Motorcycle Superstore's beginnings not unlike many powersports retailers


Motorcycle Superstore slideshow


Don Becklin launched Motorcycle Superstore in 1998 out of the attic of his grandfather's house. As a former club racer and hardcore enthusiast, he knew he wanted to work in the industry but wasn't quite sure how he was going to do it. Starting with not much of a vision, but more of an idea of a business, he teamed up with a local dealer to sell the store's products online. A small limited staff. Credit cards processed by 10-key over the phone. Orders faxed to the dealership to be shipped. More money going out faster than it was coming in. It's origins were much like many other small businesses.

"We set up shop here in Medford as a retail store. It was an apparel and accessories shop. We weren't a full-blown dealership and still aren't," Becklin says. "From there we sort of went along and the e-commerce channel grew significantly faster than the retail store channel for us. We weren't exactly sure that was going to happen for us," he says, adding that there even some discussion about making the retail store the main focus of the business, but this obviously turned out not to be the case as the online side of the business continued to expand.

"I think there's a lot of reasons for that. It's a growing channel in the consumer's mind, and what you still continue to see is consumers getting more comfortable with the Internet in terms of actually using it for transactions," he says. "Back in the day our biggest struggle was to be legitimate in the eyes of consumers so they would place an order on our website and give us their credit card information."

Back in 1999 and 2000 there were still a lot of questions about putting your credit card info online, especially for an unknown company like the Superstore. But as people became more comfortable with buying online and as the company's profile grew, this started to change as the business started to experience year-on-year growth. Becklin believes the store's demographics also helped boost these online sales — males who aren't usually the shopping type and motorcyclists more prone to taking risks such as using credit cards online.

Eventually, Becklin was able to get a Small Business Administration loan that helped him move into his own facility, helped stock his shelves and helped, to a small degree, stock the small the warehouse he now operated.

"The growth came about because we did everything, and we continue to try to do everything, to make a good experience for the customer," he says. "That was the idea and just because it was on the Internet didn't really change that fact. We focused on what was essential and the essential thing for us was taking care of the customers and making sure that we got them their product. Back in the early days that was a significant challenge."

As an online retailer, this customer service was essential to getting and keeping customers — maybe even more so than with a walk-in store. After all he and his employees never have the opportunity to even talk to the customers they're serving let along meet them face-to-face, shake their hands or say thanks for stopping by. So the challenge was to make the customer feel comfortable about buying online, that they would be taken care of during and after the sale.

"The thing with the Internet is, if you can do it the right way, it's amazing how people respond," he says. "The Internet is an interesting spigot because if you turn it on, there's not a lot of ways to turn it off. And vice versa. If you lost it, it can go off in a big hurry."

Bad reviews travels fast online: Motorcycle Superstore seeks to nip 'em the bud

Online retailers need to put as much as emphasis on customer satisfaction as they do product selection

Motorcycle Superstore's Don Becklin believes that customer satisfaction and product selection are equally important in the e-tailing world. "We want [customers] to know that if they contact us we're going to do whatever we can, within reason, to get it resolved in a timely fashion," he says. That goes for any complaint that can be traced back to Superstore, a vendor, a shipping service, and more.

The program appears is working. Superstore receives a 93 percent approval rating from Shopzilla/BizRate.

"We like to hold ourselves accountable. If you're trying to suppress negative customer reactions, you know you're not going to do a very good job," Becklin says. "This is the Internet — they're going to get the word out. It also holds us to a real standard. If we don't want negative comments to come up on that rating, we have to do a good job."

The key is determining what the customer thinks should happen next. If a customer wants to know why a shipment was delayed or an order was wrong, he doesn't care that there are 500 other people calling at the same time, Becklin says. He just wants an answer and he wants his problem fixed.

"The more you're able to inform the customer and be available for the customer, the better,” Becklin notes. “It's not a side job for us. It's not an afterthought. We're constantly trying to make the process, the presentation, everything, better for the customer."