Biker’s Edge goes off-road to grow its business

06/13/2014 9:16 AM

06/13/2014 9:17 AM

By the end of this year, Biker’s Edge owner Lowell Kemp and operations manager Brian West expect to sell 400 motorcycles, all-terrain and utility-terrain vehicles.

That will be a record for the shop Kemp started with his brothers in Newton in 1976. Today Biker’s Edge is a dealer for Triumph and Victory motorcycles and Polaris off-road vehicles.

Kemp, who got on his first motorcyle at 5, said business is pretty good right now.

Kemp has opened a 6,650-square-foot building for an expanded service center, which has given Biker’s Edge six more lifts. The company also has hired four new service technicians because of the expanded service center.

The company, at 1201 E. Central, employs 12.

Kemp said had he and West not made some major decisions about the company just before the start of the recession, he likely wouldn’t be talking about its growth today.

“We got lucky at the right time,” he said.

Kemp’s roots in the motorcycle business stem from his dad and uncle, who opened a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership in Winfield in 1938. He said his dad eventually bought out his uncle and kept the business until 1957, when he closed it and moved Kemp and his brothers, Lawrence and Lonnie, to Newton, where he operated Newton Cycle & Leather for a brief time.

Kemp and his brothers decided to get into the business by “re-opening” their dad’s business in Newton. But Newton Cycle didn’t originally sell motorcycles. Instead, it sold motorcycle parts, accessories and apparel, as well as provided service on used motorcycles.

In 1995, Kemp relocated Newton Cycle to Wichita, opening at 1210 E. Douglas as Biker’s Edge and as the first dealer for the now-defunct Big Dog Motorcycles.

In 2000, the relationship with Big Dog ended, and Kemp moved the business to its present location on east Central. By then he also had become a Triumph dealer, in addition to sales of parts, accessories and apparel. And he had started building his own custom choppers, calling them Kemp Kustoms, tapping into the chopper craze at the time.

But the run of building custom choppers was short-lived. A combination of new federal regulations governing the manufacture of custom choppers and the bottom falling out of the market — which Kemp and West attributed to the housing crisis — meant that business died almost overnight.

“People were buying … custom choppers with their home equity loans,” West said.

But, Kemp said, he began looking at alternatives before the collapse of the housing market, expecting that the new federal regulations were going to have an impact on that part of his business.

So he and West decided to add a second motorcycle brand, Victory, and expand into the powersports equipment by becoming a Polaris dealer.

“It sure changed our business quickly,” Kemp said.

Not only did it increase Biker’s Edge sales, adding Polaris changed its sales cycle. As a purely motorcycle business, “we would always starve in the winter,” Kemp said. Adding off-road vehicles meant that Biker’s Edge had something to sell during the winter months, when people weren’t thinking about buying a motorcycle, he said.

“Since then, we’ve had double-digit growth, year after year,” Kemp said.

Kemp and West said that Polaris sales now account for 70 percent of their business. And those buyers aren’t just using them for fun. “It’s recreational. It’s farmers. It’s oil workers,” Kemp said.

“Farmers,” West clarified, “are our No. 1 customers.”

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