The company offers two-year warranty, roadside assistanceGenuine scooter electric Vespa profit
THE ECONOMY has many worried about the future, but Philip McCaleb, founder and president of Chicago-based Genuine Scooter Co., describes himself as a pretty content guy.
After doing business during the past five years at an annual average growth rate of 46 percent, Genuine's sales in 2008 skyrocketed 178 percent compared to 2007 on the back of 1) a consumer base seeking to downsize their vehicles and 2) a dealer network successfully marketing scooters not as toys but as a credible transportation alternative. "I'm just thrilled with the energy and perseverance of Genuine dealers, and it really seems as if the Euro vibe — that scooter acceptance — is beginning to transfer here to the United States," McCaleb says.
Genuine supplies 215 dealers throughout the United States. About half of that total are scooter specialists with the rest being multiline dealerships. The company only lost two dealers to closings in the past six months, and McCaleb says he's receiving plenty of letters from prospective retailers. "We received 800 dealer applications last year," he says, "but we're screening them all, doing the roadwork to confirm their credibility, and not signing anybody unless we need them. We're benefiting from having a solid core group of dealers that believe in our direction."
Dealernews talked with McCaleb a day after he returned from his seventh annual trip to Jamaica with three of Genuine's top dealers: Scooterville of Minneapolis, Eco Moto of Salt Lake City, and Sportique of Boulder, Colo. "These are the guys who are doing some very respectable volumes of business and leading the charge," McCaleb says. "They are changing the scooter business from being about a cool toy, and giving it major credibility."
Genuine Scooter Co. was launched in McCaleb's garage in 2002. His introduction to scooters occurred when he adopted a vintage scooter as his daily transport while working in Greece in the 1980s. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1989, he started restoring and selling vintage Vespa and Lambretta scooters out of his garage on the north side of Chicago.
Noticing an untapped market and burgeoning subculture, McCaleb began to source hard-to-find vintage scooter parts and sell them to scooter enthusiasts through a mail order catalog called Scooterworks USA. As Scooterworks grew, McCaleb became instrumental in the growing vintage scooter subculture in the U.S. He had a hand in forming the Vespa Club of America, and even set standards for vintage scooter appraisals.
In 2002, figuring that the only thing better than an "old" vintage scooter is a "new" vintage scooter, McCaleb and crew tapped LML Ltd. of India to build scoots under the newly created Stella brand and launched Genuine Scooter Co. The Stella is the same body as the 1970s era Vespa PX models (Piaggio began a joint venture with LML in 1986 as a way for the Italian manufacturer to sell its globally popular Vespa PX model to the Indian market). The first Stellas landed in dealerships in spring of 2003.
In 2006, while production of the Stella was briefly halted due to a labor strike at LML, McCaleb decided to pad Genuine's lineup with a modern, automatic scooter that could be sold to the growing legion of first-time and returning scooterists in the U.S. This ushered in a new era for Genuine, highlighted by scoots like the Buddy, Rattler, Roughhouse and Black Jack, all sourced from manufacturers in Taiwan and, as McCaleb says, "with zero of the components from China."
Genuine's lineup for 2009 includes the vintage-look 150cc two-stroke Stella (MSRP $3,599) and five models of modern, two- and four-stroke scoots ranging from 50 to 150cc ($1,999-$3,499). Also new this year: The company is offering a warranty that covers two years on parts, two years on service and two years of roadside assistance (an assigned credit system that works out to about $150 per year per unit to extricate, tow or repair).
A 260-page PG&A catalog featuring 12,000 SKUs was to be released by our press time. The company plans in early April to move the parts and accessories portion of its business into a new, 50,000 sq. ft., three-tier leased warehouse, and open a new distribution center in later this year in Los Angeles.
Plus, there's the expansion of the Genuine Best Operators Club — a dealer "20 group" launched in January with Gart Sutton & Associates.
"This year, if we're within 15 percentage points of where we finished 2008, we'll be thrilled," McCaleb says. "The numbers we did last year were incredible for us."
— Guido Ebert