Gear Head Canada: It's in the details

Publish Date: 
Jul 1, 2009
By Cynthia Furey

"We like to find different and interesting things," Witmer says. "Mary and I have both traveled a lot — traveled to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, etc., — and we always bring back souvenirs."

Exotic items like mosaic frames, Australian boomerangs, tribal masks from the Dominican Republic and mirrors from Thailand and Indonesia create focal points in the store, some wedged between helmets or topping a clothing display. One unusual item from Indonesia is a skull on a stick with a Mohawk (reminiscent of Gear Head's logo; see sidebar "The Power of Branding"), which is currently dressed in gear from Orange County Choppers. Another, a tribal mask with stringy hair, holds its own above a helmet display.

But the single item in the store that gets the most attention isn't a tribal mask or mohawked skull, believe it or not. It's actually a plastic toy motorcycle and rider permanently situated by the parts counter that plays a digitalized version of The Miracles' "Love Machine" at the push of a button.

"People love playing with that thing. Sometimes, people push the button not knowing what's going to happen," Witmer says.

Gear Head's modern industrial design allows for the use of raw metal, wire grid fixtures and aluminum slatwall. Galvanized metal heating and air conditioning ducts remain exposed, with soft, warm-colored walls to make them unobtrusive.

Witmer — who has a background in architecture and industrial design — figured out a way to add more light into the store by using aluminum diamond plates. These plates can be found under featured motorcycles, and they reflect the light from the store's ceiling. Wire grids are also suspended from the ceiling to provide a place for track lighting, adding even more light.

"We certainly aren't using a lot of glass and marble," Witmer says. "Our store is not as posh as some of the big, fancy American dealerships we've seen. It's a little bit more simple, but we think it's effective."

A CLOSE-KNIT STAFF. Gear Head employs a small staff eight full-time and part-time employees — not including Bella, a 18-month-old Portuguese Water Dog nicknamed "Gear Dog."

"As soon as she hears the little doorbell, she goes downstairs and greets people," Teasdale says. In turn, customers often talk about their own dogs, which ends up forming a relationship with the store owners.