The Shift: Slow Southern Steel
In the back of a warehouse in south Fayetteville, Jesse Turner is carving out a niche business building custom steel bicycles.
Why it matters: Slow Southern Steel is an example of the many bike-centric businesses driving NWA's shift to a diversified economy. It leans into the outdoor recreation industry — a logical next step for many in the state.
The big picture: Most of the 15-20 million bikes sold in the U.S. each year are imported. But a cottage industry of custom-built bikes for discerning and occasionally persnickety riders has existed for years.
- High-touch service and methodical attention to minutiae of a bespoke machine that becomes an extension of one's body — and butt — can command thousands.
- The University of Arkansas is considering a bike-building curriculum.
How it works: Once Turner and a prospective customer decide on a bike's specs, he collects a $1,000 deposit. An average bike will price out around $2,500, depending on the build.
- It takes Turner about a week to fabricate the frame, but material delivery, custom paint and a wait list could push the delivery date out a month or more.
Backstory: Turner studied sculpture at the U of A but is self-taught on bike frames. He took an eight-month welding class at Northwest Technical Institute in 2020 and works part time at different fabrication shops to hone his craft.
- Slow Southern Steel launched in January, and Turner has built 15 bikes. The waiting list is "two or three" deep now, he told Worth.
- The company's name is a nod to a documentary about southern heavy metal music.
What they're saying: "His skill set is fantastic; his welds are amazing," said Johnny Brazil, owner of Jackalope Cycling in Russellville. Brazil has two of Turner's bikes.
- One of those bikes had only 17 miles on when Brazil loaned it to Xavier Chiriboga for the recent Arkansas High Country Race, a 1,000-mile endurance competition.
- Chiriboga came in third.
The bottom line: Turner is bootstrapping the business, buying equipment as he can afford it and not looking for investment, yet.
- He plans to take advantage of the likely winter lull to sharpen his marketing and business skills.
🚲The Shift is a regular feature to catch up quick on what's happening in Arkansas' economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
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