A Design of the Times

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A.D. Farrow's new Harley-Davidson/Buell dealership in Sunbury, Ohio, deserves a closer look. Literally. In fact, the dealership looks so good it won the "Best Exterior" award in Dealernews' latest Top 100 competition.

The A.D. Farrow name carries a lot of weight in the Harley-Davidson community. And it should, since the dealership's store in Columbus, Ohio, is the world's oldest H-D retail location.

The new 18-acre Sunbury store, which opened in February 2007, consists of a 30,000 sq. ft., three-story facility that melds old and new. Housed mostly in a newly built red-brick building topped by a faux water tower emblazoned with the H-D logo, the dealership features a modern main showroom that juts from the brick façade; an 8,000 sq. ft., six-door service area; and an expansive parking lot that allows for more than 200 cars, two rider training ranges and ample room for various gatherings.

Stand out in the parking lot, cover one eye and look at the building; you're sure to see a design mimicking Harley-Davidson's Juneau Avenue facility in Milwaukee, built in 1912 to serve as the Motor Co.'s headquarters. It's a design theme that carries on inside the Sunbury location.

The dealership's interior features a two-story vaulted showroom and a PG&A display area that replicates what H-D offices in Milwaukee may have looked like in earlier years. The parts counter is connected to the service area to ensure easy interaction between the two departments. The service area, large enough to serve intake and storage needs, also can be accessed via the six door garage. Floor-to-ceiling glass-paneled garage doors are kept up during pleasant weather. During events — festivities often held in the parking lot — the large doors also allow customers easy access inside.

AMERICA'S OLDEST IS NEW AGAIN

"We wanted something old and something new — a faithful, all-brick replica of the old Harley-Davidson factory," says A.D. Farrow Co. owner Bob Althoff. "We have been in our downtown store for more than 65 years, so we built something that would last us at least 65 more."

Althoff and his wife, Valerie, acquired the A.D. Farrow dealership in Columbus in December 2002 after he left a career on Wall Street. "I tell people I was saving my money so I could live my dream," Althoff says. The duo, longtime motorcycle enthusiasts, set into motion a series of rapid changes by improving facilities and launching a range of community service activities, all to great success. Then, in late 2005, they decided they could do even more. They opened the Sunbury location 18 months later.

Sunbury is a village in Delaware County, Ohio. Home to a major manufacturing facility for American Showa, which produces suspension parts for Honda of America, Sunbury hosts a population of about 3,300 residents. The village is exploring becoming a city when its population reaches 5,000 residents, which may be within the next 10 years. The best part: It's on the only major route linking Columbus and Cleveland.

"We decided to open a second business because Delaware County — the northern part of A.D. Farrow Co.'s defined service area — is in the top 20 counties among America's 3,100-plus counties in both growth rate and per-capita income since 2000," Althoff says. "We chose the I-71/exit 131 location because we found the perfect piece of ground on a freeway interchange poised to explode with growth."

Althoff says his intention with the Sunbury location is to combine the charm of a mom-and-pop store with the business tactics inherent in a modern venture. The property is what has allowed all of those elements to come together so successfully, he says.

"It's hard to find what we need," he says. "I looked at every piece of commercial real estate in the metro for probably two and a half years, I had every broker calling, and every free minute that I wasn't working I was out driving around looking at properties. One day I found this piece of ground, and I owned it within 24 hours. It was perfect.

"People ask why I purchased such a large property, and I tell them, 'We've had a dealership in its current location for the past 65 years and so I want to guarantee we'll have plenty of space to accommodate all of the needs we may have in the next 65 years.' We planned for the building to be bigger than it is; we buried a lot of the utilities and prepared a lot of the soil to accept a facility of up to twice the size."

GRATEFUL HEART = COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Althoff likes to attract people to his dazzling new dealership through involvement in the community. The retailer hosts a yearly bake sale for the local children's hospital, offers an athletic scholarship to Ohio State University, and holds weekly events like cookouts, contests, bike nights, HOG meetings, rider training courses and charity get-togethers. Last year the dealership fulfilled nearly 200 requests for donated items to be raffled for charity.

"All of our efforts are designed to 'raise the tide' of motorcycling in our market," says Darris Blackford, director of marketing. "We like to think of ourselves as the most active dealership in the area."

"We're here to support the motorcycle culture in central Ohio, which we believe to be among the strongest in the U.S.," Althoff says. "Our obligation is to build the kinship of riders in every way possible. Meeting this obligation is our business, and the motorcycle sales follow as a result of the relationships we create. Whether through a ride, rally, race, charitable initiative or just food and a band in the parking lot while we help create 24 new riders a week in our Rider's Edge training program — these are core to who we are, what we do, and where we do it."

Althoff says his first attempt at an open house resulted in an experience he'll not soon forget. "I walked in and saw people milling around the showroom, kicking tires, walking around and generally making me uncomfortable with their numbers in the store. So at the next manager's meeting, I asked the staff to come up with something that would take advantage of our property. At the next event we had, we had folks mainly outdoors; it was a much easier get-together to manage."

Have open, unincorporated land near your story? Don't consider it a plight; take Althoff's approach and try to use it to your benefit. For instance, one recent A.D. Farrow event, the "Salute to the Troops" campaign, featured 600 bikes that spelled out the letters "USA" in 100'x200' letters. The scene was photographed from a helicopter and broadcast via the Internet to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as picked up by local media.

"Community service is a manifestation of a grateful heart; and truly a reflection of the people we serve — riders are the most charitable folks on earth," Althoff says. "God knows we consider ourselves to be the luckiest people to be able to do what we do."

SCORING WITH TEAMWORK

A.D. Farrow dealerships operate with five departments, or teams: the Sales team, General Merchandise team, Parts and Accessories team, Service team and Marketing team.

The Sunbury location employs 42 team members — eight in sales, eight in general merchandise, six in parts and accessories, nine in service, five in marketing and six in the office. Each department is led by a manager and a "lead." The department managers float between the two A.D. Farrow Co. stores and a third dealership Althoff owns just east of Columbus called Centennial Park Harley-Davidson.

It's an organizational structure that Althoff says ensures that the best practices are shared.

The dealership offers in-house and off-site training to aid team members in their present tasks and future career paths. H-D University and certification programs, seminars and performance consulting all are a part of the training regime for each team.

"We also stress less-formal-but-just-as-important self-learning," Blackford says. "Since what you know can make a big difference in how you perform, employees are encouraged to keep up with materials that affect their work or broaden their horizons within the industry. There is tremendous value in learning from the successes and mistakes of others, so reports, articles and books that outline businesses and retail scenarios are regularly distributed for review to managers and employees."