Those who have travelled east through Kamsack on Queen Elizabeth Boulevard may have caught a glimpse of the colour-splashed logo or perhaps the motorcycle suspended on a post, some 20 feet high. What isn’t seen on the surface is the extent of the elbow grease and artistry going on behind the doors of Howler Custom Cycle.
It was nearly 17 years ago that owner, John Berezowski, purchased the vacant building on Kamsack’s main thoroughfare from the Town of Kamsack for the sum of $1. Like many young men of rural Saskatchewan, Berezowski had been making his living as a farmer. As the years went on, he began to realize that he and farming were not the best fit. In fact, most of his enjoyment came from the time he spent working in his garage and experimenting with different types of welding and mechanics.
As his growing passion fueled him to learn and practice new skills, Berezowski came to the conclusion of his first major project – a custom motorcycle. He decided to put it up for sale, and the piece sold quickly.
It was at this point that Berezowski directed his passion toward the notion of a custom cycle shop and showroom. He began to research possible locations in Alberta, where the custom motorcycle industry was thriving at the time. Although Albertans had enough disposable income to be steady customers in those days, the costs of opening a shop in the popular industrial neighbourhoods was exorbitant.
“I knew it was a high-risk venture,” said Berezowski. “I needed to keep my costs low, so I decided to open up at home.”
It was around this time that his 16-year-old nephew, Dustin Stenhouse, took interest in his uncle’s vision. However, it would be awhile before the Kamsack teen would get his hands on any of the motorcycles he was envisioning. Stepping into the newly acquired building that had been vacant for a number of years prior, the pair was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done.
“Garbage was piled knee high in some areas,” said Stenhouse. The pair assumed they would be laying new cement in the shop area, but soon realized there was already a cement floor, albeit caked underneath a couple of inches of packed dirt. Berezowski said the structure had been host to many businesses over the years, including a drive-through restaurant, a tourism info centre, and a garage, among others.
Initially, Howler Custom Cycles opened with a more diversified business model. In addition to repairs and customized motorcycles and parts, the shop sold trailers and all-terrain vehicles. In time, however, those items fell by the wayside, and the company found its focus in custom cycles.
Stenhouse attended the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology to become certified as a Harley Davidson technician. The school was the only one in Canada to offer the accreditation.
It was about seven years into the business that nearly 80 per cent of Howler clientele was coming from Alberta. With business on the rise, Berezowski took his creations to trade shows and competitions in major cities in Canada and the USA. The artwork and craftsmanship of Howler custom bikes was recognized by fans and industry judges alike. Howler dominated the award scene.
“We have never lost in competition,” said Berezowski. “We would win first, second, and third place from the panel of judges. But it was the people’s choice award that meant the most to us. When the people vote for your work, it matters the most. They are your customers.”
Berezowski mentioned that one of the Howler custom bikes, sold to Danny Koker of History Channel’s Counting Cars, was eventually bid on at a celebrity auction in Las Vegas. The celebrity who purchased the bike remains unknown to this day. The company has been featured in numerous publications, including Hot Bike Magazine, which has recently ceased printing. “We have seen so many trends come and go over the years,” said Berezowski. “The oil recessions in Alberta have had a big effect on business. Most of our current clientele is from Saskatchewan.”
While the ebb and flow of consumer trends has an effect on sales, Berezowski said Howler survives the lows by offering services that utilize their unique skills. Shop services include: custom welding, TIG welding, metal fabricating, powder coating, custom media blasting, and sand blasting to remove any type of rust and old paint.
“We also ship custom parts just about everywhere,” said Stenhouse. “We have a [sales] rep as far as Abu Dhabi.”