products. “Our manufactures need to stay aggressive,” he said. “We have the heart and sole, the mission statement, all the communications, the fundamentals. The biggest thing we need is good product because we have everything else to offer.” On more of a personal level, Strasser said he concerns himself with maintaining good business fundamentals to stay competitive with bigger dealerships.
It’s a toss up between the Big Dog and Big Bear Chopper brands. Strasser said Big Bear Choppers are grabbing more people’s attention because of its style and is coming on strong, but the Big Dog name has been out there longer and is the store’s No. 1 line. “They’re our class act show, our bread and butter,” he said. However, he says both lines have been doing well for the dealership.
Customer Buying Trends
This past year has become more of a buyer’s market because there is a greater amount of supply available in the V-twin market, including Harley-Davidsons, Strasser said. Since people have more options now, they’ve been educating themselves and becoming more discriminating and diligent. “People are looking more into things instead of the compulsive buying like two and three years ago,” Strasser said. In addition to educating themselves about the bikes, people are looking further into the dealerships they’re thinking of buying from. “They want to know if they’re going to get taken care of,” Strasser noted.
Parts and Service
“Anyone can sell you a bike,” Strasser said. “The service department is going to keep people at your shop.” With three technicians, the service department is an area Jamie’s Customs focuses on because it’s where the success is going to be in a good dealership, Strasser said. “It (the service department) is an area that can really personalize a dealership,” Strasser said, “and that’s what a dealership needs in a tough market like right now.” Jamie’s Customs built a special room that boasts a number of services, including V-twin service, dyno tuning and custom painting. It also has a full fabrication shop. “We are pretty well rounded,” Strasser said.
Promotional Home Runs
Jamie’s Customs is a part of any event it can be, from local bike events to auto shows. “Everything has helped, even me participating in the high-level bike shows,” Strasser said. “We always seem to get a customer or two for everything we do.” Besides participating in events, Strasser said the dealership has run a lot of TV ads this year. They plan to rely more on that type of advertising because people get to see the bikes, which is a crucial factor. “If you mention Harley-Davidson, everyone knows what a Harley is,” Strasser said. “We’re the Ferraris or Porsches of the market:?Not as many out there, but you need to see them to get more excited.”
Words of Advice
“Suck it up and stay tough,” Strasser said. “If you’re meant to be in the bike business, you’re going to find a way to survive, and I think things (the market) are going to get better.”
— Karin Gelschus
Jamie’s Customs – Big Bend, WI – Oct. 15, 2007