Big Bear Choppers pledges to hold costs, drive margins

Publish Date: 
Aug 14, 2007
By Dennis Johnson

While the stars of Big Bear Choppers' first dealer meeting were the new X-Wedge-powered Paradox and GTX bagger, the company's commitment to driving down wholesale costs and good dealer margins won the most applause.

Owners Kevin and Mona Alsop used the inaugural gathering of about 30 of its dealers last month to emphasize the small-volume OEM's transition to a lean manufacturing model (see box, below), while sticking with kick-ass designs. The goal, says Kevin, is to shave down the invoice cost on BBC's bikes so that dealers can compete more effectively in a tough market.

"This is the sole reason," explains Kevin.

To do so, the company needs to run at the same efficiency as major automobile builders — while putting out a cool product that has minimal warranty claims.

"The consumer public wants the wow factor and the reliability of a Toyota. That's it," says Kevin. "I'm being frugal, and hell-bent on making a better product. Right now it's design, or die."

The news met with approval from the collection of dealers who traveled from across the country to the resort town 9,000 feet up in California's San Bernardino mountains. It's in this small alpine city that BBC has grown from a company with gross sales of $500,000 in 1998 to a projected $60 million in 2008.

The dealer summit gave the dealers an inside look at Big Bear's manufacturing operation, a chance to ride each of the company's models, and to learn intimately Kevin and Mona's philosophy on running the company and where they want to see it go.

Keywords throughout the weekend were "lean manufacturing" and "vertical integration," both of which were detailed by Kevin ("Consumers don't want to pay for my inefficiencies") and production engineer Roman Chruszcz.

To meet its goals, BBC reorganized its fabrication shop to improve the flow of parts through the manufacturing process. The build shop and shipping department also were restructured to run more efficiently. A research and development office and a dyno booth were also added to the plant.

BBC can build about 100 bikes a month (it's now doing about 80). With a more efficient manufacturing model the company wants to get this up to 300 bikes a month. Once it hits this number, Kevin says, it can start offering a model in the sub-$20,000 market, whereupon dealers can start competing head-on with big OEMs. (continued)