Hurricane, Utah / Birmingham, Alabama
An attorney and an accountant by trade, Lee has been riding motorcycles since before he got his driver's license. That passion has informed a career turn into manufacturing.
"I'm a serial entrepreneur -- I've owned several different businesses. I bought my first business when I was 19 years old: I bought a taxicab company out of bankruptcy and did a turnaround on it and sold it at a pretty good profit."
After retiring from the U.S. Army in the early 1990s, Lee went to college and law school, then worked for Deloitte in London.
"I was doing taxes for a lot of private equity companies," he says. "I was learning how the big boys do it."
Lee applied that knowledge to his acquisition of Confederate Motorcycles, founded in 1991. "I purchased a bike," he says. "They were doing a transition from Confederate to Curtiss Motorcycle and they were going all-electric."
The Confederate brand was subsequently up for sale. Lee bought it in 2018 and rebranded the company as Combat Motors a year later. All of the motorcycles are based on original Confederate models.
"Our U.S. sales doubled that year as Combat Motors, then we doubled again the following year," says Lee. "We're on track to double again this year."
About 40 percent of sales are exports, he adds. "We still sell Confederate-branded bikes internationally, where the name is well-known and not looked at the same way as it is here in the U.S."
The catalog continues to evolve: A new Hellcat ($60,000) is scheduled for release in mid-2023, followed by a new Fighter model ($100,000 MSRP) and an all-new Wraith ($200,000) thereafter.
The company is in the process of moving production from Birmingham, Alabama, into a 8,000-square-foot facility in Hurricane, Utah. The Alabama location is transitioning from manufacturing to service.
Lee says the move was predicated by a booming market in California that accounts for about a quarter of Combat Motors' sales -- and a resulting logistical issue. "We deliver all of our bikes ourselves -- we call it white-glove delivery. It's Jay Ethridge who delivers every bike to every customer," he says. "There's a lot of mileage, but there's also a lot of marketing opportunities in California that we don't do because it's so far."
Leveraging contract labor, Combat hand-builds its bikes in-house, with CNC machining now outsourced to a local company in southwestern Utah. "We're doing that with a local motorcycle parts manufacturer here in St. George, Utah, Kraus Moto," says Lee.
All of the motorcycles are built to order with a supply chain that stretches from Utah to South Africa. Engines are sourced from Wisconsin-based S&S Cycle.
"I try to do domestic suppliers as much as I can," says Lee. "I'm a big believer in U.S. manufacturing. For example, the CNC work, I could have it done for 30 to 40 percent less in China, but I choose to use U.S. suppliers for that."
After the order, delivery "usually takes about eight weeks, and most of that is procurement," adds Lee. "It takes about a week to build a motorcycle."
Lee is also in the process of moving from Florida to Utah himself. "I'm a lawyer and an accountant, so I'm bringing all of my businesses here to southwest Utah," he says. "My tax practice is RodeoTax.com. We do taxes for rodeo professionals primarily."
Challenges: Combat Motors' big challenge is tied to the supply chain, particularly finding good domestic suppliers. "I get emails every day from Chinese manufacturers asking me to bring my CNC work there," says Lee. "When I look for the same thing in the U.S., I have to be careful and make sure they are doing it in the U.S."
Opportunities: "With the new Hellcat, we're expecting to do bigger numbers," says Lee. "We're hoping to sell at least 100 and possibly 200 next year."
Needs: Employees. "We're looking to do some internships here in Hurricane, where we'll bring in new assemblers," says Lee. "I'm looking at bringing in some interns from Utah Tech here in St. George."
Combat Motors also needs a carbon fiber supplier. "We're still searching," says Lee.