Bikes and image are hand-tooled at the new Norton


What can an iconic but flagging brand do to revive its spark?

Ask Stuart Garner, the British fireworks magnate who bought Norton Motorcycles from an American investment banker and took the brand home to Derbyshire.

Garner wanted to really bring the brand home. So he took his time building a local supply chain to support his small factory, where it takes two techs a full day to build a single bike. By hand.

"People in the industry were convinced the project would fall at the first hurdle,” Stuart told This Is Derbyshire. "But we are doing it, we're making the bikes, we're selling them and the demand is going through the roof. I was determined to make it work. And when people said that it wouldn't, I guess that made me even more driven."

Stuart is counting on the blend of quality hand craftsmanship, local suppliers – he estimates 70 to 80 percent of components are made in Britain, and he is working toward 100 percent – and a little star power will keep the bikes in demand.

"When I bought Norton, it was not simply a case of moving production from America to Britain and making the bikes straight away. One of the most difficult aspects of this process has been establishing a supply chain,” he explained. "When I brought Norton back after it had been in America since 1992, we more or less had to set up the supply chain from scratch. We had to seek out the small engineering companies who could make us a couple of hundred parts, instead of thousands.”

The gamble has been paying off. Full production started earlier this year. The factory makes three models, all based on the Norton Commando: the Cafe Racer, the Sport and the Special Edition.

Stuart and his team of 30 staff expected to produce about 200 bikes the first year, and is backordered for 18 months.

It helps that the brand has a reputation in racing circles, and that celebrities like Orlando Bloom, Billy Idol and Richard Hammond are spotted riding their new Nortons.

Now Stuart wants to ramp production up to thousands per year. That would mean tripling his staff and the size of his factory, to 30,000 sf.

"We have seen particular demand from people who remember the brand from the first time around. The majority of people who are buying the bikes are in their 40s, 50s and 60s,” Stuart says. "Yes, some people say we should try to attract younger customers. But my feeling is that Norton should be an aspirational brand.”

The new Norton is hoping to recreate its glory days, in road races like the TT, but also with milestones at Bonneville and in Moto GP.

"Moto GP needs a British presence again and Norton is hoping to provide that,” Stuart says. “Exposure to millions of fans across the globe would be excellent for us.”

For more on progress and plans at Norton, see the article in This Is Derbyshire.

Posted by Holly Wagner