Manufacturing in America — Using the Past to Create an Innovative Future
Janus Motorcycles in Goshen, Indiana is creating hand-crafted, small batch motorcycles. These are simple, accessible, easy-to-work-with bikes. They are throwbacks in a certain way, but don’t get me wrong they’re elegant. The retro-ish designs are informed by old American bike brands like Indian, and old British bikes like Triumph and Norton. It’s not hard to imagine that famous Hoosier, James Dean, riding one of these bikes around the countryside.
The bikes look like James Dean era rides because Janus purposefully leaves the bikes open, in the sense that all the parts can be seen, and of course, worked with. This is counter to the trend of car and motorcycle manufacturers that discourage amateurs working with their products by covering parts with hoods and hard-to-break-into enclosures. Love that aspect of this story — how do you encourage makers if you can’t play with, fool around with, tinker with, products?
I love this story for a number of reasons beyond the open design.
First of all, it’s a young group of guys who put this together. Honest-to-God thirty-something entrepreneurs who are building something with love and passion. Next, they’re American and making something almost entirely in Northern, Indiana. Not just assembly, but design, parts — nearly everything (they do source a motor from overseas… if only somebody would come along and provide an American made motor Janus would be 100% American made!)
Then there’s the Amish connection.
Goshen, Indiana, which for those of you who read this around the country is something like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, but without the southern accents. It’s the country, it’s corn, soybeans, orchards, and Blake Shelton on the radio country. That said, Goshen is not far from Elkhart where a lot of fancy RV products are made, so, yes, there is manufacturing in this countryside. The Studebaker was once made in South Bend, as was the Avanti, not far from Goshen, but those companies are long gone. Goshen is in the heart of Amish country. As Janus was getting started, Amish craftsman helped them figure out how to make some of the bits and pieces necessary to assemble these motorcycles. Little known fact but the Amish are incredible “makers” who know how to work with metal and sophisticated tools. The “maker movement” is not just for hipsters in urban areas!
The business grew out of the co-founders love for mopeds and small bikes. They knew that market well. They started making custom bikes together and found a synergy in the way they think and create. One a creative out-of-the-box approach, the other a respect for design and a hard won comprehensive knowledge of small displacement bikes.
Devin Biek and Richard Worsham, the Janus co-founders, were not experienced manufacturers when they got this going — but they figured it out. They prove that smart people, seeking to build something with high quality, can manufacture. This is not a trivial thing because in America we’re going to have to learn how to manufacture again. We can do it. This is proof.
Reshoring is a concept where you think of businesses coming back to America to make things. As a trend it’s slow in developing because there is so little incentive for those outfits to return. For mass production you go where there is cheap labor. Really, we don’t want those companies back if they’re not going to pay people middle class wages. Reshoring may happen here and there, but to recreate a manufacturing sector we kind of need to start over.
In reality, jobs are created in manufacturing now in America by people like Biek and Worsham, who are starting from scratch, learning as they go, and making something great. They’re really not competing with Honda or the other big players because they are making something with a truly unique high value, special, Limited Edition products. That’s how you get started, and that’s how eventually you reinvent industries. That’s not reshoring, that’s re-creating. That’s how you grow job bases in regions.
Rebuilding the manufacturing base is going to require about 100,000 more companies like Janus, not the pipe dream of big companies coming back. Don’t believe the lies some politicians tell about this. You don’t reverse a 40 year trend of offshoring just by talking loud. You do it by encouraging, supporting, teaching, and in general, loving, young makers. That takes time, and what governments can do is either stay out of the way, or, do something to support the maker movement in education and in worker re-training.
They have a lovely video on the Janus home page, about 25 minutes long that tells their story. If you want to be inspired as an entrepreneur, have a look. Good luck Janus!