Offering Something Extra Turns Dealers Into Destinations

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Everyone asks me why I decided to open up a motorcycle dealership combined with a bar and grill. The answer is simple — it's just common sense.

When I was working for the Glidden Paint Co., my buddies and I used to ride every weekend, usually meeting at the local Harley shop. Most of the time we didn't even walk through the doors. We met in the parking lot and took off from there. It was usually the same thing: "Let's ride someplace where we can eat a burger and drink a beer."

We would then ride for a couple of hours and end up someplace where we could eat some lunch and drink a beer or two. The only thing we ever talked about was motorcycles. OK, we also talked about women. But that's it — just motorcycles and women. Oh yeah, we also talked about the Dallas Cowboys. But that's it — just motorcycles, women and the Dallas Cowboys.

Conversation also centered around the local bike shops and how we would run them differently. I always thought combining a motorcycle shop and a beer joint would be ideal. My pals thought I was crazy, saying the best combination would be a bike shop and strip club. OK, they got me there.

After 20 years with Glidden, I dumped the corporate world and opened my own shop. From day one, I wanted a store and a beer joint on the same property. I knew that people would only come into a dealership every so often. That's why my buddies and I never went inside the H-D shop. Why go in? Nothing had changed. It was the same parts, the same bikes with the same paint jobs — nothing new or exciting.

But, what if I had a beer and burger joint next door? Then people would come out every weekend. They had to go somewhere to eat, drink, shop and get their bikes serviced. Why not make a cool hangout where they can do it all at the same time? And I decided to be open on Sundays. The other shops around town said I was crazy for being open Sundays. Guess what? Sunday is my busiest day of the week! I may be crazy, but I'm not (totally) stupid. Now some of the other shops in town are open on Sunday, too.

IT'S TWO VENUES IN ONE

I had to make it cool and make the businesses work together. I wanted to make Strokers Dallas the coolest bike shop you've ever seen. I hung pictures everywhere, painted psychedelic stuff on the ceilings and hung neon beer signs all over the place. In Strokers IceHouse, I hung pictures and motorcycle stuff everywhere. I tried to blur the lines. Is it a motorcycle shop that sells beer, or a beer joint that sells motorcycles? It's both!

I get hundreds of bikes here every weekend. Customers pull in, park, get a beer from one of the bikini-clad beer gals and walk around with their buddies and look at the other bikes. They always walk next door to the bike shop and look around and, most of the time, buy something in the process. Maybe it's a do-rag, a T-shirt, a pair of sunglasses or a Big Dog motorcycle.

There are some problems with owning a beer joint. Last week, I caught a couple in the ladies room trying to make a baby. The guy's argument was that he had been in the Big House for eight years and he just got out the day before. I kicked them both out. Another time, a local news crew showed up doing a story about a physical trainer whose 14-year-old gymnast trainee had accused him of feeding her cocaine and of meeting his dope dealer at my place (thank God my brother is a big-shot lawyer). But the usual problems are the guys who drink too much and try to ride home. When I take the keys from them they want to fight, at least until I tell them if they cause trouble they will never be allowed up here again. That usually settles them down enough to take a cab home, which I often pay for.

The bar and grill is the best marketing tool for my motorcycle shop, and the motorcycle shop is the best marketing tool for my bar and grill. Lots of other people have tried to copy my place, but I have not seen anyone do it successfully yet. Bikers aren't looking for another chain restaurant where they can look out the window at their bikes. They want a cool place where they have a beer, look at the other bikes, check out the merchandise and hang out with other enthusiasts. That's part of the reason my place works. It's a cool hangout that offers the best of both worlds.

Rick Fairless is the owner of Strokers Dallas (a Top 100 Dealer), Strokers IceHouse and Strokers Ink.