AS YOU'RE HAULING DOWN I-264 east toward Virginia Beach, Bayside Harley-Davidson jumps right out at you from the side of the interstate. It's a two-pronged attack on your line of sight — the first being the looming six-story motorcycle display tower, the second the H-D orange, two-sided billboard towering between the highway and the dealership.
Bayside's tower is now a local landmark so widely recognized that radio traffic reports use it as a reference point when reporting the rush-hour jams that lead into the Portsmouth, Va., area's massive underwater tunnels.
The Hampton Roads region of southeastern Virginia is a big industrial mix of water and steel, gleaming window glass and patina'd history. It could be easy to get swallowed up in this mishmash of shipyards and skyscrapers.
But Bayside Harley is something of a powersports anchor, not only for the tower and billboard and the store's 43,000 sq. ft. presence, but for its place among the local community of HOG members and V-twin aficionados.
Indeed, anchor is a fitting term given the area is home to the nation's largest concentration of military installations. It's estimated that about 300,000 active-duty soldiers, reserves, retirees and military family members call this area home. (FYI: The U.S. Navy is Virginia's largest single consumer of electricity.)
It's here, near Naval Station Norfolk, Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, that Bayside owners Maurice and Cynthia Slaughter have found their niche.
When Slaughter was first lured to Harley from the automobile business, the Motor Co. offered him the Portsmouth region. He first envisioned Pittsburgh smokestacks and grime; however, Slaughter soon realized the unique benefits of operating there — first and foremost being the available talent. He received dozens of employment referrals from potential customers, many of whom were in the military. To this day, most of Bayside's senior management is retired Navy.
"They bring management and logistic skills, and their own health care," Slaughter says. "They're used to managing people. They're used to challenges. They're used to getting opportunities. That's the fortunate part about being in a market like this —?the kind of talent I'm able to attract.
Moreover, an active military market offers market stability. "Not only do we have the largest Naval installation in the [country], we have the peripheral businesses that feed off of it," he notes.
It's this management team that's enabled Slaughter over the last 12 years to expand his business to four dealerships stretched across two states. The team has also facilitated a military-chain-of-command, top-down management style that frees Slaughter to run the company rather than micromanage employees.
Bayside is a three-peat Top 100 dealer — two times in the Best Use of Theme category. It boasts its surroundings: A Navy theme runs throughout the dealership, from the second-floor catwalk that resembles an aircraft carrier bridge to the lifeboat-shaped sales manager's desk. A flag from the USS Harry S. Truman hangs on a wall. Red nautical running lights indicate the "port" side of the store, while green lights signpost the "starboard" side. Military memorabilia is everywhere.
Slaughter's office, the "Captain's Quarters," is upstairs, midway between the sales floor and the service area, with windows overlooking each department. It's a dream of an office: A large flat TV screen (which doubles as a security monitor) hangs off one wall. Photos and Harley-Davidson-branded products are everywher e. A wet bar lines one wall and a door in the corner leads to a private restroom. Who wouldn't want to work there?
The dealership's theme, the outdoor tower, the interior layout, Slaughter's stately office — they're all the ideas of designer Loredana Henderson, president of LDM Group Inc. Henderson has helped design each of Slaughter's four stores.
Slaughter boasts that he picked up many ideas from the Dealernews Top 100 contest and from attending Dealer Expo, but he credits Henderson with many features that make a financial difference, including:
- Wall colors in the F&I department that are designed to make people more comfortable (comfortable spending money, that is);
- Lighting candles during the holiday season to make the stores feel more homelike; and
- Construction of a subtle false wall running along two sides of the store's interior, creating a showroom storage area allowing apparel and gear to be kept near the sales floor for easy access by associates. Two unobtrusive doors lead in and out of this discrete stock room, allowing MotorClothes employees to pop in and out quickly for restocking or to grab a different size.
Henderson also designed the glass-enclosed dyno room situated behind the service counter and next to the customer. It's at eye level, immediately visible when one walks into the service department. Large monitors display real-time results of any bike that's going for a dyno run. The monitors add extra oomph. "I think they're a good draw, because everybody wants to see who's bigger," Henderson says.
Henderson's handywork is seen outside as well: Bayside's double-sided billboard along the highway. She went through a time-consuming process of getting it approved by the city, and it seems to have been worth the effort. Billboards in the area rent for about $7,500 a month, and Slaughter says his paid for itself within a year's time.
It was Henderson's plan for building a six-story display tower that Slaughter commends the most, even if it was a case of more imagination than money. Six levels of glass showcase motorcycles to 80,000 cars that roll by daily on the interstate. The store decorates the tower during various holidays, and vehicles are changed out regularly.
"It sells itself while people are stuck in traffic," Henderson says. "People actually look forward to what we do with the tower now."
HOME SWEET HOME
By designing his dealership to resemble the surrounding Naval tableau, Slaughter created not only a homage to the area's roots, but a store that feels like home for many of his customers. Having a crew of retired military motorcycle enthusiasts also helps him understand the area's unique clientele. "I think they generally appreciate the camaraderie," he says. "I've been amazed at how many boats that [the staff have] served on that some of these [customers] now are serving on. And they're able to talk about that."
The store offers a prepaid maintenance plan that dovetails with most Navy personnel's three-year rotation through the local bases. Spouses of HOG members attend chapter meetings while their husbands or wives are away at sea. The store also works with deployed customers via e-mail if they're buying a bike or upgrading their existing ride. Slaughter's team actually will send images showing the progress of the work, pictures the sailors can share or brag about with their shipmates.
Bayside is one of the largest delivery points in the nation for new motorcycle sales made through the H-D Overseas Military Sales program, which allows deployed personnel to bikes directly from the Motor Co. And the dealer provides discounts on rentals. "After the second gulf war broke out, we noticed that people were renting bikes when they came back to kind of detox ...?so we give military discounts on motorcycle rentals," Slaughter says.
At the annual Rumble Through the Tunnels ride, as many as 7,000 motorcycles have lined up at the dealership to commemorate the end of Fleet Week and help raise money for the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society program.
MEET THE CAPTAIN
Slaughter, a Louisiana native, not only has one of the coolest names in the powersports market, he also has a big, easy laugh and a telling accent. Talk to him for more than a minute and you'll hear examples of both. His story about how he made his way into the business is both surprising and familiar. In talking with him you detect the same giddy excitement that seems to be endemic to the industry.
Slaughter's route to the Motor Co. is via an MBA degree, a Burger King franchise, graduation from Ford's dealer training program, working in Toyota dealer development and running a Toyota dealership in Pensacola, Fla. A former colleague invited him to talk with Harley. At the time, H-D was looking for a more sophisticated dealer. It had many legacy owners, but wanted someone with working capital, who understood cash flow, inventory turns and other similar financial disciplines —?all of which Slaughter learned in the car business.
It was only after moving over to powersports that Slaughter learned he was Harley-David son's first African-American dealer. "But I have to give credit to them — they just wanted the best dealer, and it just so happened that I am African American," Slaughter says.
His biggest advantage for the Harley brand? His enthusiasm. "I was fortunate enough that I got bit by the passion," Slaughter says. "Even though it was the financial disciplines that I brought over that helped make us a success, it was the passion of the business that pushed me."