Success in business often comes with a price tag and a great deal of sacrifice. “It’s been a challenge balancing a growing business and family,” says Mike Kuhl, owner of Kuhl’s Custom Choppers. “At times the long hours and weekends take away from time with my sons and daughter, which is extremely important to me.”
Early 2007 this pressure was eased by welcoming PJ Barr to the team, another creative mind that has challenged even Kuhl’s ‘outside the box’ thinking. “He thinks differently than I do and we kind of play off of one another’s strengths.”
When Kuhl’s moved into their new shop in February 2006, business exploded. Barr has assisted in the continued growth and expansion into new areas and ventures. This is evident in the numerous hotrod projects scattered about the shop. Kuhl says it has been exciting to see this area grow. Both Kuhl and Barr come from an automotive background and say that the reason they got into the trade was to be doing exactly what they are doing, fixing and building cool stuff. Building and customizing motorcycles is definitely an extension of this passion and has been a very easy transition for both of them.
With four years of building bikes under their belt and a future that looks very positive, the goal is to continue to earn respect in both the bike world as well as the hotrod community and to be regarded as creative and forward thinking, while maintaining ol’ skool roots.
Kuhl states that his vision when opening the shop was to create a different feel in a very traditional arena. His desire was for a customer to feel like they had stepped back in time, not necessarily in décor, but more in how they are regarded. Whether it’s about installing aftermarket signal lights on your brand new Softail, creating a one-off custom or restoring your prized ‘49 Chevy, Kuhl’s is dedicated to integrity and committed to ensuring a customer is treated with honour and respect, and has a few laughs in the process.
“Both PJ and I are not very serious guys. We have a lot of laughs throughout the day and often times our customers are drawn into this,” Kuhl says. “Life shouldn’t be so serious and business shouldn’t be so serious either.”
The atmosphere at Kuhl’s is very casual and at any given time, you can walk in and there are at least a few of the regulars hanging out. “This is definitely the environment I envisioned.” Kuhl continued, “If you can’t enjoy doing what you love to do, then maybe you’re doing the wrong thing.”
The shop’s portfolio continues to grow, including a variety of services and specialties. From custom choppers to hotrods, customizing to fabricating and servicing, repairing and supplying parts for anything in between, the guys never see the same day twice. The constantly changing schedule keeps them on their toes and continues to push them into new areas of growth, but more importantly, presses them to grow creatively. “We are constantly pushed to think outside the box and to look beyond the ordinary,” indicates Kuhl. To date, Kuhl’s have built ten ground-up customs (including an ol’ skool bobber for Clayton Bellamy of the CCMA group of the year, The Road Hammers), they have four project cars on the go and they’ve customized and serviced countless H-D’s, Victory’s and other stock bikes. As well, Kuhl’s continues to service and repair motor vehicles.
The shop and showroom, that takes up almost 5000 sq. ft., is getting tight and some days they say it’s like messing with a Rubik’s Cube. “We love the busyness and all the different adventures we’re on. We can’t wait to have the problem of outgrowing this facility, the growth has been so exciting to watch,” Kuhl says. So much has changed since their humble beginnings in a two-bay shop of just under 600 sq. ft. to a shop that is evidently busting at the seams on the main drag in Red Deer, Alberta.
Kuhl only sees good things in the future. Growth has been nice and steady and not necessarily as a result of the oil boom. “I don’t think the business has succeeded or struggled as a result of the ups and downs of that industry as you might think. Our customer base extends beyond that, seeing less than half of our full-on customs come from that industry. Don’t get me wrong, that wealth does trickle into our shop but I definitely see a lot of suit and tie guys as well.”
To identify a certain style and flavour the guys like best, you would definitely have to say ol’ skool. Both Kuhl and Barr prefer the bare bones kind of stuff, the stuff you have to sweat for in order to see it come to pass. Very few fancy pieces of equipment and tools grace Kuhl’s shop. “We are more about using our hands and muscle, using a hammer and shot bag is common place. We love getting in there and feeling the satisfaction of creating that one-off piece with our own two hands,” Kuhl states.
There are aspects of the business that Kuhl’s admits are not his strengths and he could do without. “Pushing paper is not one of my strong points. I would much rather be in the back burning metal or chopping something, but I guess it’s all part of it. The administrative has definitely been a strong learning curve for me,” Kuhl says. “Come to think of it, it has all been a learning curve, that’s the thing about this industry – it constantly pushes you to grow but I love what I do, and that makes it all worth it in the end.”
Kuhl’s Custom Choppers Inc.
#3 – 7711 50th Ave
Red Deer, AB T4P 1M7