Indian Motorcycle Charlotte: From enthusiast to loyalist

Publish Date: 
Jan 2, 2012
By Bruce Steever

Indian Motorcycles is a historic and storied brand that has lived through boom times and downturns, all the while following a fickle fate. No one knows this better than Mark Moses, owner of North Carolina-based Indian Motorcycle Charlotte. Moses is a zealous supporter of Indian Motorcycles as an enthusiast, an employee of the brand itself, and as a dealer principal. “Passion” is certainly an overused word in the powersports industry, but at the end of the day, loving what you do in this industry will carry you and your business through the worst (and best) days.

Moses started as a motorcycle dealer when the opportunity arose to turn his love of Indian motorcycles into a business. Already a successful business owner working in the specialty auto industry, Moses saw an ideal fit. “I guess to start, my adventure with Indian has been based really on an enthusiast hobby,” Moses says. “I’d done hot rods and street rods and classic cars the bulk of my adult life, but Indian motorcycles always have fascinated me, primarily because they’re unique, they’re different. I’ve always wanted to do something that nobody else was doing. Then I started thinking, ‘man, this is something I’d love to do for a living,’ even though I was already doing something for a living that I loved: building cool cars.”

As an owner of pre-1998 machines, as well as a 1999 and a 2000 Indian, Moses appreciated the fact that Indian was in an awkward place as the Gilroy-era court cases were taking place. Still, in early 2002 he decided to proceed, and started talking with the then Indian Motorcycle CEO Frank O’Connell. At the same time, a fellow businessman in the plastics industry began talks with Moses about the possibility of building the new Indian business into something far larger than originally planned.

“I started [at] a small temporary facility outside of Toledo, Ohio, and then started building a standalone, purpose-built dealership with the intention of managing both my auto and motorcycle businesses at the same time,” Moses explains. “We broke ground on what would become Indian Motorcycle Toledo in April 2003. Despite the temporary facility, I think we were the third largest volume [Indian] dealer for 2003.”

Of course, students of Indian’s checkered history certainly would cringe reading the timeline above, as eight weeks into the grand opening of Moses’ Toledo dealership, Gilroy Indian closed its doors. This is the kind of event that would throw most business owners for a loop. Moses was not left unflustered, but he refused to throw in the towel. “We rallied the troops with my partners as quickly as possible,” he says. “When we got the call, we were on the way to Las Vegas for the 2004 Indian dealer show. We were told not to go to Las Vegas because the show was canceled. Obviously, there was chaos and confusion in the search to get more information. Finally, I got ahold of Frank O’Connell, who told me what had happened. By the time we hit the ground in Ohio, we had a tentative plan of what we were going to do. We renamed the business and then reached out to two other brands. Within 120 days of Indian closing, we had brought on Big Dog and Triumph. We quickly morphed ourselves from an Indian-specialized store into a multi-branded store.”

Unfortunately, North Coast Motorcycle, née Indian Motorcycle Toledo, had been designed from the ground up as an Indian franchise. Beside the obvious changes to POP materials, displays and other marketing materials, entire sections of the dealership had to be adapted to the new business plan. “Basically, what started happening then was we concentrated on putting our heads down and doing business with what we had, with the brands we had,” Moses explains. “But my passion had always been with my brand, with Indian. Indian wasn’t dead to us, it was still warm and glowing, so we continued to talk about the brand behind the scenes.”

While Moses was busy keeping his business going despite the abrupt change of plans, Indian was in another phase of its very fluid history. Despite talk about a purchase by Harley-Davidson, it was the private investment group Stellican LTD. that stepped up to purchase the beleaguered brand. Moses decided to follow his passion for the Indian brand by joining with the new Indian motorcycles company to help write the next chapter in the company’s long history. “By 2006, Stellican had a plant in North Carolina, things were moving along, and we had continued to talk,” Moses says. “But my investors did not want to continue, so it was decided that we needed to do something different. Everybody had had enough. We shut the existing operations down, by our own choice. Shortly thereafter, I was hired by Indian personally.”

He moved his entire family to North Carolina, near the new Indian facility in Kings Mountain. He was one of the first employees and wore many hats — he was running marketing, events, technical services, warranty services, you name it. He also worked on the design and build of the flagship Indian retail store near the plant. “I was on the build site each and every day as the project manager. The intent was to sell the store to someone, and have them own and run it. But as we continued to talk, it was decided that I would buy it,” Moses says. “I resigned from Indian Motorcycle and bought the store.”

At this point, Moses and Indian had danced with each other in a full circle to end up with the new Indian Motorcycle Charlotte. However, Moses found himself in the perfect position as the new dealership brought him in contact with Indian customers and still allowed him to play an important role in the re-emerging Indian motorcycles brand. In short, it allowed him the opportunity to fuel his passion for the marque and use that passion to help grow his brand.

“Getting back into the retail side of the business was the farthest thing from my mind. I wanted to play a role in the history of the brand, frankly. So I still continued to work the Indian corporate side as an adviser or consultant, thanks to my history and knowledge of the brand. It was a role that I loved to play, as there weren’t many people in the Kings Mountain enterprise had the knowledge and experience with the brand and had done what I had done.”

Fast forward to the present state of Indian Motorcycle, and change once again is the rule. Polaris’ purchase of the marque has pundits wondering where the brand will head next, but for Moses, this is just another chapter in the history of Indian.

“I approach this whole thing a little differently than I think many do. I think it’s my passion that pushes me into it all the time. I was lucky enough to have had personal relationships with Ross Clifford, the new managing director of Indian Motorcycle [under Polaris] as well as the whole upper management crew. They’ve been in my store; we’ve talked at great length. Most recently, they’ve put me on an advisory board that talks regularly about new product development. I’ve been tasked to put together what we call an advisory council that gathers 20 Kings Mountain-era owners together. Engineering and marketing folks travel to meet with this council to talk about engine design and new product design. It’s been great to have been able to keep my hands-on involvement with my brand.”

As you might imagine, someone who loves Indian and works directly with Polaris has plenty good to say about the future of the historical brand. But don’t write it off as cheerleading — it’s Moses the Indian enthusiast saying it, not Moses the business owner. “I think Indian is absolutely in the best position it’s been in since the 1920s,” Moses says. “There’s never been as good a time for the brand. I am convinced that the people at Polaris understand the power of this brand and the significance of what it means not only for Indian, but what it means for Polaris. You can’t purchase history, but you can certainly purchase an iconic brand. The association and affiliation with the Indian brand will go a long way in the long term for everything that Polaris is aiming to do. They are a brilliant company, and now they have a world-class brand. And based upon the history of Indian and what they’ve done in the past, it’s almost a natural flow and ebb back to a diverse product offering. It’s a clean sheet of paper, and the future is bright for new product development.”

One thing that you notice when talking with Moses is that his enthusiasm is infectious, and he takes possession of his role in the industry very personally. From comments about “his brand” to the obvious leaps of faith he’s made with Indian, it is clear that Moses is committed to his passion (there’s that word again). “I know we were creating history as we worked with the brand,” Moses says. “It’s never been just a job for me. I’ve never been motivated by how much money I thought I could make. It was the sense of accomplishment and playing a role within the team, in making history. It’s always been more about my love."

This story originally ran in the Dealernews January 2012 issue.