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How Do I Start a Custom Motorcycle Business?

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While television programs have made celebrities of a few customizing business owners such as Paul Teutel of Orange County Choppers, starting a custom motorcycle business can be an expensive undertaking and far from glamorous and celebrity-filled. Before spending any money on premises or equipment, conduct a feasibility study to ascertain the potential clientele for your business. The reality is that the custom vehicle business is competitive, expensive, and hard work. You must prepare well to stand the best chance of succeeding.

If you determine that it is viable to open a motorcycle customizing business, create a comprehensive business plan. You will need this to obtain business startup loans and grants. The Small Business Administration provides free information and assistance to entrepreneurs on all aspects of starting a business: legalities, taxation, and how to apply for grants and loans.

Locate a suitable building for your garage. It must accommodate multiple bikes and, ideally, a paint-spraying and air-brushing booth. Make sure sufficient power and water are available. Ensure that the building is zoned for a motorcycle customizing business.

Find suppliers for the wide variety of equipment you will need. Be sure to conduct cost comparisons before purchasing anything. You may get discounted rates by purchasing the majority of your equipment from one supplier or manufacturer. Equipment you will need includes refrigerated evaporating system, air compressor and air tools, hoist, spray guns, and a parts washer. You will also need wiring and audio electric tools, saws, welders, grinders, sanders, protective safety equipment, storage units, and work benches.

Employ trained mechanics and technicians with experience in customizing motorcycles. You will need to hire mechanics, engineers, bodywork specialists, upholsterers, paint sprayers, and electronic and audio specialists. Customization processes are labor intensive and require significant attention to detail. Your staff members must be experts in their field if you want to build a good reputation.

Comply with all federal, state, and local health and safety regulations for garages and repair shops. Failure to comply may result in your business being closed down until the problem is fixed (or even permanently). Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles Division of Vehicle Safety Services. That office will supply you with the information and forms you need to register your business. Once registered, you will be subject to regular safety inspections. You should also contact your state's department of health and safety, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the local municipality building control office to verify registration and compliance requirements specific to your locality. If you have been working on your business setup with the Small Business Administration, it can also advise you on complying with all necessary laws and the agencies you need to contact.

Customize a motorcycle that will play a role as mobile advertising for your business. Attend bike shows, trade events, and bike rallies to show off your work and create buzz about what you do. Remember, word-of-mouth is crucial in building your business. Network with other motorcycle-related businesses to work on possibilities for cross-promotion and collaboration.

Familiarize yourself with classic and historic bikes and get to know specialists in historic restoration. You may need to call on them for supply of parts and restoration advice. Keep up-to-date with trends in customization and design. Find a niche market that your business can serve, and offer services and techniques that competitors do not.

  • "How to Set up Your Motorcycle Workshop : Designing, Tooling, and Stocking"; C. Masi; 1996

Helen Harvey began her writing career in 1990 and has worked in journalism, writing, copy-editing and as a consultant. She has worked for world-class news sources including Reuters and the "Daily Express." She holds a Master of Arts in mass media communications from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.