Would you like pipes with that?

Dennis Johnson
Publish Date: 
Apr 1, 2008
By Dennis Johnson

WHEN TOYOTA WENT SHOPPING for young car buyers for its Scion brand, it took the natural route into the pocketbooks and minds of Generation (Put-a-Letter-Here) —a computer screen.

Potential Scion owners need only go online or to a kiosk in a Scion showroom to design their dream ride by selecting options from a series of drop-down menus. From there, the car is built as ordered and shipped to the dealership for delivery. As a bonus, the brand works on a pure pricing model, meaning the price listed is the price paid. No haggling. No headaches. The Scion concept plays off the make-it-my-own individualism of this demographic and frees the dealers from storing and flooring inventory.

Dar Holdsworth of Darwin Motorcycles, manufacturer of Brass Balls Bobbers can't figure out why the motorcycle industry hasn't yet caught on to this approach. For more than a year he's offered the same service out of his Oklahoma City factory for his line of custom V-twins. Last year the company he co-founded with Sam Wills built about 40 custom-order bikes. 

"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if a customer can virtually build their bike?' So we put this online to allow customers across the country to build their own," Holdsworth says. "I mean, this is not brain surgery. I'm amazed that this hasn't been done before."

Now Holdsworth is expanding the concept off-line and into dealerships via a distribution deal with Cobra Powersports, the distributor of TGB and Pierspeed scooters and ATVs, and Sachs mopeds. Much like Scion, Brass Balls wants to connect with consumers but take some weight off of dealerships.

Brass Balls' showrooms consist of samples of the company's three stripped-down models, a display stand and a custom-order kiosk upon which customers design their bikes. For a $60,000 investment dealers get the franchise, the showroom package and some banners. There are no flooring costs as the bikes are built to order at the Brass Balls plant before they're shipped for delivery. Dealers need only handle the initial sale, the deposit, prep and after-sales support.

"This gives people the opportunity to still pay the bills because they can get into a product line ... without having to invest a lot of money and without a lot of floor planning," says Bill Pierce, president of Cobra Powersports. "We're not going to let them floor any bike so nobody can get in any trouble. We're not gonna let a dealer call us and say, 'I want to take 10 bikes; put 'em on G.E.'"

Cobra and Brass Balls introduced the concept at Dealer Expo, where the idea reportedly was a big hit with traditional OE dealers. Pierce thinks the brand is a good fit for owners of the Big Four franchises looking to get into the V-twin market. The base model for most custom V-twins starts at or above $20,000, while the starting MSRP on Brass Balls' base model, the Digger Bobber, is $16,995.

"We're going to go to the Japanese OE guys and say 'We've got something where all you need is a 20-foot-by-10-foot space and you're in business," Pierce says. "And you don't have to stock a bunch of bikes." 

Cobra has an existing dealer network of 260 dealers. "We're not going to go to all those guys with the Brass Balls products. We're going to be kind of picky," Pierce says. (continues)