Building the Harley-Davidson lifestyle

admin

It wasn’t enough for Chaz Hastings that Milwaukee Harley-Davidson was the ninth-largest Harley dealership in the state of Wisconsin. He wanted more for his store — and his customers.

So he took a chance — a big one. Hastings bought a local tavern, Madam Belle’s, just as the economy was taking a nosedive. The risk paid off: A few years later, Milwaukee H-D had grown to be the second-largest Harley dealership in the state. It’s the only dealership in southeast Wisconsin to have increased its market share in the last three years, according to a sales report generated by Harley- Davidson.

All this from a watering hole?

“The bartenders speak highly of the dealership,” Hastings explains. “It’s not uncommon that if you wear a non-M-H-D shirt in one of my taverns, my girls will take off your shirt and put one of ours on you.”

After the purchase of Madam Belle’s, he bought another — Tally Ho Pub & Grill — and another — Bottoms Up. Yet a fourth one is in the works, which Hastings plans to open at the end of this year.

“The taverns put us in markets or areas that typically aren’t in our back yard, but are close enough that they attract a new customer base,” Hastings says. “It gives us an extension of the Harley lifestyle that we have.”

Hastings’ buying motivation stemmed from his days as a general manager at a Detroit dealership. “We put on lots of rides. We’d leave the dealership, hitting taverns on the way out — always responsibly, of course,” he says. Hastings took note of the business that the taverns were getting from the dealership. “I thought, ‘man, if I ever get my own dealership, I’d really like to be in control of the whole ride experience.’”

Considering that Milwaukee “has more taverns than gas stations,” Hastings says, he was selective when choosing ones to buy. He strategically chose locations on either side of Holy Hill, considered by many as one of the most beautiful rides in the Midwest. One particular charity ride attracted more than 400 riders.

“Holy Hill’s scenery, the old historic church seen from miles away. There’s just windy twisty roads that motorcyclists just love,” Hastings says. “The best thing I can compare it to is Route 1, on the north end of California, going up to the redwoods.”

Madam Belle’s sits on one end of the historic route, while Tally Ho anchors the other. Charity rides and poker runs kick off at the dealership, and pit stops are scheduled at both of the taverns. Along with food and beer, Hastings stocks Harley motor oil at both locations, making them into a one-stop shop of sorts.

“We look at it as retail entertainment,” Hastings says. “We try to give our guests Sturgis, 365 days of the year. That’s what you have to do these days to keep people interested.”

The taverns also provide the dealership with opportunities to host vehicle launch parties outside of the dealership, so customers are taken away from the “sales-pitch” atmosphere. “It doesn’t feel like a dog and pony show,” Hastings says. “We have bands, and in between band breaks, we were doing vehicle introductions.”

Bottoms Up, which is closer to the dealership than the other two, is used primarily by customers who are having service work done, or who are mulling over a purchase. Staff uses the close location to its advantage, taking customers out for meals and drinks to help motivate them to purchase big-ticket items.

“Bottoms Up is literally 5 minutes away, so a lot of our guests head over there while their bikes are being worked on,” Hastings says. “And it’s easy for our salespeople to hand out gift cards when customers want to talk over a sale. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a time when people went to dinner or got a free beverage and didn’t come back and purchase from us.”

Hastings recognizes that not every store owner can invest in other properties. He does note, however, that dealers still can reach out to local bars and restaurants to drum up new business. Hastings suggests striking up partnerships with local pubs and taverns to act as stopping points for events and rides. “Schedule a ride, go there with fellow bikers, and tell [bar owners] you’re looking for a home away from home,” Hastings says. “Have them cut you a deal so you can send [customers] their way.” The idea is for the business to support yours, and vice versa.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews April 2011 issue.