By Tyler Malinky
Back in the early 2000’s I was riding my 1970 Triumph, my first motorcycle, and learning to work on it. I rebuilt the top end of the engine, and later rebuilt the entire engine and customized the bike. Through all of this I was trying to find parts and information on vintage motorcycles and choppers with limited success. I often would finally order parts and not be happy with what I received, if it ever showed up. I decided that I could do a better job of it and registered the lowbrowcustoms.com domain name and drew the logo. Fast forward a year later and I still hadn’t actually done anything with it, but in 2004 I started off by making a simple website which I coded page-by-page in HTML, with Paypal ‘add to cart’ buttons.
At the time I was a self-employed sign maker, doing graphic design for customers, simple web design, screen printing and lettering work vans, shop windows, making banners and anything else with lettering on it. I used my sign-making equipment and skills to make various motorcycle and counter-culture stickers and a few t-shirts, in addition to finding some of the various chopper underground magazines, like DiCE Magazine. I started carrying DiCE Magazine around issue #3, and early Lowbrow ads can be seen starting around issue #5 or so. This all happened out of a spare bedroom of a duplex in Parma, Ohio. It then expanded to also take up part of my basement. Back in the early and mid-2000’s there weren’t many motorcycle shows to speak of. Not of the vintage chopper variety at least, and not around northeast Ohio. I would load up my 1965 Econoline van (that I had painted flat black with a roller and a gallon of Rustoleum) with a small folding table, a Lowbrow banner and my wares and would head out to small hot rod shows around the Midwest.
The first 5 years of Lowbrow I was the only employee and worked evenings and weekends on top of my normal full-time job as a sign maker. Things changed when Kyle, my brother and current President at Lowbrow Customs, moved back from the west coast. I told him I was having success with Lowbrow on a small scale but I really wanted to make a go of it and try and do it full time. I couldn’t pay him much but asked him to commit for a year to see what would happen. His skills balance mine out well and together we are a good team. Since about 2007 Lowbrow had been operating out of the large garage out back of my house in Hinckley, Ohio. It was a converted garage that we dry walled and finished off with heat in each bay.
We started expanding the parts end of the business, going to more shows, working on our own bikes and starting to work on our first land speed racing bikes with the intent of making it out to Bonneville on vintage Triumphs. Our combined focus helped grow Lowbrow as more and more people started to hear of us via word-of-mouth and ads in mostly underground motorcycle culture magazines and online forums.
I did the El Diablo Run with my friend Greg back in 2008 (me on a rigid ’74 Honda CB750 chopper, and Greg on his wild Yamaha XS650 chopper) and became friends with the guys at Biltwell. Lowbrow already carried Biltwell helmets and the few parts they had at the time, and as we continued to advertise and sell their products we became one of their US distributors. Kyle and I would package orders as they came in and load them in our personal vehicles and drive down the road to the post office to drop them off each day.
We started throwing some events, the first one was there in my backyard in 2008 and was called The Lowbrow Beer Brawl. About fifty people came out for it and we had a great time, with a huge bonfire in the yard, Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival playing in the garage, bikes and hot rods all over the place. We also started The Lowbrow Getdown in July 2010, creating a killer annual campout at Nelson’s Ledges Quarry, which is still going strong today. During this time we hired Katy, who is now our VP of Operations. Towards the end of operating out of the garage we even had a bathroom built in! When it got to the point that we were considering putting shelving in the bathroom we realized we needed more space. We also started to get customers showing up from other countries out of the blue. Apparently they thought we were a larger company and they were not expecting the address to take them to a building behind some small house out in the country, next to an apple orchard. In one day we had customers showing up from both Spain and Japan. This was another sign that we needed to move to more official headquarters, instead of operating a business illegally out of a home garage!
Once realizing we needed more room I started looking for a bigger building to lease or to buy. We looked at different places for lease which were essentially big boxes with a roll up door at the end, none very appealing. We ended up finding an 11,000 sq ft warehouse for sale on 22 acres of industrial land in Medina, Ohio for cheap. The owner had bought it at an auction 6 months prior and was flipping it having done no improvements or work on it. The warehouse used to be a truck service building for a large local construction company that had gone bankrupt, and had sat empty the last few years. I got a great deal on it and even got a bank to give me a loan, which was a big move for our small but growing company. We cleaned the warehouse and cleaned up the lot around it and moved everything in over the course of a weekend.
When we moved into the new building is when I hired my long time motorcycle friend, Todd Muller, who is our Head Motorcycle Tech here at Lowbrow and whom many of you know from appearances in Lowbrow how-to technical and part install videos. Back then I thought we had so much room and we would skateboard around the warehouse and enjoy our giant R&D and motorcycle work area, complete with four lifts and all the necessary tools and equipment. Everyone had a bike or two there to work on, and sometimes at lunch time we would go ride dirt bikes around the property, as it was lightly wooded and hilly, with no neighbors anywhere nearby. That location worked well for us, lots of room and no one could find us, which we liked because we didn’t have customer pick-up or a showroom. We shipped all our orders out and worked on designing new products and finding cool motorcycle parts and accessories all around the world and stocking them on the shelves there at our shop.
A few years later and our company had grown, having added more Lowbrow team members to help respond to questions, ship orders, handle graphic design, and all the other tasks at hand. It was time to look at moving again as we were running out of space at the warehouse. The big R&D area had been pared down to only a single motorcycle lift long ago, as the room was needed for shelving for motorcycle parts, helmets, and riding gear. I was on the search and we ended up at our current spot in Brunswick just twenty minutes south of Cleveland, Ohio. We own this building, and having built it out to suit us I don’t expect to ever move again, we have found our home.
We are right near the highway, have a huge parking lot where we host our free Lowbrow Swap & Meets, a killer showroom for customers to check out parts and pick up orders, and more room than necessary (currently) for all the parts, helmets and gear that we stock here at Lowbrow. Our warehouse used to be owned by a bingo company and was used to store pallets of paper bingo cards. Now it is home to the entire Lowbrow team, working on new parts for your bikes, shipping out orders, planning events (such as Fuel Cleveland) and producing tech articles and videos. I love this company and am passionate about what we do. I started Lowbrow to create a company and run it how I think all business should be run, doing the right thing, caring about what will be happening twenty years from now, not just next month. I am excited to see what comes next! If you read this far then thank you. It is people like you who help make this a reality. Thank you for your support of our little world.