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May 2007
The Other Side of Envy
By Janet Kropinak

     Chuck Griffith has been around motorcycles his entire life. He grew up in upstate New York watching his father, his uncle Butch and his father’s friends work on bikes, learning at an early age to appreciate the speed and power that came with riding a motorcycle. While Griffith admits to being the only kid in his neighborhood with a “hopped up” bicycle, it was at the age of 14 that it hit him this could be his future career; and it hit him hard.

     Griffith had spent the year before watching his dad work feverishly on his first Harley Davidson, a bike he had dreamed of having for most of his life. Then on a cold winter night, just two weeks after the bike was completed, the unthinkable happened.

     After returning home on his snowmobile as he had done many times before, Griffith pulled up onto the driveway. But rather than gently coasting into the garage, he admits to being more aggressive with the throttle than usual. Unable to stop, he plowed straight into his dad’s Harley.

     With a sinking sick feeling in his stomach, he knew immediately how bad this was. His dad didn’t hide his disappointment and anger over the situation. As punishment, and a life lesson, Griffith was required to spend the rest of the winter in the cold garage rebuilding the Harley with his father. By the end of the process; Griffith knew that he would work with motorcycles, in one form or another.

 

Back to Biking

     When it came time for Griffith to go to college, Griffith decided to pursue marketing and real estate. Describing himself as someone who enjoys being challenged and finding solutions, this area of study gave Griffith a well-balanced foundation for his future endeavors.

     Upon graduation, Griffith returned to the world of bikes, customizing the engines on new bikes. But a few years later, he decided it was time to leave New York for new surroundings where he could ride his bike year-round: and that place happened to be Charlotte.

     Initially, Griffith traded on his marketing skills and he attributes his success as a business owner in large part to his days as a salesman. He is able to appreciate both sides of the transaction and is quick to comment on the most valuable lesson he has learned.

“It drives me insane when people don’t listen. In any facet of business, this is an essential key and people so often times just don’t get it. The key is to just sit and listen to what people are trying to tell you,” he says matter-of-factly.

     Griffith began searching for a way he could combine his passion for bikes and all things related to speed with his marketing experience and decided to build his own custom bike business. Because he was confident in his ability to deliver quality craftsmanship, he put his name behind the business and Griffith Choppers was born.

     He was determined to use the business to help his customers achieve their dreams of owning, and in some cases even building, their own custom bikes. His mantra: “We want to align ourselves with distinguished clientele looking for a custom Chopper that is built for and with them that delivers superior quality, performance and total originality.”

 

Custom Means Custom

    These days, “custom” bikes seem to be the trend, making one wonder how all these bikes can really be custom and how much quality actually exists. Griffith answers this simply, “They aren’t truly custom.”

     “When you are looking to buy a bike off a showroom floor, you are making a decision to go with a bike that has been mass produced, and that is okay because they are up front about it,” comments Griffith. “There are so many people today claiming to build and sell custom bikes that people are being misled into thinking they are riding around on a one of a kind bike and end up at a stop light next to someone on the same bike with a slightly different paint job.”

    Because a custom bike is supposed to be built with someone specific in mind, it becomes a very tailored experience and can often lead to a lengthy decision-making process. And Griffith takes this responsibility very seriously.

     “A bike is a personal thing. Everyone is different: from their height and weight to their expectations for the bike. It is so important to sit down and talk to people about what they are looking for, but most importantly, it is essential to listen to what they are telling you,” Griffith asserts.

     He continues, “Your bike should represent your personality and celebrate your achievements in life. The machine should deliver to you the freedom and thrill of wide open throttle on the open road with head-turning envy as you roar past others.”

By the time Griffith sits down with a customer, they have already made a decision to spend roughly $50,000 to $60,000 on a bike, and he sees it as his obligation to get it right. Always aiming for customer satisfaction, he adds, “We realize that purchasing a bike is a long-term investment and we try to follow through with service to each of our customers once they ride away off on their bike.”

     Griffith and his team of mechanics, designers and fabricators, build about three to five bikes per year, which demonstrates not only their attention to detail but also their commitment to quality craftsmanship. “We are building the ‘Mercedes of Choppers’ and certain attention needs to be paid to that,” emphasizes Griffith.

     Griffith Choppers has built bikes for both novice and experienced riders and is now branching out to service those looking to build their own bike.

     On a limited basis, they allow buyers to participate in the build of their Chopper, always under the supervision of Griffith and the crew. “This is a great way for people to really be involved in the process without making the investment in tools and required resources. Most importantly, it is also educational for a novice because as they offer assistance, they see that things need to be done a certain way and to a specific standard,” comments Griffith.

 

Riding Toward the Future

     Griffith Choppers has completed all the legal certifications and tooling for the business. It generates its own VIN numbers and MSOs for the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is of substantial benefit to the customer.

      Griffith has also developed relationships with specialists from one of the local championship race teams, which has added valuable expertise and resources to his operation. Although it is his name on the bikes, Griffith is quick to acknowledge his “supporting cast.”

     “I couldn’t do this work by myself. I work with a great team all of whom bring something different to the table and together we are working synergistically to create truly custom bikes for our clients,” he beams.

    Griffith has also had the help and support of several area organizations; he pays special mention to A3 Design and Business Leaders of Charlotte (BLOC). “I just can’t say enough about these organizations and how they have helped my company. Everyone we have worked with has been generous and supportive and I think that is a reflection of Charlotte itself.”

     Although Griffith doesn’t currently have plans for expansion, he does have some ideas for future projects: “What I would really love to do is build a custom bike, with the help of a corporate sponsor, and auction the machine with all of the proceeds going to charity.”

    Griffith plans to simply ‘keep doing what he’s doing.’ “I don’t want to overload myself in business and reach a point where I am mass-producing. That isn’t why we are doing this and isn’t the direction we are looking to head in,” he affirms.

     From a 14-year-old boy in his dad’s garage to business owner, Griffith has come a long way but he still gets keyed up when he talks about riding his own Chopper. “Every time I ride I feel like a 16-year-old kid behind the wheel for the first time,” he says with enthusiasm.

     Grateful for what he has accomplished, Griffith smiles as he revels in how lucky he is to be doing something he enjoys for a living: “I’m really living in a perfect world right now and that is a great feeling.”

Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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