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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Big Dog cuts work force

BY DAN VOORHIS
The Wichita Eagle

Big Dog Motorcycles laid off more of its already shrunken work force last week, saying demand for its high-end custom motorcycles hasn't improved.

The company cut 10 production workers and now employs 22. It hasn't made any new motorcycles since last year, company president Mike Simmons said Monday.

At the height of its popularity in 2005, the company built more than 5,000 bikes a year and had more than 300 workers. Among its biggest customers were building contractors, the company said at the time.

Simmons deferred any comment about the company's future to owner Sheldon Coleman Jr., who couldn't be reached Monday.

Coleman said in 2009 that he had hired an investment bank to explore the sale, merger or recapitalization of the company.

Simmons said the company now fills orders only for parts and other supplies.

He said the company gets a few orders now and then but isn't interested in reviving production until there are hundreds of orders.

When that will happen, he said, "is anybody's guess."

Simmons said the great majority of the company's motorcycles are sitting in showrooms of about 70 Big Dog dealers.

"The issue is both demand and the ability to get financing," he said.

Several dealers, contacted Monday, said they hadn't heard any news about the future of the company.

Jim Stoddard of California Boss Hoss Motor Sports in Harbor City, Calif., said he has heard plenty of rumors about the company. He said he talked to the company a week ago and nothing was said about closing down.

"I'm rooting for these guys to survive," he said. "They are about the only one left, and they've always been the best. They explained that the rumors vastly misrepresent what's going on."

But the financial strain at the company is taking its toll.

A dealer, who asked not to be named, said he ended his relationship with Big Dog last week because the company started making less expensive motorcycles and refused to buy back the more expensive ones still in his showroom.

Jeff Chapman of Victory Big Dog of Mesa, Ariz., said interest in the bikes is there, but banks won't finance the purchases.

Stoddard, the California dealer, said many of his customers are wealthy enough to pay cash but still won't buy the bikes. There has been a psychological barrier since the recession, he said.

But, he said, things might finally be changing.

"In the last 45 days, I've sold more product than in the last six months," he said.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com.

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