Uptown Boys: Ducati Indianapolis

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Saying that Bill Carr is a fan of Ducati is kind of an understatement.

Underneath his soft-spoken demeanor lies a Ducati fan of epic proportions, one that prompted him to come out of retirement in July 2007 to open Ducati Indianapolis with his son, Matt, a racer and fellow Ducatisti. Together, they co-manage the sole Ducati dealership in the state of Indiana.

“There are just so many things about Ducati that are cool — the sound, the look, the Italian styling,” Bill says. “And the fact that they’ve got a really strong racing lineage.”

Matt remembers when his father got his first Ducati because it started his own interest in the brand. “I was a youngster back then, so I couldn’t afford one,” Matt says. “But his bike was an eye-opener for me. I used to take it out and wheelie it all the way down the street.”

So it was only natural that the duo would continue living and breathing Ducati by opening their own store.

Ducati Indianapolis is located in Zionsville, a small destination town just northwest of Indianapolis that the well-to-do crowd calls home. Large dwellings, horse ranches and upscale stores line the sleepy streets, among them the only Bentley dealer in the entire state of Indiana. It seems like a postcard-perfect town — albeit one that’s a stone’s throw from one of the biggest racing cities in the States. This fact alone covinced Bill to ditch his initial idea of opening the store in Detroit, where his son had a cult following for his Ducati service work.

“When we made our business plan to determine where we wanted to open our dealership, Indy stuck out as a good place to start,” Bill says. “We quickly honed in on Indy because there are a lot of motorheads in this town.”

Section 8 Superbike, the Detroit dealership that Matt worked at, had gone out of business, so he and fellow service worker Jason Szczygiel were able to pack up shop and head southwest for the new venture. Some of their former customers followed him.

“When we moved to Indy, the shop, tools and experience moved down here with us,” Matt says. “It’s about a five-hour drive from Detroit and we still have customers from [up] there.”

Matt, who recently has added some Mid-Ohio AMA championships (Super Twins and Thunderbike) to his resume, now heads the service department, where the team works on other metric bikes in addition to Ducati.

NOT-SO-SMALL POTATOES

The 5,985 sq. ft. store sits in an industrial complex, tucked away from view from the main beltway. To compensate for its hidden location, there’s a giant Ducati flag off of the main street guiding Ducati customers to their holy grail. Other brands have approached Bill to form a selling partnership, but he always declines. “Given our need to display the varieties of Ducati motorcycles where people can walk around and sit on the bikes, we don’t really have room for another brand,” he says. “We really have no reason to expand.”

Ducati Indianapolis sits on an acre of land in a parklike setting, among trees and picnic tables that Bill and Matt use for store events like an annual anniversary party, MotoGP parties and events for Ducati’s new products. “We’ve tried to make the dealership a destination so when people come in they’re comfortable,” Bill says.

Inside, a theater lounge houses a 42-inch flat-screen television, where racing footage and photos of customers with their bikes are shown.

Being a smaller dealership has its advantages, Bill says. For one, the store has reasonable overhead costs so that in a downturn, they aren’t hit quite as hard as bigger stores.

“It seems those big ‘Taj Mahal’ dealerships are the ones having all the problems now,” Bill says. “They were working on the premise that everything has to be volume-driven.” Another advantage to being small is that it’s easier to focus on one brand. But, Bill says, Ducati Indianapolis tries to have some wiggle room to cater to other brands when necessary, especially with P&A.

“We know that not everyone wants the Ducati label on their gear, so we provide that,” Bill says of the Dainese, RevIt! and Firstgear apparel they carry. “We wear and test it to make sure it’s buyable before we sell it. And used bikes have been very strong for us. For every five new bikes, we sell one used bike. We do a lot of rides with clubs who are on all kinds of other motorcycles. We don’t discriminate. We think anything on two wheels is cool.”

The customer service doesn’t end there. Ducati’s monthly secret shoppers scored the store high in customer service marks. The scores were never perfect, but were always very high.

“It was always a learning experience for us, so we could focus on our improvement,” Bill says. Bill and Co. still use a lot of the elements they learned through the secret shopper program to better the business. “We’ve learned that people who ride Ducatis don’t want high-pressure sales. We want their experience to be a good one without jumping and pressuring the customer.”

 

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ’EM

It’s a tough time for sales right now, even if you happen to be the sole Ducati dealer in the entire state of Indiana. Competition is still pretty fierce, says Bill Carr, owner of Ducati Indianapolis. “There’s always competition because there will always be price shoppers,” he says.

To stay ahead in the game, Carr employs a “join ‘em” mentality when marketing and merchandising. For one, he works with other nearby, out-of-state Ducati dealers and shares his inventory if they need it. The simple act of cooperation creates an alliance and boosts sales. “If another dealer needs a part or something I have, they come get it,” Carr says. “We’ll ship it to them and vice versa, and sell it to them at cost.”

Carr also reaches out to venues outside of the moto world, like Nordstrom, the Conrad Hotel and the Puma Store. Last year, the dealership even displayed a Ducati at the airport, hoping to catch potential shoppers as they mill around the airport waiting for their flights. Carr says that it helps his business that there are signs and merchandise throughout the community that point to his store.

“Whenever there’s an opportunity to cross-market, we do it,” Carr says. “It’s a good way to get the word out about your store, but we still have people coming in here saying, ‘Geez, we didn’t know you guys were here’ or ‘We didn’t know there was a Ducati dealer in town.’ But [on the flip side], we don’t actively market outside of our area, and we still have customers outside the state because of our service team and our reputation.”

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

Bill and Matt Carr are a father-and-son team that share general manager duties of their store, Ducati Indianapolis. The original idea was for Bill to run the show for a year, then head into semi-retirement while his son took the reins. “But I enjoy it so much that I’m here every day,” Bill says. “It doesn’t feel as much like work as when I was in the corporate world.” Previously, Bill worked in the healthcare industry.

The duo’s love of all things Ducati have won them quite a few awards in just a little over two years of business. Ducati has recognized the store with national awards in 2008, including Best New Ducati Dealer, Best Showroom, Best Technician and Best Salesperson.

Bill and Matt also employ “teachable moments,” where if they observe a salesperson-customer interaction that isn’t up to par, they later use it as a moment to discuss what could have been done better.

“My son and I won’t hesitate to grab that teachable moment to point out what we could have done a bit differently,” Bill says.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews February 2010 issue.