Customisation, originally, was born largely of necessity: but in recent years the popularity of shows such as ‘Orange County Choppers’ and ‘Biker Build Off’, and the rise of biking as a summer recreation, has seen customised bikes enjoy a surge in popularity: with budgets rising in parallel.
Now, Perthshire’s only custom workshop – JM Customs in Perth – has embarked on a mission to make customisation affordable again. “In some cases, custom builds are costing a small fortune,” says James Moir, who set up JM Customs in January 2017.
“I’m a pipefitter to trade but had worked offshore for more than a decade. I knew I wanted a change, and to work for myself, so I told myself I just had to get after this.”
Summers as a teenager had been spent creating parts for vintage cars, working for his uncle’s dealership, and having worked on a few bike restorations in the intervening years, James remained fascinated by the magic and potential of fabrication. He decided this offered the perfect outlet for his ambition.
“The ability to create something inspirational from raw materials continues to be my passion. When it comes to bikes, there really is no limit: if you can dream it, you can build it. So, I set out to make customisation more affordable – making custom motorcycles accessible to more people. While some parts are harder to make or source, jobs can often be done in a month, and we try to complete all commissions within 12 weeks.”
James certainly seems to have spotted a niche market with huge potential. “We have an eight-month waiting list for commissions at present.”
Growth has come through word of mouth and social media alone.
“Our ethos of ‘built not bought’ was picked up on by ‘Naked Speed’ for Café Racers TV (as seen on Discovery Channel) and we’re filming for them through to January, to demonstrate how we practice what we preach,” explains James. “The footage might then be turned into a documentary, we don’t know for sure, but for now the producers have given us exposure on Café Racers TV’s social media platforms – and that profile is priceless, with the size of their audience.
“Ultimately, there is no better feeling than stepping back and looking at something you’ve built with your own hands. Every bike we do is truly is a labour of love – and I think people like that we are keeping the hand-crafted element of bike building alive!”
JM Customs is certainly being noticed. While its first commissions came from other local businesses, such as Full Circle Tattoo, orders are now coming from across the UK, including Belfast and London.
“The biking community are all enthusiasts and they share their passion on social media, in chat rooms and at events. We’ve had people in Australia get in touch after coverage of one of our bikes in ‘100% Biker’.
James still likes nothing more than being hands-on himself, and so he was delighted when Chris Burnett joined him as lead mechanic. “Chris shares my vision and passion and has an absolute wealth of knowledge.”
The business now has a fully equipped service and repair centre employing two additional staff and has a planning application lodged to create a dedicated 2,000 sq ft workshop for the custom business in an adjacent unit on Perth’s PH2 business estate. “Once our expansion is fitted out, in 2019, I expect we’ll have seven or eight employees working with us full-time.”
James has no doubt that Perth is the best location for his growing business. “My wife is from the area and we’ve lived here since we married. We’ve now got four daughters and the quality of life here is fantastic. Schools are great, and within 15 minutes you can be in some of the best scenery Scotland has to offer. We’re also within a 60-minute drive of half of Scotland’s population.” (More than 200 people attended the summer barbecue and open day.)
“Perth is also great for local business looking to help each other. We’ve had commissions from several local traders, and we like to use Upholstery, another Perth-based business, for all our custom leather work. Overheads for the business can be contained here and I’m also talking to Perth College UHI about opportunities to give work experience to some of their best students.”
Running a business is all about getting the balance right. “2018 has been better than I projected – we moved to our current unit this year, and we’re already looking to expand again. We have steady cash flow from the service and repairs work, while the custom-build business is booming.”
If you’re tempted, James advises: “Some customers have ideas for their customisation, and they book a consultation and discuss what’s possible with us. Others let us develop a unique customisation for them, sometimes even sourcing the bike. The best way is to come with some reference points, and we will create you something unique.”
Setting up in business has not been easy: “But it’s been good,” says James. “We’re old school: we eat, sleep and breath motorcycles, and the customer is our focus. Bikers like that. We’re grateful for the support we’ve had, inspired by what we see ahead, and motivated by what can be achieved. But most importantly, we’re having fun.”