A few days ago, I got one of those memory notifications on Facebook, about an event from a couple of years back that turned out to be a watershed moment for us. Something that helped us see what we wanted Killman Customs to be. We've shared this story before, but the background and impact deserve some props, so I'm going to paint you a picture of what had been going on at the time.
A weak Canadian dollar had pretty much killed off our parts business. Leaving us with almost no buying power to import, and soon after we couldn't even compete in the American market, due to Canada Post raising rates and cutting services. Up to that point finding unicorns had been the backbone of our operation, so we adapted, refocused on wrenching and continuing to build a loyal client base through integrity and dedicated service.
As time passed I moonlighted to keep things going, even working a stint at our local Harley dealership, where I learned just how very, very good HD is at what they do. Their focus on selling maximum financing, rather than on actual motorcycles, brings in boatloads of cash. Generating an "American Made" image, while placing their brand onto foreign made products is genius. Their followers will shun gear and parts because they don't have the HD label. quality and where the stuff is actually made doesn’t matter. It was an education on how to make money in this industry and it left me in doubt that a small business, putting people and bikes first rather than dollars, could survive.
Trying to keep up with the Joneses, I started Advertising on Used.com sites, Craigslist, online forums and Facebook. It brought in some business, so I decided a website would be a good idea. All of my cash being needed for tools, equipment and parts, I taught myself how to build one. Even cobbled together an online store, gotta love progress.
Then one day I got a special email. A lovely lady named Charlaine, from a nearby town, had found our little website and filled out one of our contact forms. Her hubby, Adrian, had hit a deer, busting up him and his Vulcan. Don't remember how the deer fared.
Char wanted to surprise him by fixing up his ride. Well shit, how do you not just get all misty-eyed about a request like that? Now I'd been jerked around or burned on almost every occasion I'd spent time sourcing for a client without getting a deposit for my efforts up front. Everybody likes your work until they have to pay for it, right? But I liked what I heard, and went ahead and found her a few bits of Unobtanium on spec. She came through on her end, restoring a bit of my faith in humanity, and we were off to the races! it was a pretty great project.
Whole thing was one of the most badass things I've been a part of, and it really drove home what being your own boss could mean. Try convincing a corporate bean counter to let you put in the work to pull off something like this, and then to let you drive to a neighbouring town on a Friday night for the big reveal. Mom & Pop shops get to rock all the feels. This was the first time we met the Browns.
Isaac was totally talented but there was no question his design was the work of a youngster. There was also no question that, if I entered it into public voting, he'd win by a landslide due to his age. Beating out and scaring off the more professional work we were trying to bring in by running the contest in the first place. Not gonna lie, I wrestled with this one, but it came down to a very simple moral point. The kid put in the work, so I gave him his shot.
I love those shirts and although they don't really sell very well, I'm damn proud of what they represent. Our tiny shop punches way above its weight class and those shirts display it to the world. I wear the Hell out of mine and the next time I can shake loose some cash for a warm and fuzzies project, I'll be putting out another run. No matter what young Isaac decides to do in life, I'm grateful for the chance to show him that you should never be afraid to try and that there are folks out there that will give you a fair shot.
By the way, Isaac's folks framed that winning picture and hung it, those are good people right there.
So thank you to everyone who's supported us with their hard earned dollars, cheered us on, or even given us shit along the way, you make us better. We've come to understand over the years, that at Killman Customs everyone gets to write their own story, we're just proud to be a chapter in yours. Happy riding everyone, we'll see you all soon!