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Big Bear Choppers Talks - From Boom to Bust

Friday, July 6, 2012
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Dickens’ words ring true for Big Bear Choppers, which has both drunk from the cup of plenty and tasted from the well of despair. The wine was sweet when sales rang in the $18 million-dollar-a-year range but turned to vinegar when they
Big Bear Choppers new logo
Big Bear Choppers has seen hard times but is hoping the lifeline thrown to it by Simon Scott will help return the company to respectability.
had to sell everything they’ve got, down to the family home. The company went from cover shots on Hot Bike and Easyrider and stints on TV to the pariah of internet message boards after declaring bankruptcy and failing to deliver on promises.

And while it would be easy to shovel dirt on Big Bear Choppers while they’re down, the company isn’t quite ready for the grave yet. A lifeline came in the form of one Simon Scott, an investor from Jakarta, who was seeking to bring Big Bear Choppers into Indonesia. Scott, along with a long list of others, lost big money when BBC went under, for him to the tune of over $250,000. At that point, nobody would have blamed him for cutting his losses and moving on. But Scott’s background in the mining industry and procurement wouldn’t allow himself to brood over the situation. Instead, he brainstormed on how to turn a negative into a positive, forming his own company, Rage Hard Choppers, in 2011. It is under this new moniker, Big Bear Choppers Rage Hard Built, that he hopes on reestablishing the brand.

In this exclusive interview with both Big Bear Chopper’s new owner, Simon Scott, and its former owner, Kevin Alsop, we ask those involved what went wrong in the past and what the future holds for the company.

“Mona and I have felt extremely guilty over the whole situation because that’s the last thing we would ever want, but it couldn’t be helped. The economy just smashed us to pieces,” Kevin said.
 
It wasn’t one specific decision that brought Big Bear down, but a series of events that created the perfect storm when the recession hit.

Criss Angel was all smiles after receiving his three new motorcycles from Big Bear Choppers Mona and Kevin Alsop.
It wasn't that long ago that Mona and Kevin Alsop were on top of the world, building bikes for celebrities like Criss Angel and doing Biker Build-Offs on TV. Then came the recession. New BBC owner Simon Scott, below, is looking to turn the misfortunes of the company around.
Simon Scott President of BBC
“Truth of the matter is, in August of ’07 I built a 100 bikes-a-month. The very next month, sales went from 100 to 50. Then they stayed between 30 -50 all the way through till about Oct. of ’08. Then they went down to 20, then 15, then during the winter at the beginning of ’09, it hovered around 10-15. In 2010, it went down to about 10 a month. 2011 went down to about five or six a month, worldwide!”

The sagging sales came as a result of people being scared to spend large amounts on “luxury items” while financial institutions stopped lending with the abandon they did prior to the recession. A 2009 lawsuit for bad frame welds didn’t help the matter. Neither did waning popularity here in the States for super-stretched choppers with heavy rakes and monster V-Twins. Then vendors, who began feeling the pinch of the recession themselves, demanded Big Bear pay their bills straight up or to at least double up on payments. This cut into the BBC’s budget to the tune of two million dollars at a time when sales dropped 90%. Not exactly the formula for success. Without financing, dealers weren’t selling bikes, which stopped profits from rolling in and bumped up costs for them and dealers ultimately couldn’t floor the bikes. BBC had repurchase agreements with GE and Textron where if a dealer went bankrupt, Big Bear would take the bikes back and redistribute them through another dealer. Only thing is, Textron and GE stopped doing flooring but still wanted BBC to pay for the bikes, without allowing for them to be redistributed to other dealers. So Textron and GE would sell the bikes for 50 cents on the dollar, then turn around and hand Big Bear a bill.

Kevin and Mona said they did everything they could to keep the doors open, taking all the equity out of their home and pouring it into the business in 2010. Kevin sold all his hot rods and toys and put the money back into the business.
“We lived with nothing, I mean nothing, my furniture. I lost everything – I lost $8 million dollars. And everything I owned personally, I poured back into the business to try and stop them from losing anything,” Kevin said.

The Alsops had done everything they could think of, including making a public plea for help on “Bloomberg The Mentor,” a show that pairs entrepreneurs and business execs with struggling companies. Even this last ditch effort failed and the company had to shut its doors and file for bankruptcy.

Big Bear Choppers opened shop in 1998 and has been making a name for itself in the custom production motorcycle world since.
Big Bear Choppers opened up shop in 1998 and in its hey-day pumped out a claimed 100 motorcycles a month.
“We hung in there as long as humanly possible not because we wanted to screw anybody, but because we didn’t want to screw anybody. The whole time the business people had deposits with us, if I closed the business five years ago, people would have lost their ass, if I closed the business down a year ago, people would have lost their ass, it doesn’t matter when I closed it down because somebody was going to get hurt. It was never the decision to close it down, it was we keep going until we can’t go. That was the plan,” Kevin said.

Unfortunately, Big Bear Choppers joined the list of comparable companies that went under during the recession, including Big Dog Motorcycles and American Ironhorse. But Big Bear has something the other two didn’t, Simon Scott, an investor who doubles as a professional procurer who believes the brand still has merit. But we couldn’t help but open our conversation with Simon with the most obvious question. “Why? Why buy a company whose reputation has been so damaged?” This is what Scott had to say.

“A little bit of history to clarify why I did it. I deal with somebody who had put down deposits on foreign motorcycles to bring into Indonesia where I was setting up as a dealer for Big Bear Choppers in Indonesia. I actually visited Big Bear a couple of times to make sure that I felt Mona and Kevin were people that I could do business with and came away with a great impression. They were straight people.”

“Things progressed and obviously problems in Big Bear American-made Choppers arose. What basically happened is Kevin rang me and said ‘Look, Simon, I’m having a lot of trouble and it looks like I’m not going to get your bikes out. Plus it would have been some additional cash to get my bikes out.’ So he said, ‘Yeh, I’ll try to work that through.’ I put some additional cash in and then after that, he (Kevin) rings me again and said, ‘Look, that’s about it. We’ve gone as far as we can go. Unfortunately, your cash has been swallowed up. What do you want to do about it? I’ve got nothing I can give you.’”

“I said all right, I’d have to think about it. It was really a case of, I realized there was going to be nothing left after bankruptcy court and my money would have been gone. I’m not a person to sit there and cry about things. I’ve spent years in the mining industry and in procurement and optimization, diverse problem solving in areas within mining, so it was really a case of “How do I turn a negative into a positive?” I still felt that there was some media around fat tire choppers and the niche, but I was looking at Indonesia. I brought a Sled Chopper into Indonesia and the reaction from the people here was brilliant. I had a market here, I knew there was still a strong market in Australia, I knew that Europe was still selling, I knew that Asia hadn’t been tapped into.”

Motorcyclists turned Big Bear Lakes Snow Summit into biker central. Freshly painted fenders come back from the paint shop. Heres a shot of Rage  the motorcycle Big Bear created for the international marketplace.
(L) Big Bear Choppers owners used to come from miles around to attend the annual BBC 'Ride the Mountain' event. (M) A slew of freshly painted fenders come back from the paint shop during the height of Big Bear production. (R) Like just about everything else, popularity of motorcycle styles are cyclical. When discretionary income dried up during the recession, demand for bikes like these waned drastically.

“I thought, let me do some fact finding and find out who is going to be the primary creditor and see if I can’t work some type of a deal to get some of the equipment out and resell it to make up some of my money, whatever I could work on. I found out through the primary creditor and I found out through the lawyers for Big Bear American-made and I arranged to get on the plane and come over to see what I could do. Effectively, I struck a deal with the primary creditor, the bank. Basically they were collecting all the assets, I knew through talking to Kevin and Mona that they had not one cent to their name, they had refinanced everything to keep the business going. Obviously they made the call a bit late but the situation wouldn’t have been a lot different even if they would have called it quits say six months or a year earlier. It was day-to-day and hand-to-mouth here. I looked at what I could buy and asked how much the bank was looking for it and looked into the legal aspects of acquiring the intellectual property. I felt the brand name, Big Bear Choppers itself, was a very strong brand. I also knew that the bikes were some of the coolest and rideable custom bikes out there of its kind.”

“After that, I again talked to Kevin and Mona, I assessed that ultimately they had nothing to their name, and was wondering what they were going to be doing for a job. And I said, ‘Well come and work for me. Let’s see if I can get this brand back on the market. I did feel that me trying to put the brand on the market without them, Kevin and Mona, was a lost cause.’ There was a lot of bad publicity going on, but ultimately, Kevin’s the designer of Big Bear Choppers, he created them. Mona was the marketing, driving-force behind them before, and I felt that they deserved a chance even 
The Believe motorcycle has incredible paint that pays tribute to Criss accomplishments as a master illusionist.
Though the 'Believe' motorcycle was made by BBC to pay tribute to Criss Angel's accomplishments as an illusionist, it is now Kevin and Mona Alsop who believe they can resurrect the company, along with a little help from their friends like Simon Scott.
though it had all gone wrong for them . I felt that they didn’t intend what happened, they obviously hung on too long and I felt yet that Big Bear and Kevin and Mona were cut from the same cloth. Basically I saw the lawyer just to work out how I would employ them with bankruptcy and those sort of things. They’re basically contracted as my employees. They’ve got drive, they’ve got passion, and want to see the brand back to where it was,” said Scott.

Attempting to return Big Bear Choppers to credibility, Scott started at an Article 9 auction held by the bank whereby the bank advertises the sale with all the creditors giving them first crack at recouping some of their losses. The bank had the rights to liquidate everything, so Scott bought the intellectual properties, patents, frame fixtures, and specific machines like the CNCs. He bought a 10,500 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in San Bernardino, California, for the bikes to be built in and is looking at the factory space opposite it which is becoming available soon with hopes of making it a showroom and rider’s destination for bikers on their way to Palm Springs or riding up the mountain. In addition to retaining the services of Kevin and Mona, he’s hired some of the former Big Bear crew to build the bikes.

Initially, Big Bear Choppers business plan will focus on expanding into international markets where interest in the style of bikes the company produces is still high. BBC is moving bikes in Europe out of its dealership in Switzerland called Midland Choppers, Scott said they’ve got an order for six bikes out of a new dealer in Kiev, Ukraine, which ship next month and the dealer has already put in an order for six more. Australia, Taiwan, and Canada were all mentioned as sales targets, and they recently approved emissions for the Bear Bones model in Japan. They’ve also gotten a handful of calls for ground-up builds out of places like Dubai. Scott said they haven’t pushed hard yet in the US because they want to touch base with dealers from the past first to talk about what they can do to get the business back up and reestablish a network.

“We’re basically starting from scratch but are currently producing about 8-10 bikes per month. We’ve had to switch suppliers due to rising prices for specific products like right side drives and exhausts but aim to keep costs contained, keep volumes contained and try a gradual step-up process over the next three years. We’ll cap our production within our limits so that we’re not trying to make a grab for sales when we can’t support it internally. There’s more of a defined business plan now than there was before,” Scott said.

Currently Big Bear Choppers is building all the existing lines while revamping some of the models. The Sled and Athena Pro Street models will get bumped up to a 23-inch front wheel with new fender styling and will be outfitted with a new tank design. They’ll also be converted from belt primary drives instead of chains. They’ve retained the rights to use the S&S 100 Smooth Engine but will be offering larger displacement V-Twins with carb or EFI options. The team
Kevin Simon Mona of BBC
New BBC president Simon Scott (middle) believes there is no Big Bear Choppers without Kevin and Mona so he has retained their services to help write the next chapter of the company's history moving forward.
has been brainstorming new designs like a modular frame based on the FXR that can be set up as a chopper, bobber or café racer and have appointed Buck Wild Design Studio as a new painter to come up with fresh design options. They’re looking to get new items on the market and Kevin’s already developed a chopper which he and Scott are planning on riding from LA to Sturgis to demonstrate the bike’s rideability and have fun on. At Sturgis they plan on making the rounds and hope to get feedback on the bikes before they head into production and intend on having an even bigger presence at Daytona Beach Bike Week next spring.

To err is human, but sometimes a person’s character is revealed during the toughest of times. Kevin and Mona Alsop could easily have slipped into obscurity. He could have gotten a nine-to-five toiling in the shop of the local Harley dealership and Mona could have gone back to working for a vet, but hiding isn’t their style. They busted their ass for 14 years to build a company that at one time was a leader in its market. The struggle is not over yet as there’s one more bankruptcy hearing this week and BBC still has a battle to wage in the court of public opinion. There are few winners in bankruptcy, from the people who put their hard-earned money down and never received bikes to the Alsops who lost it all. But one thing they didn’t lose is their optimism and Kevin and Mona are eager for an opportunity to redeem themselves. They realize the road to redemption is a long and arduous route, but they’ve already hit rock bottom and have been humbled by the experience, so there’s no way to go but up. Big Bear has survived “the age of foolishness” and looks now to rebound in “the epoch of belief.”
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Comments
rgd3454   February 6, 2014 07:44 AM
Awesome article. Having seen the best of times and the worst of times first hand, I feel for those that get caught in big business deals and losses. To invest $35,000 in something you believe in is a huge undertaking. I for one am happy with the outcome after many years of bad mechanics and bleeding cash keeping my '08 Athena Pro-street at the front of the investment. Being a custom is something most people do not understand. This is not a Harley. Nor is it an Ironhorse or Big dog even though a hundred bikes a month seems limited production quality. It is not a cookie cutter style. Yes the market sucks. Yes I have over $50,000 in my Athena now that would sell for maybe 25k. (I would never sell it). But it is a Lamborghini to everyone else's corvette. Glad to know the real story and to be a part of something unique and world-wide.
SFCCRAWFORD   January 19, 2014 04:10 AM
Tell me Kevin why you stole my $21,000 and I have no bike or my money back? I have tried to be patient and hoped you would work something out. For you guys and Soldiers going to buy a bike from Kevin Alsop now for almost double the price, I paid in full for a 2011 Bare Bones Chopper with upgrades and black powder coated wheels because it was taking longer than normal to deliever and then they filed for bankruptcy and took my money. I am active duty US Army SFC for over 20 yrs, and Kevin and his wife Mona Alsop stole from me, I'm stil paying my payment each month for a Bike I don't have. For Kevin and Mona Alsop, you should pray for me that I don't not get a chronic illness, bc your faces will be the last I see.
grr2000   March 20, 2013 06:00 PM
I have to comment on this article and to Super Six 1 comments'. First Chris thank you for your service and keeping me safe. I loved your comments and admire all people who start their own business. I understand that sacrifice as I grew up in a small business owner household. That said Someplace I think I have the right to speak out against BBC...as I worked my whole life and took $23000 and bought myself a BBC chopper as a retirement gift. Well today I don't have the bike or my $23000. I understand bankruptcy I don't understand misrepresentation that went on. Kevin if I am wrong prove me wrong! When you took my money you knew it was over and you took it anyway. I even offered a fair amount to have them build me one under the new owner and was first told yes then told no. Sorry guys not buying it but I do wish you all the success because I don't want another person to lose that much money Jim Girton
rhpiercy   December 22, 2012 08:55 AM
My dad and I visited the original BBC shop in 2003 as we shopped for a project. We were brought into the chopper world by other tv shows but what drew us to BBC was the ability to build our own bike. I remember touring the shop and watching a bike for Oscar Dela Hoya being assembled. It was my Disneyland. It was sad for me to read that BBC had fallen victim to the declining economy. I have been looking forward to the day where I could buy and build my own kit. Although I have never met Kevin or Mona I wish them the best and I hope to shake their hands one day over the sale of a new bike kit. Bob Piercy Edmonton, AB Canada
SuperSix1   July 7, 2012 12:47 PM
Its easy for one to ridicule, when you stand outside the fire. You folks who ridicule, are the ones who lack the stones to start your own business. I do not know this couple from Adam, but they had the guts to try. Where were you when they put it all on the line? Their savings, their home, and theirfinancial futures. You chose to simply work for someone else. You took the path of least resistance.

I have been in business for myself, and I witnessed the $1500 a day consulting contracts, to having to leverage my home & company's name, to cover down on debts to keep my business afloat,when time were tough.

To all you naysayers, you are cowards, cowards who enjoy the comfort of being told when to come to work, when to eat, what to wear, and when to go home. You simply do not matter. You are sheep, being led to slaughter.

To Big Bear Choppers, and those who are choosing to keep the brand going, I look forward to a Bear Bones purchase in early 2013. A Bear Bones Chooper that I will piece together, with my own two hands, in my own garage, using my own skills & tools, that my father passed down to me, in order to be a bit more self sufficient.

-Chris
FOB Warrior
Afghanistan
kevinalsop   July 7, 2012 11:38 AM
Hi Bryan I wanted to let you know you are the first to listen to our story and the truth behind what happened to BBC as some people took it opon themselfs to manufacture half truths and flat out lie about us, and what happened with us and BBC, so thank you for printing the truth. not like some looser in a basment typing hate. your a real guy with integrity . thankyou so much warm regards Kevin Alsop