Which makes the 1,000-strong line of the fanatic, the faithful and the merely fascinated straining for a look at OCC's first retail store all the more remarkable. Geared toward fans of the first family of Discovery Network's "American Chopper," the store is tucked into a strip mall on Rte. 17K in Montgomery, N.Y., about 75 miles north of Manhattan. Like the OCC operation itself, it's an unassuming, nuts-and-bolts kind of place, abutting an abandoned supermarket, a liquor store, pizza parlor, tanning and nail salon.
Oh, and a bank, conveniently enough for the founding Teutul family, which in two short years has become a pop-culture phenom and licensing cash machine. Paul Sr. says when OCC first signed on with Discovery for one show, he thought it might "move some apparel." Now, merchandising revenue, says Paul Jr., exceeds by at least 10 times that from the 150 or so custom choppers OCC crafts every year.
With his tough-guy persona, massive mustache and gargantuan, tattooed biceps, Paul Sr. isn't your average businessman. But OCC is hardly your average chopper shop.
"They're very shrewd, very sophisticated" marketers, says Craig Piligian, the producer of "American Chopper," whose crew follows around OCC six days a week for six months. Some of it was luck: Mr. Piligian says initially he'd chosen another bike shop to profile. As he was to leave on a Thursday for New Hampshire to shoot Friday, he had second thoughts. He called Paul Sr. on "Wednesday morning at 8:30 and we were there filming the pilot on Saturday."
But more than luck was involved in building a merchandising powerhouse. "We have 60 licensing companies now," says Paul Sr., and he, Paul Jr. and son Mikey, who appeared in a TV spot on the Super Bowl for AOL, are deluged with 15 to 20 endorsement offers a day. He's in no hurry to do them. "We're very choosy," says Paul Sr. Even so, "there are 20 to 30 different things in the hopper" he won't discuss, including a pending deal with Nascar. The company has also been approached to franchise its company-owned retail store.
Little wonder. At the grand opening, the parking lot was quickly swamped and cars and motorcycles spilled out, lining the highway for more than a half-mile in both directions. Squad cars directed traffic, folks queued up at a row of port-o-potties, vendors hawked "Soda, water, hot heroes!" The wait to get inside, where the Pauls Sr. and Jr. obligingly scrawled autographs (including one on my 9-year-old son's OCC-inspired Pinewood Derby car) was 90 minutes an hour before the doors opened.
Patrons were of all stripes, from young mothers toting strollers to pot-bellied graybeard bikers, yuppies and even a naval officer in dress whites. They came from all over-Florida, Georgia and elsewhere-to ogle the Fire Bike and the POW/MIA bike and to buy $22 T-shirts, $10 posters and $20 bobbleheads. Clocks carrying the logo designed by Paul Jr., toy chopper replicas, a coffee-table tome called "The Art of the Chopper," mugs and even OCC-branded coffee were snatched off shelves during the shop's first weekend-fittingly held on Father's Day, while Discovery ran an "American Chopper" marathon.
What's not for sale in the store? Motorcycles, which started it all, though the Teutuls say orders at their Rock Tavern, N.Y., shop have shot up since their exposure on the show. Next up is the "I Robot" bike for Will Smith.
OCC, says Paul Sr., is now working on a five-year business plan. Paul Jr. jokingly sums it up in two words: "The Bahamas."
Scott Donaton is away at Cannes. He returns to this space July 12.