John Parham

Every company has a visionary — that one person whose original inspiration it was to create the business in the first place. Here at J&P Cycles, that person was, and still is to this day, our Founder & President, John Parham.
Before we get too far along in blogging about the day-to-day activities and opportunities associated with J&P Cycles and the world’s largest aftermarket motorcycle parts and accessories online retailer, we thought it might be interesting to interview John and share the results here on the blog. First up are John’s responses to six fairly straightforward questions. Then, at the end of the interview, check out the accompanying video, featuring John himself talking about some of the challenges he and his wife Jill had to overcome when starting J&P Cycles.

What compelled you to start J&P Cycles?

A: I bought my first motorcycle when I was a freshman in High school, a Honda 50. Then, during my senior year, I bought a 650 BSA and chopped it out. I loved it and became hooked on customizing and bikes in general. After I graduated, I moved on to a used Honda 750 Chopper. I spent a lot of time customizing it into a show bike. I spent a year in community college and decided it just wasn’t for me. Then Jill and I got married and I had to bring home a paycheck. I started a series of several different factory type day jobs and knew that wasn’t for me either. After a layoff from one job, I started working a third shift at another, which I loved because I was becoming more and more interested in motorcycles and I could go to swap meets on the weekends. Soon, I decided that I wanted to run my own business and be my own boss. Motorcycles had become my ultimate passion, and I thought, what better business to be in than the motorcycle business. I teamed up with a friend and we started a shop in 1976, while still keeping my full time job.  D&J Cycles lasted 4 years before we split. My partner was more into Japanese bikes and motocross and I was interested in the street scene. I continued to get more into the vintage and custom Harley market and he kept towards Motocross. So after a time we made the decision to split and I went out on my own. I started J&P Cycles in 1979 with a business phone in my basement and a rented dirt-floor garage half-a-block down the street. That was the beginning.

Q: Did you ever think J&P would grow to be as large as it is today?

A: No, definitely not. I thought we could make a go of it and I thought we would do okay, but I never thought we would get this big. I can honestly say that part was luck (I was in the right place at the right time with the way the market grew), and part was just old fashioned hard work. Many years of working 7 days a week, going to swap meets every weekend, putting on events and running the parts business, too. We certainly did not become a success overnight, and we have been lucky to have a great staff behind us. We all work really hard, love motorcycles, and believe in what we are selling. Quality products, a huge selection, and the best customer service in the industry… those are the foundations of our business and they continue to serve us well.

Q: What can customers and motorcycle enthusiasts expect to see from J&P in 2010?

A: For 2010 we will be focusing on expanding our website and our offering of products online. We launched a whole new site in early 2009 and it was quite an undertaking. Now that we have everything in place, we are ready to focus on expanding our product lines: tires, exhaust, apparel, seats, and more. We plan to ad upwards of 20,000 more products to our already large offering of over 90,000 items. Our goal is to be THE online source for motorcycle products (not just for your Harley-Davidson, but for your Metric Cruiser or Sport Bike, as well). We feel that our great selection is part of our overall service, and we look to beef up our site to better serve our customers. We also have just launched a ”live chat” feature so people on the Web can chat with our customer service and technical service personnel via their computers. (By the way, I think this is a win-win for J&P and our customers… it allows us to connect with customers faster and better, and we look to expand on this as the year progresses and make this an important part of our online customer service experience).

Q: What’s the best part about your job?

A: That’s a tough question to answer! Of course I love the motorcycles, and I love bringing new products to the market. I am just like our customers in that I love to immediately start adding new items as soon as I get a different motorcycle. But overall, I have to say the people. With motorcyclists, what you see is what you get. They are generous, happy, and love the motorcycle lifestyle. They are honest, friendly and hard working. Some of the most generous and down to earth people I know are leaders in the motorcycle industry, and they make me proud to be a part of it. And our customers, we love to meet and talk with them.  Our yearly Open House is the favorite time of year for Jill and me. I can’t tell you how great it makes us feel to meet our customers and hear the stories of how much they love riding, and how we got their order to them fast so they could get on the road and ride. Or how our parts helped them restore their bike into a treasure, or build a whole new ride. It makes all the hard work and daily effort worth it!

Q: What kind of bike do you ride these days, and what’s the next accessory you plan to add to it?

A: I am currently dividing most of my time between two bikes: a 2008 Harley-Davidson Anniversary Edition Ultra Classic, and a 1936 Harley-Davidson EL (which by the way is a first year knucklehead). I rode the Ultra Classic to Sturgis as well as took a week-long tour of the Great Lakes region this last summer. The 1936 is not restored, it’s just a good old rider that I like to ride to work and take cruising around the local area. People love seeing the old iron being ridden, and I love riding them, since that’s what they were made for. I’ve had the 2008 for a couple years now, so it’s got all the accessories that it will get, but I will be adding a 2010 Ultra Classic to the stable in the spring. The first thing I always add is exhaust, air cleaner, and a fuel controller. I like my bike to have a nice deep mellow tone, and those stock mufflers just don’t cut it for me; I also want some more power. After that I will add grips, floorboards, windshield bag, and a few other chrome goodies to doll it up a little.

Q: What are you reading right now, and what’s your favorite blog?

A: I just finished reading The American Motorcycle Girls 1900 to 1950 by Cristine Sommer Simmons. It is a very in depth look at a little known segment of motorcycling history: women riders. It’s filled with spectacular photographs and wonderful interviews of many of the women featured in the book. It’s a great book and I’m sure you would find it very interesting just as I did.

I’m a busy guy but I do like to cruise the Internet if I get the chance. I like to visit the Cyril Huze blog, which is I like that Cyril is constantly posting everything from industry news, bike features, and new product releases, to some pretty funny jokes.  It’s a great place for me to go to find out the latest news from our industry. I’m also a big fan of eBay (I just can’t get enough of it). It’s funny to see all the stuff people are trying to sell, and some of the prices items bring are crazy. I was a swap meet guy for a long time, and now that I’m so busy with J&P, it’s nice to be able to go online and look around for things I’m wanting. eBay gives me a little of the same “let’s make a deal” feeling from my swap meet days without ever leaving home.

Want more? Check out this video of John talking about some of the challenges and opportunities associated with starting J&P Cycles and nurturing and supporting its growth: