Recently, I toured Orange County Chopper (OCC) in Newburgh, NY. Granted, I am nothing close to a biker, in fact, I have never ridden a chopper, or even sat on one for that matter. What I am though, is an individual with an appreciation for art, life, culture, and machines that embody all those things in one package; oh, not to mention the combination of all these things interfacing nicely with the business world of which I understand pretty darn good.
It was raining as we drove down the hill past the USAF reserve on the winding, narrow road. Suddenly, you could see the OCC building, a mammoth of a site resembling a cross between a warehouse and a flight hanger. The driveway is nicely done and off to the right as you pass down the drive is a storage lot where trucks, OCC trailers, etc., can park. Parking is spacious and there is plenty of it. The entire fascia of the building is done in glass with an etched OCC logo. This place is a true mecca of chopper lovers dreams. I was quite impressed.
Upon entering the revolving glass door, you are now inside the OCC retail facility and museum. Thousands of different product items line the shelves. There is enough product depth in T-Shirts alone from which to write a separate book. Huge LCD's line the store, and a soundsystem plays music while you shop. There are specialty items that can only be purchased at the OCC store, clocks, bobble heads, dolls, miniature bikes, hats, knives, accessories, oh, and you can also purchase a bike if you wish.
OCC is primarily a custom bike dealer pushing custom shop designed bikes bearing their name and logo. OCC is also a Ducati dealer and carries a nice inventory of both bikes (product categories) to suit the needs of the motorcycle rider. The base price for an OCC chopper, non theme bike, is around $40,000. That's to start off with, if you want a pretty plain chopper. The OCC team also develops and produces custom theme bikes that are truly art (and line the wall of the OCC facility) that easily command hundreds of thousands in some cases.
OCC rocketed to consumer awareness with the hit TV Show "American Chopper," filmed on location at the shop and aired on TLC. The main characters are the founders, Paul Teutul, his sons, Mikey and Paulie, and the individuals working in the shop. This is not a history lesson in the founding of OCC, but, you can read more about them here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_County_Choppers .
Filming was going on in the shop on the day we visited. OCC has a super viewing room available for one to watch what is going on in the shop, and watch the taping of the show if you wish. Pretty cool.
After taking in the sites, and venturing around looking at what retail merchandise I wanted to depart from Newburgh with, I suddenly had an 'Academic -Working World gut-check.' What I mean by this is, even though I was fascinated with the OCC, I quickly realized, they are just another business going through the ebbs and flows of daily existence. Granted they have extended reach due to a media platform in TLC and the production of American Chopper, but, at days' end, they are a business. They have a direct customer interface with the employees working the desk of the retail store, and of the products they sell be it a T-shirt or a bike. And, from my experience, they are a business that, not like many others out there, need help in customer fulfillment at the retail level. Here are a couple of examples.....possibly missed opportunities.
First, the retail sales employees were rude at best. Given, there is a cultural difference between "Texas" and "New York," but, rude is rude. When you ask a question and are treated like you are really messing up the employees day by requiring a somewhat intelligent question, well, a red flag should go up...and up it did in my mind.
Secondly, many of the retail offerings, such as "have your picture taken with the Teutuls" whereby you are PhotoShopped into an existing picture, were broken and not working. If you asked about the nice big sign saying "have your photo made..." you were quickly told yeah, that's broken....hmmm. Ok, so, how much for the cool OCC limited edition pocket knife for my father-in-law? You get the point....again, red flags!
Lastly, I drove 1740 miles, yes count them for yourself, http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&tab=wl , one thousand seventeen hundred and forty miles to experience OCC. (Ok, so, um, this wasn't the only reason I was in New York, but, hey, it sure adds drama to this story). Not one time did anyone in the retail store ask where I was from. Not one time did anyone in the store even make an attempt to capture my information, address, email, cell phone, text, twitter, facebook, NADDA! Uh huh, red, red, red flags! Oh, and to add insult to injury...not one product was suggested to me, as I was never approached...hmm, maybe a hands off style? NO! Missed product sales!
One could possibly argue that OCC is big, and doesn't need people because it sells so many bikes. Really? Then why do the theme bikes (many of them) reside at the OCC HQ? Further, in today's economy, there is a lag that will be (if it hasn't already) hitting OCC and businesses like OCC in the face due to corporate (theme bike target market) cutbacks. And, even further, does the general bike consumer have an extra $40,000 laying around to purchase a bike...and ok, even further, does the bike consumer have access to financing for the bike given the liquidity constrained market? Oh, and back to the opening comment....people.....or "fans" as we might call them, actually may carry the big stick in their soft walk. Consumer behavior teaches us that fans are fickle...yikes....make enough of them mad, and well, you could cause erosion of the fan base, or even more terrible, viewer wearout of the media platform of the show in general. Wow...so much to think about.
Again, this post is NOT to bash OCC. In fact, I love OCC, and am a huge fan. The American Chopper show on TLC does not do any of the bikes justice. The craftsmanship of the metal workings that come together to create the intricate attention to detail are so amazing that one must, just must, see in person to experience. A true metal art form on a steel chassis canvas may best summarize what the men and women of OCC do on a daily basis. I appreciate the culture of OCC, how it started, what it stands for, and the value it commands in the marketplace, ceteris paribus.
However, I am also an Academic with a keen business sense when it comes to sales and marketing. Too many red flags, and, your own internal dashboard indicators tell you something is amiss. The point here should be that no matter what the business is, what its access to media outlet platforms is, how big, or how small, all can benefit from the "stuff" you as students and me as a professor work through in our classes. I spent a few hours at OCC, and I walked away, still impressed, but, knowing that deep down within my knowledge base, I could so help these guys.
As your knowledge grows, you develop as a student of business, and your experience broadens, you will eventually be able to have the same "gut check" with any business you interface. You will see the red flags and think of 10 quick ways you could remedy the problem with marketing research, selling sequence, product life cycle, 4 P's + Perception, etc. These things we discuss in class, this "stuff" really does matter as it provides a tool box for you to work from as an Academic Craftsman in the future.