New company emerges from Big Dog’s ashes

01/19/2012 5:00 AM

01/19/2012 12:41 PM

BDM Performance Products is a startup still struggling to emerge from the crash of Big Dog Motorcycles.

BDM is a new company created in April after the Big Dog bankruptcy by Big Dog founder Sheldon Coleman to supply parts and accessories for the 25,000 plus Big Dog motorcycles on the market. It operates in several warehouses and offices on the former Big Dog site at Douglas and Hydraulic.

While the aura of Big Dog lingers, by necessity BDM is something new, said the guys who run its day-to-day operations, Matt Moore and Dave Siggins.

Although Big Dog was only about 15 years old when it went out of business, it no longer felt like the business Coleman started up in a garage. There was bureaucracy, and procedures, and a reluctance to try something new, they said.

It’s a mark of how much the operation has changed that Moore, who runs the sales side, and Siggins, who runs the engineering side, laugh about just what their titles are – manager, director, something like that.

“Whatever works,” Siggins said.

Siggins started with Big Dog in 1996 and Moore in 2005. They remember with great fondness the good times on the way up and the painful ride down as the deflating housing bubble sucked the needed consumer credit and finally the demand out of the high-dollar motorcycle market. With nearly 400 workers at its peak, Big Dog kept cutting production and jobs until it went out of business last April.

Even the early days of BDM were tough. Coleman thought BDM would simply slide over and take all of Big Dog’s parts and accessories business, but it wasn’t that simple, Siggins said.

The company had to repair connections with suppliers and dealers, set up a website and figure out how many people it took to do that. Coleman laid off 10 of the initial 25 employees, including president Mike Simmons, to save money.

“It was a move to get absolutely minimal overhead,” Coleman said. “We’re not setting the world on fire, but we are steadily growing.”

BDM is quieter these and less formal than Big Dog. With just 15 employees banging around in the large warehouses and offices, there isn’t much bureaucracy.

“Dave will say ‘Hey, Matt, can you do this?’ ” Moore said.

“ ‘Yeah.’

“ ‘Thanks.’ ”

It’s also less certain about its focus – or more nimble in seeking out new business, depending on how you look at it.

It not only sells existing parts, it designs new ones for Big Dog owners. It will also design parts for Harley-Davidsons or other bikes.

And it has found a promising niche in building Big Dog motorcycle frames and rolling chassis for those who want to build their own custom bikes. It will even service any brand of motorcycle that people bring in.

It’s telling that one of BDM’s new products is an electrical harness using older fuse and relay technology to replace the modern computer-controlled system that was standard on Big Dogs — because owners want something they can understand and work on.

The company still has some powerful production machinery: a robot welder and CNC laser cutter. BDM still has the know-how, machinery, tooling and parts to build an entire Big Dog motorcycle, albeit one at a time, but legally can’t sell them as street ready, Moore said. Buyers would have to get them certified by the Highway Patrol, he said.

BDM has gone retail, a big change from Big Dog, which as a manufacturer dealt only with dealers. BDM has a website for ordering parts and is about ready to unveil one for dealers.

That most of their dealers and suppliers still talk to them, despite the bankruptcy, may have something to do with the overall desperation in the high-end motorcycle industry. Big Dog was the last of the high-end custom motorcycle companies. Everyone in the supply chain still in business is hungry.

Coleman, for one, said he is somewhat optimistic. They’ll keep plugging away, searching for profitable niches, hoping for a more prosperous future.

“We’ve kind of regressed back to the shade-tree mechanic era and eke out a living,” Coleman said. “There are still a lot of motorcycles out there, especially at the higher end. We’ve found this niche, and we’re getting our costs down and paying as we go.”

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