Today’s interview is with The Speed Merchant crew: Brandon Holstein, Dan Begakis, and Mark Kawakami. Speed Merchant is based on Southern California, and manufacturers custom motorcycle aftermarket parts & accessories.
Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourselves and how Speed Merchant came to be?
The Speed Merchant is a team of like minded guys, Brandon Holstein, Dan Begakis, and Mark Kawakami, who each bring something different to the table. The goal is to bring our sense of style and function to the motorcycle industry, while keeping our manufacturing here in California.
Brandon Holstein: I have had a love of motorcycles ever since I was a kid. I started working in the motorcycle industry over 10 years ago. Building and designing has been something I’ve been doing steadily now for the last 7 years as, “Brawny Built”; my own company, that focuses on custom fabrication and custom builds. I’ve always been drawn to purpose built bikes, whether they are dirt bikes, GP bikes, or drag bikes. There’s something about the function in a motorcycle that I find attractive. Though not easily achieved, there is a sense of beauty in function. Things that work and serve a purpose are what inspire me, especially architecture and industrial design. My primary role is designing quality parts for our company. Along with R&D and parts development, I am also building the custom bikes seen on our site.
Dan Begakis: I have always loved motorcycles, especially vintage/classic. The style and stories they have hidden within them are always compelling to me. I’ve also always liked the purpose built, stripped down style of racing machines. In addition to motorcycles, history and period culture have always been a passion of mine. The craftsmanship and styling across all spectrums and mediums in architecture, furniture, automobile and advertising, etc are fascinating to me.
The driving force behind all of it is the soundtrack; independent music and it’s DIY ethos is what opened my mind to all the possibilities in life and its what continues to inspire me. Through common interests and like minds, the Speed Merchant team came together.
Mark Kawakami: My background is over 20 years in graphic design, photography and marketing. I currently work for a company in the surf industry and have held the art director position there for the last ten years. I enjoy in my spare time to go out and do some surfing, diving and ride motorcycles. I was asked by Dan and Brandon to come on board at The Speed Merchant because we have worked together on projects in the past. I was brought in to develop the look and branding of The Speed Merchant. That’s my primary role.
Speed Merchant works in an industry that is quintessentially American. How important is it to be an American Made product in the motorcycle market and does it feel like you’re fulfilling a sense of duty? Are clients, customers and people who live that lifestyle more aware and supportive of American-Made products?
BH: Our goal is to produce everything we make, here in California. Designed for American and British bikes, our sand casted covers are influenced by old company’s like Webco that were around 50 years ago. Keeping that spirit alive is important for us. It’s really important to keep business here in the states, not just for the economy, but for developing a stronger relationship with local businesses.The strength of our country depends on the relationships between all businesses, large or small. These days people are a lot more educated about where certain products are made. More and more people in this industry and lifestyle are much more supportive of American made goods. It’s not a duty to make our products in the USA, it’s just simply the only way we’ll do it.
DB: I think it’s quite important to have parts for the motorcycle market made in the USA, especially for American made machines! In the American motorcycle market, people take notice where the stuff they purchase is manufactured, although to a degree consumers are driven by price over quality and origin. It does seem with the downturn of the economy, the masses are just starting to understand the impact of runaway production and its consequences.
MK: I know that’s been the goal from the get go is to keep all Speed Merchant parts manufactured in the US. On a side note we plan to launch an apparel line and will also be focused on keeping it USA made as well. A major obstacle making that possible is to keep our merchandise within the price reach of our customers, but still push the envelope on making functional outer wear that makes sense.
Is it even imaginable that Speed Merchant would outsource the production for cheaper labor costs, when it defines so much of who you are?
BH: Money isn’t our number one concern. We want to provide a quality product that we are passionate about, at a reasonable price. I think most people appreciate quality goods, and are more willing to pay the extra cost of having these parts made in the US. So outsourcing just to make more money has never even crossed our minds.
MK: Once we started on this path and our customers saw what we’re are doing, they have some to respect our process and understand the pricing of our products. They know it is all being made in the USA and we are not ordering our parts overseas to make a bigger margin. In turn, we have a lot more control on keeping an eye on production since it’s all being produced locally, for us.
Speed Merchant not only manufactures parts for stock bikes, but also builds bikes from scratch. Would your company even be possible without the skilled craftsmen you have at Speed Merchant?
DB: Absolutley not.
MK: Our company wouldn’t be possible without the knowledge and craftsmanship of Brandon. This is one area where I know to sit back and just let Brandon go and do his thing. Brandon has so much experience in motorcycles he knows what works and what doesn’t. In the end that translates to great functional custom motorcycles and development of parts that perform.
What kind of foreign threats do you face from a manufacturing and sales standpoint?
BH: One of the biggest threats, is cheap imitations. Too many companies with huge bank rolls are only trying to make a buck. This is a threat that is just the nature of business I suppose, but I’ve seen it happen many times in this industry.
DB: I wouldn’t say that we have a foreign threat per se; more of domestic competition using cheap overseas labor which, without a doubt, is not a level playing field. They benefit from cheaper manufacturing costs and a much larger profit margin, but sometimes the greed and higher profit margins don’t necessarily translate to cheaper retail prices or sales.
MK: A huge benefit is that the Speed Merchant is a small independent company and when we come up with ideas we can concept and produce that product fast. I’m proud of everything that comes out of our offices and we’re seeing that in sales with our parts. We don’t have financial backing to stand up to the big companies so all we can do is just get our message out there best we can and continue to move forward with new and innovative parts.
To people in the market for aftermarket motorcycle parts and fabrication, what’s the number one reason they should come to Speed Merchant?
BH: Style. Quality. Function. Passion.
DB: We’re not making cheap throwaway plastic toys, we’re making parts for machines that, in some cases people have dreamt of and saved a good portion of their lives for. That’s pretty important. We want the parts they are personalizing their pride and joy with to be full of passion, heart and soul. Anything less would be an insult.
MK: Well, if they could see the long hours and dedication put into the parts they will know The Speed Merchant only wants the best out there. So I would say Quality and Style.
How important is the Made in America process to your brand image? You write on your site that your products are made in Southern California. Why is that important, and what about that image is crucial to your company?
BH: It’s extremely important! It’s who we are and where we’re from.
DB: The Made in the USA is extremely important to our brand image, it’s who we are! On our website we put made in Southern California because we believe it further enforces our location and commitment. I think it also helps the customer realize that it is in fact a real place with real people. Made In USA is a bit broad, and common. identifying the locale really drives the point home.
If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like The Speed Merchant to succeed, what would it be?
BH: One of the greatest advantages to keeping things made in the US, is the strength and happiness of a nation. The biggest threat would be the Walmart’s of this industry. Supporting small businesses that specialize in craftsmanship, and ingenuity is a step in the right direction to help building a stronger nation.
DB: The greatest threat is price. Absolutely. Plain and simple.
The greatest advantage? Keeping the economy moving forward. If your neighbors are working and being productive, they’re happier people. If we can literally help our neighbors by manufacturing, building, shopping and supporting local businesses, we can build community, relationships and pride and in turn generate a solid economy.
Awesome, thank you so much Brandon, Dan and Mark!