New direction expected to help company grow again
For the past few years, Custom Chrome has been operating in the shadows of the industry, not making much news, barely keeping the company afloat. But with new leadership and a fresh focus, Custom Chrome is hoping to grow in the coming years.
Jeremy Yearton, business development manager, said many in the industry, especially loyal Custom Chrome dealers, have known for a while that Custom Chrome wasn’t performing at the same high levels that it once did.
“It isn’t a surprise. Those [dealers] are the people that have been in business with us for years, and they know we’re in trouble, and we’re not supporting them. We can’t support them by trying to compete with everybody else that’s in this market,” Yearton said. “We don’t have a big backer that’s supporting Custom Chrome. We’re just a stand-alone V-twin business, so we’re trying to get control of what we can take control of — and that’s our products.”
Custom Chrome began an initiative in recent years to focus on its house brands — RevTech, Motor Factory, Santee and Cycle Jammer Products — rather than stretching its business too thin by distributing other products. Over the past nine months, those efforts have surged forward, and Yearton, an 18-year veteran of Custom Chrome, is happy about the new direction.
“Custom Chrome has been around for 46 years now, and we’ve really focused throughout the past 40-plus years on being a whole line wholesale distributor and carrying a lot of other people’s products,” he said. “In the past four or five years we’ve gotten into the situation where we haven’t been able to support our own products, so what we’re doing and where we’re going to focus is paying attention to our brands.”
Leading the charge to change is president and CEO Louis Casarez, who was promoted to his current position in March 2014 after spending the previous 15 years with Custom Chrome, 12 of which were in South Korea with parent company DIC.
“[Casarez] is continually developing new products, so he’s not just the guy who sits in the big chair in an office; he’s constantly in the shop getting his hands dirty,” Yearton said. While in South Korea, Casarez was a design engineer for DIC’s Motorcycle Division.
Yearton also credits the Custom Chrome staff and the company’s manufacturing partners for helping the company through this transition.
“We’ve got a number of people lined up to be able to help us with a place to manufacture and design and keep our product lines going, which is exciting, and internally we’ve got some really good people in our company,” he said.
As Custom Chrome has shifted its business model, it has downsized its Morgan Hill, Calif., headquarters, and it found cost savings that have made the change easier.
However, the transition has come with a few pains. Custom Chrome had to pull out of the well-attended 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August, as well as other shows in 2015, while staff worked on plans for 2016 and beyond.
“It was hard, but when you’re making this total transition, becoming a much smaller company, my resources were limited,” Yearton said, adding that properly staffing a Sturgis booth would mean taking executives away from the task at hand.
However, Custom Chrome is already excited about what’s to come. At the V-Twin Expo in February in Cincinnati, Yearton was showing dealers the company’s new prototype hard saddlebag that has popular 2014-style latches but fits 1993-2013 Harley-Davidsons.
The company is introducing a new six-speed gear set with helical fifth and sixth gears that will reduce noise and vibration, and Custom Chrome is hoping to bring that to market at nearly the same price as its current six-speed gear set. The company is also working on a new gas tank and a number of motor components — the products that have always been Custom Chrome’s strong suit.
“What we used to do was innovate, and that’s what we’re trying to get back to,” Yearton said. “We lost that innovative surge, and there are other companies out there that are really good at bringing things to the market, and that’s what we used to be. So we’re getting back to that.”
He explained that the core of Custom Chrome still exists: The products are still high quality, and the customer service is still top notch.
“It’s a product that they can trust; it’s been around a long time. We are one of the oldest companies in this business. We have been in the engines business for 18 years and transmissions since the mid-’80s,” Yearton said. “We have the best customer service in the industry, I think, and we take care of our customers. Almost regardless of the situation that they are in, we always try and go above and beyond to take care of them.”
Custom Chrome’s staff is grateful for the dealers who have stuck with the company through the good times and bad, and Yearton is positive those loyal dealers and others will be impressed with the new focus.
“I think the dealer community will support it,” he said. “Everybody seems to be jazzed and on board with the direction we’re headed.”