Harley-Davidson Montreal was lauded by Dealernews' Top 100 Dealer competition this year for the way the dealership uses its 20,500 sq. ft. of space to sell H-D motorcycles, offer service and showcase thousands of The Motor Co.'s parts, garments and accessories. But, truth be told, the story is much bigger than that.
In fact, Harley-Davidson Montreal is only one-third of a three-store, 80,000 sq. ft. motorcycle retail operation that spans an entire block of a working-class neighborhood five minutes from downtown Montreal. The three stores — H-D Montreal, Moto Internationale and BMW Motorrad — all are located under one general roofline but in two different buildings and with three different sets of entry doors at three different addresses on Rue Saint-Jacques Ouest.
The exterior of the block-long complex denotes the three stores and two different brands, with H-D behind the brick façade of a former nail factory, and Moto Internationale and BMW housed behind a Euro-flavored storefront that was built in 2007. Inside, the three very different retail environments are divided by two walls with two walkways between each showroom.
It's a unique setup. Harley-Davidson and Buell dealerships usually aren't associated with another brand — particularly one that caters to a market with customers in similar age and income brackets.
"Harley-Davidson accepts that we have two separate buildings, that Moto Internationale is a neutral zone, and that BMW Motorrad is a neighbor," says Charles Gref Jr., president and co-owner of the operation with his father, Charles (Raymond) Gref. "The difference couldn't be more obvious — with the different stores, different signage, and the orange versus the blue shirts — so they've accepted this cohabitation."
Charles Jr. is a third-generation motorcycle retailer; his grandfather sold his first Harley-Davidson motorcycle in Quebec in 1948. Charles Sr. sold his first Harley-Davidson in 1955 and, three years later using funds loaned from his dad, opened Gref Moteur Sport in nearby Chicoutimi, Quebec — the store that eventually led to the birth of Harley-Davidson Montreal and Moto Internationale. Gref Jr. is a former champion trials rider and the only person in North America to hold three BMW Motorrad instructor certifications, obtained in Germany.
"From 1993, we had seven brands —Harley, Buell, BMW, Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki — in our original building," Gref explains. "In 2002, Harley-Davidson Canada told us they'd like us to sell Harley-Davidson exclusively. We were the last major metro area without an exclusive dealership, and I remember a meeting where it was pointed out that we made $1,200 with an ATV and $3,000 with a Harley. What would you have done?"
"We were penalized because we had all of the other brands," according to Duc Dufour, special projects manager at Harley-Davidson Montreal and an employee of the dealership since 1969. "They [H-D] were not increasing our allocation at the rate they were an exclusive dealer. We understood, so we made what we felt was a good move at the right time. As hard as it was, we had to let go of some of those other brands and concentrate on the product we've had the longest history with. Now we have more space than we ever had."
DEALER NO. 1: HARLEY-DAVIDSON
While it is only one-third of Gref's three-store operation, Harley-Davidson Montreal represents about two-thirds of the company's total space and business. And it's the only H-D dealer on Montreal Island.
The industrial look of the outside of the dealership transfers to the interior. The showroom, usually featuring about 100 bikes, has a two-tone gray tile floor, an exposed-beam ceiling and stainless steel and wood accents.
The walls are covered in Harley-Davidson and Gref memorabilia, flat-screen TVs show new product videos, classic rock pipes through the speakers, and a wall-mounted PC helps customers peruse offerings from both The Motor Co. and H-D Montreal. Lighting is supplied by sunlight and simple fluorescent tube fixtures.
The average walk-in customer is likely to first notice each H-D model family positioned together, with Buell afforded its own five-bike area. The enthusiast customer is more likely to immediately notice customized versions of the OEM models — bikes H-D Montreal modifies prior to display. There's also a welcome desk, and salesmen's desks tucked inconspicuously around the show floor.
Beyond the welcome desk, one path leads to H-D Montreal's P&A store. Another path leads past pre-owned bikes and sold units that are parked in order of delivery date and are awaiting a final customer run-through.
Also in the rear of the store, next to the pre-owned display, is a snackbar. The Cantine, it opened in 1985, well before snack shops or restaurants became popular in H-D dealerships. Owned and operated by a mother-daughter team, The Cantine offers everything from simple refreshments to daily meal specials for customers and employees. Gref provides the space free of charge. "To us, it's a service," he says.
The store's business offices (the F&I and marketing departments) are upstairs, away from the day-to-day bustle of the show floor. Also upstairs: a meeting room and extra bike storage, which houses Gref's old Yamaha TY250-N trials bike.
How are sales? "So far, we've already sold our Harley-Davidson allocation through to next spring," Dufour says, and he confirms the down payments received. The dealership delivers bikes every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and had 30 bikes scheduled for delivery the week Dealernews visited.
DEALER NO. 2: MOTO INTERNATIONALE
A parts, garments and accessories store (and the Canadian distributor for Touratech luggage systems), Moto Internationale has a modern look with ample use of tile, glass, aluminum slatwall and black countertops throughout the store. These amenities are highlighted by an artistically designed white dropped ceiling, exposed beams, use of floodlights and shadows, and piped-in techno music.
From the front door, customers can choose either of two walkways leading toward the rear of the showroom, where each apparel brand has its own section. Riding apparel populates both walls; the floor in the middle of the store is reserved for displays of casual apparel, luggage, fluids and various off-road parts and accessories; and in the rear of the store multiple glass cases display 200 helmets. The parts counter spans from the center of the Moto Internationale show floor over to the neighboring BMW showroom.
"We put the helmets in the display so customers would have to ask for help, and so we wouldn't get so many fingerprints on the product," says Moto Internationale's Melanie Theriault, one of 12 employees working the 4,000 sq. ft. store. Theriault says she and a half-dozen of her co-workers serve as sales personnel similar to employees of mainstream apparel outlets — they assist customers, stock, merchandise, work the counter, and even clean. "The difference, though, is we know about the features and benefits of all of this," she says, pointing to the assembled PG&A.
DEALER NO. 3: BMW MOTORRAD
The BMW Motorrad store is the sole survivor of the many other brands Gref's retail operation once carried. Like Moto Internationale, and as is typical of BMW's chosen retail design, the BMW Motorrad showroom also features stainless steel, tile and light wood amenities, but with stark white walls highlighted by multiple 36-inch flat screen TVs playing videos of BMW product. The showroom features an average of 25 to 35 bikes.
Using the store's corner location, one wall consists of large windows and TVs and another is decked in BMW apparel and parts and accessories. In the middle of the showroom customers find an island featuring coffee and cappuccino; multiple product, service and event brochures; and a 22-inch touchscreen monitor showing event and training opportunities and BMW Motorrad Films (originally distributed via the Internet).
Sales offices share space along the back wall, with large Touratech and Hepco & Becker displays. The parts counter arcs from the rear of the BMW show floor to the center of the Moto Internationale showroom.
It's a successful franchise. "Judging from the 1,100 BMW sold in Canada each year, we should sell about 50 or 60 BMWs. But we sell over 200," Dufour says. The GS represents about 45 percent of the BMW dealership's sales. "We probably would not have opened an exclusive BMW dealership, in the normal proportion of what we should sell. But, in the way [Gref] has been driving it, it was worthwhile."
SERVICE FOR ALL
Featuring 19 work stands and 20 technicians, the 8,500 sq. ft. air-conditioned service department is split into two sides — blue and orange. The eight-lift blue side of the service department deals with BMW and other foreign brands, while the 11-lift orange side of the service department serves strictly H-D and Buell bikes. Each side has its own service manager, and each charges a standard shop rate of CAN$89 per hour.
Dufour says most of the technicians came from other dealerships. However, Gref found the chief BMW mechanic in Paris, brought two mechanics from Germany, and then attracted another from the UK.
The service desk can be accessed from all three showrooms, as well as through an entry from the parking lot alongside the building. The service foyer features a waiting area with a TV, magazines, customer photos, and large windows that allow bike owners to survey the shop and watch a technician's progress.
"We're a big, big tire and oil dealer," Dufour notes, estimating sales of about 5,000 tires annually. "We know there are two things you need for a bike: tires and oil. So we've always had aggressive policies on tires and oil, which means we get customers who come in, get the service done, spend some time in the boutique and, Voila, that's how we upsell."
The operation also employs a detailer working in two wash bays — because "customers will gladly pay $200 to get their bikes sparkling once a year; all you have to do is offer it" — service bikes are stored indoors and free loaners are available for unplanned, extended circumstances.
Then there's the dealership's pick-up and delivery truck: a Dodge Sprinter painted in a two-sided skin, with the orange Harley-Davidson Montreal logo plastered on one side and the blue Moto Internationale logo on the other. Able to accommodate two units at a time, the van's outfitted with a custom-made ramp that is designed to accommodate even the lowest of bikes and be operated by only one person.
"It's a ramp design other dealers have even asked to use," Dufour says. "A customer can go into any one of the three stores and be a customer at only that store, without even stepping foot or acknowledging the other stores."