Where diversification is commonplace, rare is the small business owner focused on any single portion of the market, let alone a fraction of a small segment. On the other hand, there are opportunities for the few who understand a particular subsection of a market, especially when there is little or no competition.
Such was the situation with military powersports enthusiast James Campbell, owner and founder of Black Hawk Customs. “When I was serving in the military, I noticed a dire lack of the on-base required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for active duty members. At the time, the exchanges on-base didn’t sell the required gear and neither did the surrounding private stores. Plus, the private shops weren’t aware of what the required riding gear consisted of. Everything was ‘special order,’ which of course raised prices to beyond what a junior enlisted person could afford and therefore excluded many people from riding a motorcycle on base. No company focused on the enlisted or their dependents, so I decided to take care of them myself,” Campbell said.
Shortly after leaving the military, he did just that and started Black Hawk Customs in 2003.
Never designed to cater to the public; every aspect of Black Hawk Customs’ business model works in the favor of a currently active member of the military or direct associate. Completely staffed by former service members, Black Hawk Customs features worldwide shipping to all APO, FPO and CONUS locations (acronyms that mean a lot to military types). They accept the military STAR card (a credit card that only the military can use that doesn’t charge interest when the holder of the card is deployed). That same card is only accepted by certain companies that have special approval that are associated with a military contract it’s not accepted off bases, and then only through the Army/Air Force Exchange service. While that may sound like a foreign language of restrictions to most people, it’s a tongue his demographic wants to hear. John Q. Public can’t even order from Black Hawk Customs’ website the only way a civilian can purchase products from them is to personally visit their brick-and- mortar building in Santa Clara, Calif.
Beyond the sale, helping out service members is an outspoken Black Hawk Customs policy that they prove with their actions. Campbell and his associates visit a multitude of military bases and regularly support base functions. They never hesitate to donate products for on-base raffles for charities and help promote other charitable events on their website and social media pages. There’s also a long list of foundations that they sponsor, including the That Others May Live Foundation, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, the Green Knights, the Santa Clara County Police Foundation, the Semper Fi Injured Marine fund and more.
Plus, Black Hawk Customs continues to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on donations for motorcycle safety events and safety days at military installations throughout the world.
“There’s no sense in surviving the battlefield overseas only to come home and die in an accident because of insufficient protective gear,” Campbell said. “And I want to help the families of the people who fell or were injured in the line of duty, too. I have kids, and I’d want them to be provided for if I hadn’t been lucky enough to make it out alive.”
The company’s portion of the powersports market pie may be relatively small, but it sits heavy in the belly. Nine years after its inception, Black Hawk Customs is now the sole provider of PPE inside every exchange store on all Army and Air Force installations yet they continue to expand and diversify within the strict military parameters. This year alone, they’ve updated their website with a new look and a better search engine. Shipping was sped-up through new drop shipment abilities for online sales. OEM products were added this year that complement their already extensive parts catalog that now includes replacement parts from Honda, Kawasaki, Sea-Doo, Polaris, Yamaha and more. Plus, serious expansion has taken place in their in-store assortment of cruiser, sport bike and women-specific apparel and PPE. “Black Hawk Customs has been fortunate in this business because we stand behind the people that stand up for us. As always, many thanks to our retired and currently serving brothers and sisters,” Campbell concluded.