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Big Dog Motorcycles is no more; Intrust forecloses

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 8, 2011, at 12:08 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, at 12:41 p.m.

Big Dog Motorcycles, the high flying beneficiary of last decade's go-go economy, is dead.

Intrust Bank foreclosed on the company at 1520 E. Douglas on Wednesday, and now owns the company's remaining assets. Founder Sheldon Coleman Jr. has dissolved the corporation.

Coleman has formed BDM Performance Products and is bringing over the 22 remaining Big Dog employees, said Mike Simmons, the new company's president.

The company will supply parts, accessories and gear for the more than 25,000 Big Dog motorcycles. The operation will be based in Big Dog's former service and research and development buildings and the former Johnstone Supply building, just east of downtown.

Simmons said the move will happen as soon as possible, but could take weeks, he said.

The company informed many of its dealers this week that it is shutting down.

Big Dog Motorcycles of Tampa dealer William "Tank" Sherman said his biggest concern was whether the company would honor the warranty claims of Big Dog dealers and customers.

The answer, Simmons said, is no. Big Dog Motorcycles has dissolved, along with any claims and debts.

While there have been some hard feelings as business has soured, he said, the company hasn't ruined its relationship with its dealers.

"We've been up front about the business and more than fair with our (dealer) network," he said.

It's been a crushing finale for a company that rode the spectacular rise of the housing boom.

Coleman — heir and once CEO of the Coleman Co. —started customizing Harleys in his garage in 1994. He quickly moved into production, selling 100 by 1996.

The market seemed insatiable. The company saw its annual growth rate hit as high as 80 percent.

In 2005, at the height of its popularity, the company built more than 5,000 bikes, had more than 300 workers and more than $120 million in revenue.

That year it held its first Tornado Rally, which brought thousands of Big Dog aficionados to Wichita. Coleman bought 106 acres on Greenwich Road with the expectation of possible expansion.

The housing and credit booms created tremendous windfalls for homeowners and homebuilders. Luxuries suddenly became affordable — or at least could be financed — and those included the $30,000 to $40,000 gleaming, stylish, powerful V-twin rockets made by Big Dog.

The models often were bought by men in their 30s and 40s suddenly flush with cash who wanted something with more pizzazz than a Harley-Davidson.

Company officials once said that one of their key customers were the small building contractors so busy in Florida, California, Nevada and Arizona, where the housing boom and bust was most prevalent.

The first layoffs came in early 2007 after disappointing sales. Sales continued to drop and more layoffs followed. Coleman started borrowing to keep the operation running — but the slump was just too long and too deep.

When asked whether he thinks a Big Dog-like motorcycle manufacturing company would ever be resurrected, Simmons wasn't interested in speculating. The present is too complicated and painful.

"I can't predict the future," he said.

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

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