Erik Buell Racing in search of good dealers: Exclusive Q&A with the man himself

Publish Date: 
Jun 1, 2012
By Dennis Johnson

It's been three years since Harley-Davidson pulled the plug on the Buell motorcycle brand, and since then the marque's namesake founder has been anything but quiet.

It seemed that as the last Lightning XB12Scg was rolling off the East Troy, Wis., assembly line, Erik Buell was already running full gallop into his next adventure. In rapid succession, Erik Buell Racing was formed in fall 2009. Its first bike, the 1190rr, was announced the following March, and a street version of the race machine, the 1190rs, debuted in February 2011 at Dealer Expo.

Erik Buell Racing (EBR) now is a fully-fledged, U.S.-based, premium performance sportbike manufacturer in search of a dealer network.

EBR runs a factory racing program in AMA Pro Racing Superbike with riders Danny Eslick and Geoff May, sponsored by Amsoil and India's Hero MotoCorp. EBR also has an engineering consulting and distribution arms. For 2012, the OEM has the 1190rs, but there are several new designs planned for 2013. The company lists the RX, the SX and the AX as future models. How many in all are planned? As Buell explains it, "A lot in years ahead. … Consumer interest is high."

So Buell has been busy. We quizzed the design pioneer about EBR's plans for the retail space.

Dealernews: What kind of dealers are you looking for?
Erik Buell: True sportbike enthusiasts who are business-minded, as well. Folks who understand how to deliver customer delight. These bikes are fun to ride, have fantastic technology, and promote community. So we want folks that get along with one another. Positive thinkers and doers. Many of our current and pending dealer groups have come from dealers referring another dealer to EBR. That’s how we want it to be.

How much R&D has gone into building EBR's lineup of bikes, starting with the 1190RS?
Buell: In terms of effort and manpower, a lot! But, we have a foundation of some of the best-of-the-best engineers and support people with decades of experience. You would be surprised at how lean we are and how fast we can move. We keep our focus on listening to what sportbike consumers want, and developing to that model.

The powersports retail channel is a different animal than it was four, five years ago. How will you compete?
Buell: We are free to build a brand-new product lineup, which is a big advantage. We are entrepreneurs, too, and can relate very directly to the world of the dealer. That really helps us understand their needs and prioritize them in a way that would be less clear to a large manufacturing corporation. We need to fully partner with the dealers' entrepreneurial situation, and we are going to be doing things differently for that reason. We believe in the American model that working hard and smart leads to success. We consider our dealers to be our partners in delivering a great motorcycle experience to our riders. That means we must listen to their concerns, and we must develop the products and services that they need.

How many dealers do you have?
Buell: Early on in 2011 we signed a handful. Now we are signing more every month. We should hit our goal of 70 new dealers by the end of August. Interested dealers should contact Jim Dorman at EBR. He is in charge of sales and marketing.

What are you looking for in a dealer network, and how many dealers are you looking for?
Buell: That’s simple: Sportbike enthusiasts that believe in an American-made sportbike, who are also astute business people, and who can work together to promote sports bikes and culture.
Somewhere in the low 100 range in the U.S. right away; a bit less than that overseas.

What do you want out of your dealer network?
Buell: Honest, open communication and endorsement of their enthusiasm for sportbikes by getting their markets involved. Helping us deliver great bikes, great rides, and great stories to our customers.

How will the partnership with Hero MotoCorp. affect EBR's distribution/dealer network growth?
Buell: There is no current relation between our co-development of their products and EBR’s product or distribution network growth. They have not made an investment in EBR per se. They have contracted EBR for consulting engineering work on new product development to help them grow.

Given the development deal with Hero MotoCorp., what international sales plans does EBR have?
Buell: The Hero MotoCorp. element currently does not enter into it at all. EBR has a very strong following from international dealers and enthusiasts. Emails come in every day with requests. We do plan on formally addressing this later this year. For now our focus is squarely on helping our initial dealers succeed and excel.

Where do you see the company in five years?
Buell: EBR is interested in growth, but we are not interested in outgrowing our culture of putting our dealers first. We have a strong conviction to keep the EBR dealer network small. We do not want dealers competing with each other; that’s against our convictions and principles. We are a unique brand of highly innovative sportbikes. That model of limited distribution has been successfully implemented by some of the famous car companies like Porsche.

The now-defunct Buell brand evolved into a fairly cult brand of diehard enthusiasts. What particular niche do you see EBR filling?
Buell: We believe that highly innovative designs, surrounded by high-performance handling with lasting quality, will appeal strongly to true sportbike enthusiasts.

It seems as if racing is at the core of EBR. How will this benefit dealers?
Buell: Brand building is an art. Thousands of books have probably been written on this. But as the entire EBR staff is enthusiasts, so are our dealers and their customers. America needs to show the world that we not only can build a sportbike, but we can build a competitive sport bike. It goes something like “Race on Sunday. Sell on Monday.” but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun. Our dealers are a part of that.

What kind of wholesale and consumer financing will you offer dealers?
Buell: Our discount structure is one of if not the best in the industry. Remember, it’s about the dealer making a living here, so we have a very lucrative model for them. We found that most of the current dealer base had floor planning already in place. We have some options for the dealer, but we are not going to dictate to them where to go. The same holds true for the consumer financing side. We will support our dealers’ decisions and request.

How will EBR differ from the Buell that was controlled under the Motor Co.?
Buell: We have the learning from what we did well at Buell, and what we didn't do well. As an independent company, the goals now are very different as well, and we think they are really good. There is a lot of new opportunity in the new situation. We think highly of what the Motor Co. has done and is doing. We wish all the OEMs the best because we love the motorcycle industry and want it to grow. But we are definitely different. We have history, but yet are not tied to it. That allows us to be completely free to take the company to new places where sport bike customers have real interest.

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