Life on Two Wheels: Brit Chopper Customs’ Mark Duckett
Specialising in building custom motorcycles for clients across the UK, Mark Duckett tells One Broker about how he got started in the industry and some of the challenges his business faces.
“I’ve seen some weird things,” Mark Duckett begins. “I’ve seen some pieces of engineering that are more like art projects than functional motorcycles. Lots of custom bikes are built to look good as display items, rather than something that can be ridden.”
Mark’s business, Brit Chopper Customs has been creating bespoke motorcycles – specifically custom choppers and Harley-Davidsons – in Norfolk since 2013. The business also provides motorcycle servicing, restoration, maintenance, engine upgrades and more, building a solid reputation for high-quality engineering along the way.
“It started as a hobby that I did on the side,” he explains. “I was just tinkering with motorcycles and building things and what-not. I got into it quite late. Probably in my 40s. I started doing it because I enjoyed it. It gave me somewhere to go and destress.
“Then, when I retired from my day job, I set up Brit Chopper Customs. It keeps me busy and out of mischief.
“It’s just me, but sometimes some friends come along. It’s like an old man support club; they come along and drink tea while pointing at things and poking things. Occasionally they give me a hand. It’s a bit like Last of the Summer Wine for motorcyclists,” he laughs.
While Mark explains that the business is fun for the most part, it does come with some challenges.
“The biggest one is trying to keep costs down and keeping your bills paid,” he explains. “This is a slow burn business and doesn’t have a rapid cash flow. You start a motorcycle build and it may take a year to finish it. You take a bit of money up-front, then you take a bit along the way, so the challenge is keeping your overheads down and not overspending.”
He adds that finding Motorcycle Motor Trade Insurance was difficult at first too, finding that many insurers were initially interested in providing business protection until they discovered that motorcycles were involved.
“Way back when I was setting up, Torque Bike came to see me. They sat down to see what I did and then went away and found a couple of quotes for me. I’ve been with them ever since. I’ve never had any problems and I’ve never had to make any claims,” Mark states.
“If I have any questions, they’re on the ball. The biggest thing for me is the MID database – adding vehicles and taking them off. It keeps locking you out if you haven’t been in for a while. Torque Bike’s good at helping me with the numbers I need to ring.
“I have recommended them in the past. A couple of guys set up around here and I gave them the team’s details.”
Of the past 18 months, Mark is unequivocal.
“It was an absolute disaster. If I got 25% of my annual turnover I’d be lucky. It was completely dead.
“Normally I’d be doing stuff in the background, like motorcycle servicing, which is a little bit of bread and butter and pays the bills, but that just wasn’t there. It was just a slog.”
In late 2020, he made the difficult decision to shut Brit Chopper Customs’ workshop for a few months because there was nothing to do. It also removed the temptation of spending money.
“I’m a bit of a sucker really because if I see a bargain I usually buy it,” he reveals. “I know I’ll use it somewhere down the line. The trouble is you start to accumulate more and more stuff and you have money tied up in parts so it was better to shut things for a while.”
He explains that things haven’t picked up the way he would have liked in 2021 either, citing poor weather conditions along with the ongoing effects of lockdowns.
“A lot of people spent money doing their houses up because they were stuck at home. Everybody turned their money to DIY, their gardens and their patios so they could stay sane during the lockdown. Their spare cash has been absorbed so they’re not spending so much this year.”
So what of the weeks and months ahead?
“Next year, things may start to normalise a bit,” he concludes.
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