If experience is a good teacher, Matt Moore got an intense education.
Moore, who was sales director at Big Dog Motorcycles during its slow-motion collapse in 2005-2011, is using the knowledge and connections to build a new company, Kansas Motorcycle Works.
He learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t in Big Dog designs, how to set up a sales operation in Europe and, perhaps most importantly, the need to operate on a shoestring.
Moore also helped run owner Sheldon Coleman’s much smaller successor company, BDM Performance Products, which supplied Big Dog parts and was housed in a warehouse on the Big Dog property at Douglas and Hydraulic. Moore had already left when that company shut down last year.
Today, Moore runs a tiny operation in a small warehouse at 33rd Street North and Ridge Road. He has a few employees, plus two or three contractors who assemble bikes or fabricate parts.
In the warehouse sit several motorcycles in the midst of assembly that look a lot like Big Dogs – long, powerful, sleek, heavy on polished chrome. He has two models: a chopper called the Regulator, and a pro street bike called the Gunfighter.
“Europe never had anything like the Wild West, so they like that stuff,” Moore said.
The bikes, he said, are more reliable in many ways than Big Dogs because he has the benefit of hindsight. Big Dog was ambitious and tried a lot of innovative things to be unique in the industry. Some worked and some didn’t, he said.
He wants to be clear: Kansas Motorcycle Works has no legal or financial connection to Big Dog or BDM Performance Products. He wants no fallout from any lawsuits stemming from Big Dog product liability or the corporations’ collapse. But there are some fascinating coincidences.
His contractors are former Big Dog employees. He is using the same contacts in Belgium that Big Dog used to sell motorcycles in Europe. He buys or takes in trade used Big Dog motorcycles for resale in Europe. He also offers parts in cooperation with a company called HDM in Lyons that sells authentic Big Dog parts on eBay under the name Big Dog Parts Kingpin.
The biggest difference in the products, he said, is that the parts for his production bikes are standard across the industry rather than unique to one company, as the Big Dog parts are. That makes the parts less expensive and easier to replace down the road.
He opted to try to revive selling in Europe first because the U.S. market has been swamped with used heavy cruisers from Big Dog and its numerous competitors, he said. He said there is also a lot of risk in getting entangled in lawsuits, which flew fast and furious as the industry collapsed in the recession.
“At Big Dog I learned a lot of lessons on what not to do when selling on an international market,” he said.
So far, he said, he has shipped six Regulators and two Gunfighters to Europe. He has also shipped a dozen used Big Dogs to Europe.
He is not yet turning a profit, he said, but hopes to this year.
It’s taken longer than he expected to get going, he said, mostly because it took a lot longer to get regulatory approval in Europe than he expected.
“It’s been tough and I’m ready for things to go the other way,” he said.
But he expects sales to accelerate in Europe and demand for heavy cruisers in the U.S. to pick back up.
He hopes to ship 20 of his production bikes this year.
Moore is searching for a return of more heavy-cruiser enthusiasts like Rob Pillar of Spokane, Wash.
Pillar bought a Big Dog K9 in 2006. Recently he was cruising down a country road about 40 miles an hour when a deer darted out of the woods and clipped his license plate bracket with its head. It bent the bracket and killed the deer.
He’s been searching for an authentic replacement, which Moore said he will be happy to help with.
Pillar said he loves his Big Dog.
“I love the look,” he said. “For a stock bike off the showroom floor, it beats everything out there.”