People - November 2005

With all her success, she's Harley working
By Kathy Brown

Brenda Simpson drew thousands of people to her motorcycle show in Concord each of its first two years. It has been named one of the nation’s 50 best bike shows by the annual Biker’s Atlas. Her new show in Wilmington is scheduled to open in the spring.

Funny thing is, Simpson doesn’t ride or own a motorcycle. Late one night in 2003, while watching a motorcycle-building contest on TV, she decided she could stage a motorcycle show. So she formed Liquid Steel Productions in Cornelius and put on one — profitably.

It’s not as improbable as it seems. Simpson already had started two companies. A West Virginia native, she married a soldier who had been her high-school sweetheart. After he was transferred to Fort Bragg, she studied to become a dental hygienist at Fayetteville Technical Community College. After he left the service, they moved to Charlotte in 1975 so he could go to UNC Charlotte. She took a job cleaning teeth. But she hadn’t forgotten about Army life.

“Everywhere we went, getting telephone, electricity and gas hooked up was a major task while meeting moving vans and attending to all the other hassles of getting moved into a new home.” In 1984, now divorced, she launched Making Connections Inc. To lure renters, apartment complexes paid her $35 per tenant to get the essential services hooked up, which then often required a visit to each service provider.

In its first year, the company handled more than 1,000 customers. She quickly added an apartment-finding service and later one that helped corporate executives find temporary housing. Clients included Circuit City. Making Connections peaked with revenue of about $3.5 million in 1999. But in 2001, she and her second husband opened a roller-skating rink in Cornelius. Simpson invested a lot of money and most of her energy into that. Making Connections withered and finally died in 2004. The skating rink had closed in 2003.

Looking for something new, she had her late-night epiphany and visited a few of the 500 bike shows and rallies staged each year in the U.S. She asked attendees what they liked and didn’t like and used that information to construct the three-day Liquid Steel Custom & Classic Bike Series. It debuted at the Cabarrus Arena & Events Center in August 2004 with more than 130 vendors and big-name bike builders.

The show generated about $100,000 in revenue — $55,000 in beer sales — and attracted about 10,000 people. “Brenda’s show last year was the best first-year show I’ve ever seen,” says Scott Goodknight, editor and publisher of Biker’s Atlas. That success helped her land Miller Lite as a major sponsor for her 2005 event in Concord. Sponsorships pay for most of the operating expenses. Profit comes from ticket sales and renting space to vendors.

Simpson remains Liquid Steel’s sole employee. She’ll turn 60 in February and has picked out her gift to herself. “I’m going to go buy me a motorcycle and learn to ride.”