Gear Head Canada: It's in the details

Publish Date: 
Jul 1, 2009
By Cynthia Furey

YOU GOTTA LOVE TENACITY. Dan Witmer and Mary Teasdale have it. During an icy January 2008, the Gear Head owners spearheaded a self-move of their entire dealership's contents from one end of a Canadian parking lot to another.

During a snowstorm.

"We only had four people on staff at that time, so we all took turns bringing things across the parking lot," says Teasdale. "We were taking helmets six at a time on a dolly."

For three weeks, the group braced record-breaking snow levels to truck every last bike and accessory in their inventory from a crowded 6,000 sq. ft. space to one that was double in size. The renovated digs would be Gear Head's new home; large enough to hold all of the brands the store had added during its nearly three decades in business in Ottawa, Ontario.

Gear Head was originally established in 1982 by Witmer — a veteran professional road racer with 18 years under his belt — as Darotune Enterprises Inc., a performance tuning shop and accessories store. Over the years, Witmer says, they added brands like Honda, Sea-Doo and Arctic Cat (the store's Honda section would later become Powersports Canada). In spring 2007, the owners renamed the store Gear Head in anticipation of the big move the following winter. Completing the Gear Head line of brands offered are Vespa, Victory, Hyosung, Aprilia, Polaris (ATVs and snowmobiles), Piaggio and Moto Guzzi.

HOME SWEET HOME. Gear Head's current space has a unique floorplan, with a low ceiling and small entryway in which Witmer and Teasdale have placed a colorful Vespa display and a wall of sassy slogans asking customers to "Choose your mood" based on Vespa color schemes. The display hooks customers into this boutiquelike space, and provides just a taste of what they can expect if they venture through an archway leading to the main showroom.

"When we took possession of this unit, it was last used with offices at the front and a solid concrete wall separating it from the back," Witmer says. "We couldn't knock the wall down, so we put in a 12-foot-wide archway through it. We decided to use this as a welcoming area. Customers have to walk right through it to get into the main showroom." When customers funnel past the archway, they'll find that the store opens up significantly into an airy space as high as two stories.

"As soon as customers walk through that archway, they gasp, because it's so huge," Teasdale says. Inside the main showroom, walkways are treated as streets, with names like "Biker Chic Blvd." intersecting with "Gear Head Street," marking the apparel and accessories "neighborhood." The aptly named "Pit Stop" is reserved for the bathroom area. The "gear" theme runs throughout the store, with vinyl flooring patterns that resemble meshing gears and ceramic tile floors featuring swooping, gearlike circles.

"We try to have different little themed areas that connect with the streets," Witmer says. "We think it makes an interesting journey for customers."

The Italian Café is where you start seeing the details of Gear Head's personality. Smack in the center of the café's cushy leather lounge chairs is a glass-topped coffee table with an exhibit of damaged bike parts and ancient fossils. This little mini-museum gets a lot of attention. "There are some interesting motorcycle bits in there, like melted pistons and shattered gears," Witmer says. Along with fossilized fish and "dinosaur poop," he continues.

DISPLAY TACTICS. The scooter and coffee table displays are just two reasons behind Gear Head's Top 100 Best Display win. The rest of it lies in the store's "modern industrial design," as Witmer calls it, which is dotted with artifacts and interesting doodads to help make a customer's shopping experience a bit more exciting than your average, run-of-the-mill shopping trip.