THERE HAS BEEN a lot of talk about "the state of the industry" and the down times we are experiencing. Well, I'm here to tell ya things are looking up. I recently attended the V-Twin Expo in Cincinnati and the overall feeling there was very positive.
This year, show organizer Jim Betlach asked me to be part of a seminar called "Survival of the Fittest," alongside a panel that included Randy Aron from Cycle Visions, Click Baldwin from Carolina Harley-Davidson, Bert Baker of Baker Drivetrain and Fred Fox of Drag Specialties. More than 200 people listened as we talked about issues facing independent dealers.
We fielded a lot of questions about competing with the local Harley shop. The answer was simple: We don't. We can't compete with them. They have more money than we do. Independent dealers need to find their own niche. Most H-D shops stock mostly H-D P&A. But how many of those H-D shops are stocking Arlen Ness parts, Daytec frames, Baker transmissions or Paul Yaffee sheet metal? I'd say not many, if any at all.
As independent dealers we need to stock cool, trendy parts that customers can see and touch when they come in our shop. Don't be afraid to stock this stuff. Customize a bike or two on your floor to showcase these parts — and your talents. It lets your customers know that you are in tune with what's happening in the industry.
How else can you battle the big boys? Open an hour earlier and stay open an hour later and be open every day. You want to be open when your customers, or potential customers, are off from work. That's when they ride and that's when they spend their money. It has always blown my mind to see shops close at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. on a Saturday and then close all day on Sunday.
Hire someone to take care of your routine service work. Your time is better spent shaking hands and talking with customers. They want to deal with the owner of the company and know that he takes a personal interest in them and their "baby." Take a personal interest in marketing your company. You can have the best shop in the world, but if nobody knows about it, you're a goner.
Don't be a one-dimensional shop. If you're only gonna build bikes for a living, then you better live with your parents, because you're not gonna make enough money to survive. Do your homework, be creative, figure out what services your market needs, and work toward that end.
We all have to adjust to our customers' wants and needs, whether or not they're aware of them. Try different things, but make sure you have a strategy. Don't just throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.
I recently added Victory Motorcycles to my lineup. Previously, all my new bikes were in the $25,000-and-up range, but now I can sell a person a helluva nice, brand-spanking-new, American-made bike for $14,000 to $20,000. (continues)