It’s not easy to make 56,000 sq. ft. of space seem like home. It’s even harder when that vastness is part of a seven-building mini-city, complete with storage facilities and a standalone clearance center, as in Ray Price’s case. His Raleigh, N.C., compound spans half of a city block.
So when Price was faced with a top-to-bottom remodel of Ray Price Harley- Davidson in 1999 (he had owned the store since 1982), he and his crew put a lot of thought into figuring out a way to not only personalize the space, but to make it homey enough for customers to want to hang out on leisurely days.
“We had a tremendous amount of input from employees, customers, and myself,” Price says. “We had a lot more ideas than we could incorporate, but we did what we could.”
His efforts paid off. The store is now locally known as “Ray’s,” rather than by its official names, Ray Price Harley-Davidson and Ray Price Triumph. “People here don’t say ‘Let’s go to Ray Price Harley,’” says general manager Dave Hushek. “They just say, ‘Meet me at Ray’s.’”
One of the store’s most popular features is attributed to Price’s wife, Jean, who’s known to have an uncanny knack for remembering customer names. Jean takes it upon herself to stock jars of Nilla wafers and chocolate chip cookies in customer lounge areas to encourage customers to stick around. It seems that even the smallest of gestures make a big difference.
“So we’ll have bikers come in just looking for cookies,” Price says. “It’s just a matter of having a couple of things to make a large retail establishment seem like a friendly place. Fifty-six thousand square feet is a lot of space, and it can become a big warehouse with no atmosphere. Or, you can create it with a lot of atmosphere, love, and good feelings.”
MAKING A (LITERAL) MARK
But Price’s doorswings aren’t just attributed to small gestures and an abundance of tasty baked goods. First, his store may be one of the only dealerships in the country listed in a city museum guide — its Legends of Harley DragRacing Museum is located on the second floor of the dealership.
“We’ll get visitors who come into town looking for stuff to do,” Hushek says. “Many of our Harley family members from across the country will also stop here when they pass through.”
The museum is like a mini-history of drag racing, Harley-style. Price displays five of his own drag bikes, while other sections of the museum feature paraphernalia from some of his racing buddies. “I try not to make it a history of Ray Price,” Price says. “I wanted other people’s stuff in there, also.”
The drag racing theme of the museum is evident in the store as well. A long, simulated drag strip parts the center of the showroom floor, and it’s staged complete with small sets of bleachers on either side. You’ll also notice long stretches of burned rubber under the sheen of the floor’s epoxy coating. “I’ve been drag racing since 1967. Drag racing is my history,” Price says. “When I wanted to redo the building, I wanted a drag strip theme. So I started getting the info around to some of my racing buddies, and they all wanted to be a part of it. They all wanted to do burnouts on the floor.”
What resulted was a giant event, open to the public during the store’s remodel, that found Price and 10 of his racing buddies peeling rubber down the middle of the store. Racers like Jim McClure, Pete Hill and Bill Furr made their marks, which were preserved under the epoxy. “The building was nowhere near finished,” Price says. “We had tons of people, even standing on the second floor where the museum now is. We had construction people building special steps to overlook the drag strip area. The showroom, the balcony, all of it was full of people standing and hollering.”
Price brought in a local museum curator to authenticate the burnouts, and installed a plate glass area that preserves the autographs of all involved. Details like this, Price says, “encourages people to come in and hang around. It creates excitement.”
ALONG CAME TRIUMPH
Price had dutifully carried Buell since 1993, when Harley-Davidson acquired the brand. The team was at a crossroads when word got out in late 2009 that Buell was shutting down. “When we found out that Buell was no longer to be, we had to look at our options,” Hushek says.
Enter Triumph, in March 2010 — a suggestion offered by Jordan Richardson, Price’s grandson, also a fellow racer.
“Ray said, ‘if you’re gonna race something, you’re gonna race something we sell,’” Hushek says. “At the time, Jordan was racing Buells. And one of the things Jordan brought to our attention was Triumph.”
Everything came together after that. It just so happened that a new owner of a nearby BMW and Triumph dealer was shedding the latter brand because he didn’t want to spend the money to keep it.
“In addition to making sure Triumph was a good fit, we really had to make sure we wanted to go outside of the Harley family,” Hushek says. “And with Ray’s 30-year history with Harley, he was a hard one to convince to make that change.”
Convince him they did. The team brought the brand on — and they were determined to do it right. Price hired Triumph-trained salespeople and technicians, and this subteam of people wear their Triumph shirts every day. It’s a separate department, sectioned off to distinguish the brand from the rest of the Harley-focused store. “It really helped, because it has proven to the community that we are serious about Triumph,” Hushek says.
Merchandising the two distinct brands can get a bit tricky. Because Triumph has a 3 percent market share and the store makes a lower profit margin from the brand than it does on Harley, investing an equal amount of dollars in Triumph as Harley-Davidson doesn’t make economic sense. So, with the smaller budget allocated to market Triumph, they’ve gotten a little creative, turning to social media and community outreach to get the word out.
“Triumph customers are a little different than Harley customers,” Hushek says. “We’ve done more social media with Triumph. And we spend a lot of time at different events that are attended by non-Harley bikers, like crossover and cultural events. We’ve got a tent and a bike, and we’ll go out there and get the word out. Our people are very passionate and can speak well about the brand, so they make a good presence.”
Hushek says it’s more about brand awareness than making sales at these community events. “It’s more about information and awareness, and then we draw them into the store,” he says.
RALEIGH'S BIGGEST BIKE FEST
Ray’s is host to an average of two rides per weekend, benefiting everything from small charities raising money for animal care to larger organizations like the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. But by far, the biggest event is the Ray Price Bikefest which, now in its seventh year, attracts as many as 125,000 people throughout the weekend. Part motorcycle hangout, music and family festival, the bike fest is credited for helping revive the downtown Raleigh area.
“It’s grown tremendously,” Price says. “The first one started out as a birthday event for me. Then the next year we moved it to downtown Raleigh, and it’s been there ever since. It attracts downtown people that normally aren’t involved with riding motorcycles, in addition to motorcycle riders from around the region.”
The planning for an event of this magnitude usually starts “the day after the event ends,” Price says. The team has meetings about the previous event to discuss what went right and wrong, and what can be used or changes for next year.
“We do it when it’s still fresh in our minds, and then we go from there,” Price says. The area Harley Owners Group also helps out tremendously. Just this past year, members logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours for the event. Members get store perks with every hour they volunteer.
“If it wasn’t for them, it would be really hard to put on this event,” Hushek says. Hushek also credits Kris Weiss, the store’s marketing director, for keeping track of Bikefest details, as well as all of the store’s other events.
This story originally appeared in the Dealernews September 2011 issue.