Motorcycle business sees 650% revenue boost

klock werks kustom cycles
Laura and Brian Klock at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats.

In the small town of Mitchell, S.D., Brian and Laura Klock are accustomed to the wind that regularly gusts over the plains where they and their customers ride.

Crosswinds of 50 to 60 miles per hour can kick up out of nowhere, even on a sunny day, and it's especially dangerous when attempting to pass a much larger vehicle, like a semi-truck.

"A motorcycle has lift," Brian said. "And the faster you go, the more it lifts, making for a dangerous wobble."

Klock Werks Kustom Cycles set out to fix that.

Brian Klock started Klock Werks in 1997 in a one-car garage in the town of about 15,000. He offered motorcycle customizing, which was a natural outgrowth of what he'd been doing for years. In 2004, he and his wife Laura also started designing and selling their own parts.

"It was a lot of buddy-trades and sweat equity," he said. "I would ride from Chicago to California testing an exhaust or some other part; a magazine editor would get wind of it, take a picture of the bike and put it on the cover. It helped get our name out there."

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Klock said he turned a profit during these years, with yearly sales of about $350,000, and much of it went back into developing new parts.

But it wasn't until he created the Flare Windshield that business really exploded.

Klock got the idea for a customized shield when he and his family were returning home from the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials in 2006. Laura had set records of 137 and 146 miles per hour on a Harley Davidson meant for cruising. But even though the bike was customized for high speed, it wobbled when it hit about 125 miles per hour.

"On the way home, I had my hand out the window, and it made me think, 'How can we angle the windshield so we can add a downforce?'" Brian said.

When he returned to Mitchell, he began designing the prototype for a curved windshield, which would basically act like a spoiler and prevent the lift.

"There had been a lot of crashes on those bikes at 80 or 90 miles per hour," he said. "It was dangerous and the bike basically floated."

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With materials they had at the shop, Klock designed the Flare Windshield, a polycarbonite curved shield that makes the front of the bike more aerodynamic -- and much steadier.

In December 2007, Klock presented it to his biggest distributor, who thought he might be able to sell 500 a year.

"I went in front of their fifty national sales reps and said 'I'm going to sell 20,000,'" Klock said. "I had a year to prove it."

Six years later, the Flare Windshield -- which retails for $179 to $199 -- is the top-selling part for Klock Werks, making up about 80% of the company's revenue.

"We sold 18,500 the first year," Klock said. "We got the attention of all the power sports magazines. And we've sold about 20,000 every year since."

He said revenue has increased by 650% since 2006. Sales were strong even during the recent downturn: They did $2.5 million in sales in 2008, largely because of the Flare.

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What started as a shop with seven employees selling eight parts now has 17 employees and 485 parts. The shop -- and the Flare -- has always been a family affair.

"That windshield is my baby," said Laura Klock, who handles marketing for the business. "And our philosophy is that people buy from people. That's why we have a 'try it before you buy it' guarantee."

The Klocks and their daughters Erika, 23, and Karlee, 20, who also hold land speed records, regularly travel to motorcycle shows and races where they sell directly to customers, helping to fit windshields.

The Flare is produced in Minnesota, and all but one of Klock Werks' products is made in America. Klock stressed how important it is to him to keep things that way.

"Everyone told me I couldn't do it from Mitchell, S.D.," Klock said. "Even though I distribute worldwide, I feel like it's a moral obligation for me to make it at home and try to make someone else's dream happen."

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