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Paul Teutul Jr. on motorcycle sales and innovation during the coronavirus pandemic

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Paul Teutul Jr., CEO of Paul Jr. Designs, joins Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade with Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss motorcycle sales during the coronavirus pandemic, innovation in the industry, and much more.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, hitting the open road is becoming more appealing during the pandemic, and that's led to a big opportunity for the motorcycle industry. Let's dive deeper into this with motorcycle fabricator Paul Teutul Jr., CEO of Paul Jr. Designs, and one of the stars of Discovery's "American Chopper."

Paul, good to see you. I've pretty much seen every episode of the show. My producer, Nick Monty, just bought a new Harley Davidson last week, and he said when he was talking to the dealer, he was told that business is booming right now. Have you seen that in your business? And how do you explain it?

PAUL TEUTUL JR: You know, I certainly think that at this stage in the game, you know, with the pandemic, it's driving people outdoors. I mean, any outdoor activities seem to be picking up pretty rapidly. Certainly, riding motorcycles is one of those things that you can even do in groups pretty safely and be out on the open road. So it totally makes sense to me that-- you know, that motorcycles would be coming on strong, probably across the board.

I don't think it was there a few months ago. I think all of a sudden people realize I better-- people are looking to explore. People are looking to get outside the four walls of their house. And certainly, you know, buying a motorcycle is a fantastic way of doing that.

And you know, people were getting real cagey all these months just not sure what was going to happen, and it's opening up a little bit, and people are a little bit more educated. And so I feel like, you know, these things are taking off. My business is a little different, you know? The type of bikes I build are mostly for marketing purposes. They're usually for big corporations where I take my creative process and I fully infuse that into a motorcycle to tell the story of the, you know, the end user, which would be like GEICO, or Microsoft, or any of these companies that we've built bikes for in the past.

We like to tell their story through our creative process. So we're not Harley where we're doing tens of thousands of bikes. But certainly, I think people are starting to look for unique and organic ways for marketing, because a lot of people are pulling back from ad sales on television and conventional ways of marketing. So they're looking to really go outside the box.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, Paul, I think you make a great point, and thanks for making that distinction, because you're a fabrication company, right, working closely with these big companies. So I know that advertising budgets have been really tight for a lot of these companies. What has business been like for you? What has demand been like for you for these kinds of bikes that you customize?

PAUL TEUTUL JR: Well, you know, it's-- when the show's going, I fill very quickly, because we offer this global audience to people, right? So it's very organic marketing. We take their product. We put it on a show that people are entertained by. Nobody feels sold to. And at the end of the day, you have the Major League Baseball bike, which is a bike we did not too long ago for MLB, things of that nature.

It's a very organic way to market. It's very limited because we only have so many episodes. Off-air, the demand isn't quite as high, because I can't really provide a global audience. So sometimes people will want bikes off-air to go and bring around to different trade shows. The problem with that is they're not happening now, see?

So there's an interesting thing where a lot of these big companies have advertising money, but they're just not spending it conventionally. So there's money to be found. You just have to offer them something that no one else can offer them or a very unique avenue in which to get their product out there.

BRIAN SOZZI: Paul, how excited are you about a future of electric motorcycles? We saw Harley come out on one last year, very expensive bike. It sold mixed-- mixed sales for Harley Davidson there. But listen, you had California's governor come out early this week banning sales of gas-powered cars by 2035. What are your thoughts on that?

PAUL TEUTUL JR: Yeah, you know, certainly, electric power's been around for a while, but right now it's charging full steam ahead. It has a lot of great benefits. The biggest thing with that is technology has now caught up to the idea, which is great. So these things go further and faster, and they work better, and they don't break down.

So I think from a consumer standpoint, even some of the cheaper bikes out there are holding up and doing what they're supposed to do, which is get you basically from point A to point B without leaving you stranded. And the emissions, there is none, you know. So for me, I'm a designer more than anything, so I love the idea of doing what I do and putting an electric power plant in there.

At the same time, you're never going to fully replace gas as far as these big V twin motors, and the sound that they provide, and the feeling of that motor vibrating. And I think that's where Harley is so-- has such a distinct sound and such a distinct feel, it would-- I could see why it would be a little difficult for them to break into a market that removes half of what people are buying their bikes for.

Now, some of the other bikes out on the market are already quiet bikes, right, so people are not looking for that sound, necessarily. They're just looking for maybe a cleaner way to get around. So I think it's-- I think it's the future. And I think it's coming on strong. And you know, I think maybe eventually we won't be using gasoline anymore.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You got to wonder if they're going to pipe in the sound on those Harleys. I mean, they're piping in, like, audience sound for stadiums that don't have people in them, right?

PAUL TEUTUL JR: Yeah, I mean, that's an option too, you know?

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah. You know, you're spearheading this really cool initiative, it's called the Next American Innovator. Just tell us briefly what that's about. And what's your goal there?

PAUL TEUTUL JR: Well, you know, during the pandemic, I was trying to think about how I could pay forward all of this amazing opportunity I've been afforded by a global audience, by Discovery Channel. You know, the show's been in 200 countries and territories around the world in 90 languages since 2002, which is unbelievable. And it's the fans that have kept us there.

So I started to brainstorm during this pandemic, and I realized people aren't able to go and show their cars and motorcycles that they've customized because of the pandemic. There's no more real car and bike shows in most of the country. So I figured I would create a platform that would be able to showcase or put a spotlight on some of these people who may be in the middle of nowhere and nobody knows who they are, but they are just extremely talented.

And this is the competition that we've come up with. It's a great competition. We're giving away two brand new motorcycles, a Honda Cub and a Honda Monkey. And so it costs nothing to join. And all you do is send your pictures in.

We broke it down to a top 30, then a top eight. And people get to choose who wins one of the motorcycles. And then we have this panel of judges that are very qualified, and we're going to pick who wins the judge's choice. So it's pretty awesome because people who've never had an opportunity-- and I'm using my global platform and all my social media to drive people there, and we can do this across anything-- motorcycles, cars, anything really automotive.

And it could even go beyond that, because the name, The Next American Innovator, it's not the next motorcycle builder or car builder. It's a pretty big name. It's actually slightly intimidating. But I figured, you know, we might as well go big with the namesake, and so far it's working phenomenally. And no one's doing anything like this out there. And I love that I'm able to pay it forward after all these years.