Shop Crawl

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When a boy turns 16 years old, ev­ery­thing changes. While most boys that age are con­sumed by get­ting their driver’s li­cense in or­der to im­press girls, Jake Cut­ler, from Barn­storm Cy­cles, was busy for­mu­lat­ing plans on how he could turn his mo­tor­cy­cle pas­sion into a full-time gig.

Jake started out rid­ing dirt bikes, but bought a Sport­ster when he was 16. He caught the Har­ley bug at an early age thanks to his old man and Barn­storm co-owner, Doug Cut­ler. In fact, Doug used to take Jake to all the East Coast biker ral­lies dur­ing Jake’s child­hood, in­clud­ing one of the old­est mo­tor­cy­cle events in ex­is­tence, La­co­nia Mo­tor­cy­cle Week. To this day, Doug and Jake still roll to­gether. It’s clear this fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship is so much more. They’re best buds.

Even­tu­ally, Jake thirsted for knowl­edge and hung around a lo­cal shop, Z and Z Cy­cles, pick­ing up tricks from owner Paul Quitadamo (aka PQ). Sweep­ing floors, grab­bing lunch for the crew, and tak­ing out trash weren’t the most glam­orous of jobs, but Jake un­der­stood the work ethic be­ing in­stilled in him and pushed through with hu­mil­ity. It also helped that he was trad­ing la­bor for Sport­ster parts. Not long af­ter, he tack­led oil changes and other main­te­nance gigs, and then he be­gan tin­ker­ing.

When Jake turned 18, he en­rolled in Ben­ning­ton Col­lege in Ver­mont, a lib­eral arts school. As a fresh­man, Jake didn’t re­ally have much di­rec­tion, but he al­ways looked up to his fa­ther’s acute busi­ness acu­men in the real-es­tate game, which was demon­strated to Doug by Jake’s grand­fa­ther’s (Doug’s fa­ther) suc­cess and work ethic in the con­struc­tion and prop­erty devel­op­ment busi­ness.

While Ben­ning­ton didn’t ini­tially of­fer what Jake was look­ing for by way of trade, op­por­tu­nity came knock­ing. Ben­ning­ton of­fered “field work” terms, which al­low stu­dents to take an in­tern­ship within an area that com­ple­ments their ma­jor. Jake had the bright idea to ap­proach his teacher and see if it was pos­si­ble to be his own boss for a startup cus­tom-mo­tor­cy­cle shop. “I thought, This could be a cool time to get some col­lege credit and some busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Jake re­calls. Ini­tially, his teacher told him to kick rocks. But af­ter Jake and his dad put their heads to­gether to re­ally dis­sect their ob­jec­tives, they came up with a solid busi­ness plan, and a lit­tle startup dough to boot. The teacher made an ex­cep­tion. The Barn­storm Cy­cles crew is not com­posed of folks punching the prover­bial clock day in and day out. It is a fam­ily. And the pas­sion­ate team rep­re­sents a cer­tain de­vo­tion with ev­ery­thing it does.

Barn­storm’s busi­ness model was sim­ple: Build a bike for fun, sell it, and use what­ever money it made to fund the next project, and hope­fully its ef­forts were fruit­ful. Part of the field-work re­quire­ment was to build a web­site, so Jake tack­led that, but took the ex­per­i­ment a few steps fur­ther by in­cor­po­rat­ing the com­pany by him­self. Jake then went on to pro­duce and sell some Barn­storm-branded merch in the form of T-shirts, hats, and such. The field-work re­quire­ment was a min­i­mum of 210 hours through­out the seven-week term, but Jake doc­u­mented 700 to 800 hours. Af­ter things started flow­ing more seam­lessly, he and Doug de­cided to keep it go­ing even af­ter the term ended. And it all kind of snowballed from there.

The busi­ness model changed af­ter that be­cause Barn­storm gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a no-bs shop that treated its cus­tomers right, and did the work well and in a timely man­ner. Busi­ness picked up, and ser­vice jobs were rolling in. Jake was also busy form­ing re­la­tion­ships with parts sup­pli­ers, such as Cus­tom Chrome and oth­ers, and be­fore long, he was up and run­ning as a full-ser­vice bike shop and af­ter­mar­ket parts re­tailer. And while all this was go­ing on, Jake was work­ing part time at not just one but two ma­chine shops in or­der to bet­ter hone his bike-build­ing skills.

Jake and Doug had used a lo­cal ma­chine shop, Vangy Tool, to help them make parts for some of their projects. The full-ser­vice shop, equipped with a wa­ter-jet ma­chine, lathes, and CNCS, was well-equipped to tackle some Barn­storm projects here and there. Ob­vi­ously, a re­la­tion­ship started be­tween the Cut­lers and Vangy Tool’s Paul Ot­ta­viano, and Jake ap­proached Paul about do­ing an­other field-work term at Vangy. Jake of­fered free la­bor in ex­change for learn­ing the trade—a win­win. Paul put him to work learn­ing MIG, TIG, lathe op­er­a­tion, and some lim­ited wa­ter-jet ex­pe­ri­ence. Then they started to give Jake spe­cial projects. “I built a lift in the back of the shop out of an old Ford truck once,” Jake re­calls. It was ba­si­cally a “here’s some parts, kid, make it work” type sce­nario. Giv­ing Jake the creative free­dom to “make it work” re­ally opened his eyes to fu­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Jake was work­ing at Vangy, still try­ing to run a small busi­ness, and still car­ry­ing a full load of cred­its at Ben­ning­ton. Some­thing even­tu­ally had to give. The mid­night oil was run­ning out. And since Jake was do­ing so well with his busi­ness ven­ture, Ben­ning­ton Col­lege got axed from the equa­tion in 2008. But be­cause of all that free time (ha!), an­other chance en­counter

ap­peared. Jake went on to meet an­other guy who would equip Jake’s mo­tor­cy­cle fab tool­box for life.

A lo­cal weld­ing phe­nom from Ad­vanced Weld­ing and Fab­ri­cat­ing named Danny Burmer was some­thing of a leg­end around Jake’s town. One of Jake’s cus­tomers had a leaky gas tank that needed some fresh beads. Jake took it to Danny for the so­lu­tion, the two started talk­ing, and af­ter a while, Danny of­fered him a job. “Work­ing un­der him was just a huge stroke of good luck for me,” Jake says. “He’s one of the best welders I’ve ever seen.” Jake worked for him for a year or two and be­came es­pe­cially pro­fi­cient in the alu­minum-weld­ing depart­ment. Jake would come in late and work af­ter hours to hone his skills in or­der to be­come more valu­able to his em­ployer. “It paid off in the long run,” Jake ad­mits.

In 2009, Doug and Jake gave Barn­storm a se­ri­ous look. It was time to s—t or get off the pot. If they wanted to take Barn­storm to the next level, they needed to in­vest more time. Jake then quit Vangy and Ad­vanced Weld­ing, and fo­cused his en­er­gies on Barn­storm full time. Ini­tially, ser­vice was the bread and but­ter. Sell­ing parts for ser­vice jobs seemed to be the sta­ple of Barn­storm’s new­found di­rec­tion. “If you do de­cent


work and you’re not an ass­hole, peo­ple tell their friends,” Jake says.

Jake and Doug were also fig­ur­ing out their own busi­ness re­la­tion­ship. You hear time and time again of failed fam­ily busi­nesses, but there’s a gen­uine mu­tual re­spect and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for each other. They don’t just work to­gether, they play to­gether too. Doug han­dles the fi­nan­cial and growth area sides of the biz, and Jake han­dles the dayto-day of the mo­tor­cy­cle shop, which in­cludes the build­ing and fab work of the bikes. “I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I’m still a more in-the-shop kind of guy, and he’s the be­hind-thescenes, busi­ness-devel­op­ment kind of guy. We work well to­gether,” Jake says. And they’ve al­ways got­ten along. In fact, the Cut­ler tribe in gen­eral is pretty close-knit. “We’re very low drama,” Jake says. “We would not do well on TV!”

Barn­storm orig­i­nated in an old barn in Worces­ter, Mas­sachusetts. Hence the name. Jake and Doug bought a new build­ing in nearby Spencer in 2011 (still head­quar­ters to­day), which was a to­tal re­hab job. They got a great deal on an old mill fac­tory, which is ex­actly what they wanted: some­thing cool, with char­ac­ter, ex­posed beams, brick, the whole nine yards. Reg­u­lar Barn­storm busi­ness as usual was sus­pended dur­ing the re­hab for about nine months, so Jake shifted gears from run­ning a mo­tor­cy­cle shop to be­ing the gen­eral con­trac­tor on the job—is there any­thing this guy can’t do?

When they bought the build­ing, they were look­ing for other av­enues as to Barn­storm’s ex­pan­sion. They were do­ing ser­vice, some light fab work, some cus­tom bike projects, and then Barn­storm started sell­ing pre-owned bikes that they’d doc­tor up a tad, and be­cause they had the space to house the in­ven­tory, they flipped more and more. “We started do­ing bike sales, and that seemed to aug­ment busi­ness tremen­dously. And be­cause we were do­ing that, we started need­ing more em­ploy­ees.”

Cur­rently, Barn­storm em­ploys 10 full-time work­ers, a few part-time folks, and dur­ing the sum­mer there are a few guys who help out for some ex­tra dough. “I al­ways view this as more of a team ef­fort,” Jake says. “It’s more about work­ing to­gether than it is to work for some­body.”

Be­cause win­ters in Mas­sachusetts don’t fa­cil­i­tate year-round mo­tor­cy­cle rid­ing, there’s an­other hobby that lo­cal Mas­sachusetts folks take part in: jeepin’! Off-road­ing jeeps is huge in Barn­storm coun­try. So why not of­fer a cus­tom jeep ex­pe­ri­ence? Barn­storm sees many par­al­lels to the jeep and mo­tor­cy­cle spirit: They’re highly cus­tom­iz­a­ble, they’ve been around for a long time, and just as peo­ple on mo­tor­cy­cles wave to one an­other, peo­ple in Wran­glers wave to one an­other. It’s an­other tightknit com­mu­nity con­nected by a ve­hi­cle. “We weren’t re­ally jeep peo­ple to be­gin with, so we started driv­ing them and off-road­ing them, and it paired well with what we did so we kind of eased into it, and we’ve been do­ing it four or five years now,” Jake says. And they’ve done well. The mo­tor­cy­cle-and-jeep cross­over turns out to be way more than Jake ex­pected it to be. “They’re tanks in the snow,” Jake says. “They’re like four-wheeled mo­tor­cy­cles in some weird way.”

It’s hard to put Barn­storm’s spe­cialty into a box. There’s cus­tom fab, ser­vice work, sales, parts, and ve­hi­cles, but Jake says that Barn­storm’s je ne sais quoi is that it of­fers its cus­tomers a chance to build re­la­tion­ships with the Barn­storm crew that aren’t just part of a cor­po­rate cam­paign. “We’re two life­long en­thu­si­asts, and ev­ery­one who works here is pas­sion­ate,” Jake says. “This is what we do. We do it for fun. It’s not just a job. There’s an au­then­tic­ity, which sounds so corny when you say it, but we re­ally care about the peo­ple who come here and the peo­ple who work here, and at the end of the day, it’s about mo­tor­cy­cles and what we’re pas­sion­ate about.”

So where does Barn­storm see it­self in 10 years? “We have a re­ally good team of peo­ple at the shop, and I would love to see ev­ery­one who is still here still be here and en­joy­ing work­ing here and hav­ing been part of 10 years’ worth of growth and suc­cess,” Jake says. That, and he aspires to have ev­ery house­hold own at least one mo­tor­cy­cle and one jeep. Con­sid­er­ing that Barn­storm started as a col­lege ex­per­i­ment, we hy­poth­e­size that the com­pany is well on its way to ac­com­plish­ing that very feat. But in all re­al­ity, Jake and the Barn­storm dudes are just stoked on the day-to-day mo­tor­cy­cle life. So even if the com­mu­nity doesn’t fully im­merse it­self in the jeep and moto cul­tures, he’ll be plenty sat­is­fied do­ing what he loves, and shar­ing his pas­sion with the rest of the world for many years to come. “If you stay in busi­ness long enough, a cer­tain amount of busi­ness will al­ways show up at your door, as long as you’re do­ing good work.” HB

Barn­storm Cy­cles own­ers, Doug Cut­ler, left, and Jake Cut­ler, right, aren’t your typ­i­cal fa­ther-son duo. They’re bud­dies. They work to­gether. They ride to­gether. They party to­gether. And they wouldn’t trade spend­ing time to­gether do­ing what they love to do for any­thing else in the world.

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