Fast Company

How Do You Steer This Thing? !

Can biker moguls Senior and Paulie Teutul of American Chopper leverage their brand?

Biker impresarios Paul Teutul and his son Paul Jr. love to go fast. But not this fast.

In a year, the Teutuls (known to fans as Senior and Paulie) have gone from small-time custom-motorcycle builders at Orange County Choppers in upstate New York to pop icons as stars of the reality-TV series American Chopper, now the Discovery Channel's top-ranked series.

But with overnight fame has come a tangled web of business decisions. Building bikes -- that's the easy part. Riding herd on their OCC brand is the real challenge. "We can't hold on tight enough," says Paul Sr., huffing in his trademark style. "Big, big decisions," Paulie chimes in. "And believe me when I tell you, any little deal you come into, everybody wants to own you."

Apparel and merchandise now make up 60% of OCC's revenue. The distinctive OCC logo has been plastered on everything from T-shirts to hats to lunch boxes, and now Schwinn's new Sting-Ray bicycle. And the Teutuls themselves are front men for AOL.

The Teutuls have a hot brand. They just have to decide how to leverage it for the long haul, without, as Paulie says, "burning it out."

We recruited three experts to weigh in.

Scott Lucas, weekend biker and managing director at Interbrand, a brand consultancy

The Teutuls need to develop a brand architecture. They need to figure out which brand -- American Chopper, OCC, Teutul -- has the most value. That's the one to put at the top of their brand pyramid. Once they decide, they have to ask what it means. Then they can manage the brand's expression and, more important, who they partner with. Because it will take just one poor partnership to destroy all their credibility.

Susan M. Fournier, associate professor at Dartmouth's B-school, author of "When Good Brands Do Bad," and adviser to Harley-Davidson

Most partnership choices that you make are going to weaken your brand -- make it either more abstract or less controllable. The Teutuls have to do a critical analysis of what they have. If the reality show is, in essence, what they own, that's a very temporally bound brand. They could just maximize, leverage, and get out -- and walk away with very happy pockets.

Marti Dalton, marketing director for celebrity chef Emeril "Bam!" Lagasse

To maintain brand consistency, you have to stay very hands-on. Emeril has always been very involved in the partnership deals we strike. You have to make sure the deal you enter into is one in which you share similar goals, where it's a positive for both sides. I feel very good about where the Emeril brand is now. As for the Orange County Choppers guys, well, unfortunately, I've never seen the show.

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