Custom manufacturer offers licensing agreements to select builders
Wild West Motor Company stands as a rarity in the industry. As many custom motorcycle manufacturers — such as American IronHorse, Titan Motorcycle Company and Big Dog Motorcycles — fell during the recession, Wild West hung on and found a way to survive and even flourish.
Now the company is looking to grow in a new way, by entering into licensing agreements with 8-10 custom builders across the U.S.
Wild West was founded in the late 1980s by Paul Seiter. Seiter started the business in Utah before moving it to San Diego, where the company grew, producing a few thousand custom motorcycles and building a solid reputation.
But in 2007, the company began experiencing financial difficulties. Stretched thin in an effort to create a Spyder-like TriRod and hit by the early effects of the recession, Wild West began looking for a buyer. Jim Winn, now senior partner and CEO of Wild West Motor Company, stepped in, bought the company and built a new facility for it closer to his home in Kentucky.
Winn acquired the company because of its reputation and its NADA certification. But shortly after making the purchase, he adjusted the business to the new economy, and in doing so decided to disband Wild West’s dealer network.
“One right after another, [custom manufacturers] were closing their doors, and each one of these companies, including Indian, were building basically custom V-twin motorcycles, so what that told us is if we were going to stay in the business, we were going to have to make some changes,” Winn recalled.
Since 2008, Wild West has been building custom bikes from its Kentucky facility. Each bike, at about $40,000 each, is paid for in advance, assuring every bike built is sold. With Winn’s purchase coming during a tough economic time for many Americans, Winn was unsure how sales would hold, but they’ve surprised him by staying steady. Many Wild West buyers are athletes or those who have succeeded in Internet-based businesses.
“There is a small percentage of the market out there that will not settle for just what’s available,” he said. “They’re just not going to do it. They’ve got money, and they’re going to spend money on what they want.”
Wild West currently has about 4,500 bikes on the road worldwide.
Though Wild West has done well building its own bikes, the company is seeing a new revival in the custom motorcycle market, and it’s looking to expand.
“We see the market’s starting to grow a little bit,” Winn said. “We know that we’re still not going to get back to the numbers that we used to have back in the early 2000s — not going to happen because I don’t think the market is going to grow that much in the U.S. — however we still have to try to eke out our little bit of the market.”
Going against the grain, Wild West is looking to establish licensing agreements with 8-10 motorcycle shops that build and sell bikes nationwide, instead of developing a traditional dealer network.
“We would rather go back and put together licensing agreements with some of these dealers that have traditionally built bikes as well as sold bikes. They have a good reputation and have a good reputation for building good quality high-end bikes,” Winn explained.
Licensee partners would receive the frames, tanks and electrical systems for Wild West’s Gunfire and Dragoon models. The builders would then work with Wild West’s wheel, handlebar and forward controls supplier in California to order additional parts to customize each bike. Then the builder would assemble and paint the bike and send photos back to Wild West for approval.
One shop has already experimented with the process to help Wild West solidify its licensee plan. Nearly 100 photos of that completed bike were sent to Wild West for inspection.
“If the pictures come in, and the bike is everything that it’s supposed to be, then we will issue the motorcycle with the VIN number and foil that goes on it. It then becomes a Wild West motorcycle,” Winn said.
The benefits to the dealer building and selling the bike are plentiful. First, the builder gets to share in the bike sale’s profit; second, it adds to a dealer’s offerings; and third — the point Winn stresses most — the bikes will be given NADA-approved VINs and KBB trade-in values. Because Wild West is an NADA-approved manufacturer, the company has the ability to provide VINs to its bikes. Most small custom builders don’t have that option, which usually makes customers’ $30,000-$50,000 bikes uninsurable and difficult to finance.
“There are dealers out there who have been building these custom bikes for a lot of years, and they want to keep building, but … they can’t do it because of the liability out there,” Winn said.
Participating dealers will be required to service and do warranty work on the Wild West bikes they sell. Initially, Wild West is looking to ask each partner to produce and sell 5-10 custom bikes per year.
“If we only build 100 [more] bikes a year, we’ve made good money and the company continues to grow,” Winn said.
On top of the benefits for the dealers, Wild West and its vendors also expect to see perks from the deal. As more Wild West bikes are built, customers benefit as they’re able to order the bikes from more locations throughout the country.
“I think that we’re going to be able to make this work, and I believe that when the word goes out that … Wild West is going to offer this to a select few shops around the country, I don’t think we’re going to have a problem getting it hooked up,” Winn said.
He recently turned to an industry LinkedIn group to announce Wild West’s licensing plan, and has already received interest from more than a dozen builders, two of which are international. Two dealers on the East Coast have also expressed great interest to be among the first to sign licensee agreements.
For Wild West, this opportunity simply represents another way to help its company grow and succeed.
“We’ve literally won thousands of custom shows. We’ve had lots of different write-ups about the bikes. We’ve been on the History Channel. We’ve done biker build offs. We’ve been through the gamut, and we’re still alive,” Winn said. “That’s the important thing because there’s too many that are not.”