It's been a great ride. One that started 50 years ago when I was delivering newspapers in my middle class Milwaukee neighborhood. I was 14-going-on-16, mainly because I was fixated on getting my driver's license and buying a car that I could customize and that would transport me and my friends to exciting destinations. One afternoon my priorities changed. It was a warm, sunny, summer day and midway through my deliveries my inner thoughts were interrupted by the exhaust note of a big twin engine approaching. It was a chopped Knucklehead Harley cruising down the street in top gear. Running effortlessly, I was mesmerized by the shear ease that this mechanical monster rolled by at about 30 mph, seemingly at idle speed. What power I thought! Visually, its tiny Sportster tank fully exposed the big twin engine with that huge top end that struck a pose like the torso of a body builder. Add to that the upswept fishtail pipes that were producing that rhythmic "heartbeat of a Harley" song and I was hooked, for life, on motorcycles.
At 15 1/2, my financial status dictated that I purchase a used Harley, if I wanted a big displacement bike. Unlike some parents, mine didn't intervene. Their rules were, "Buy what you want, but pay for it yourself." So, instead of playing football while in high school (I was a pretty good quarterback) I pursued the almighty dollar and worked after school to pay for my gas-powered passions. My Dad urged me to get a Harley Servi-Car because it had 3-wheels, which meant safer, right? So, that's what I bought, a `47 model for $165, but safe it was not. My friend and I crashed it in less than 10-minutes after leaving the seller's house. Thankfully, we all survived, bike included, to ride another day.
By 1970, I had already owned three Harleys when I left home at 18 riding my `60 XLCH Sportster from Milwaukee to Corpus Christi, Texas. All of my life possessions were jammed into my Dad's WWII Navy duffle bag. A young man doesn't need much to get by. My first job in Texas was doing construction work, rebuilding gas stations damaged by hurricane Celia. Then, in January of `71 I tried out for a job at the Cycle Spot, a Triumph/Yamaha/CZ dealership in "Corpus." The applicant's test was straightforward — make a saleable Triumph Cub motorcycle from a box of parts. Borrowing tools and referring to the service manual and parts book it took me 1 1/2 days until it thumped to life. That was the start of my "career" in the motorcycle industry.
Since then I've worked in this business as a mechanic, a customizer, service manager, technical trainer, director of training, vice-president of sales and most lately, owner of my Dako Management Company that provided teaching and writing services to educate, inform and enlighten folks on all sides of our business. There were many life lessons learned along the way, and because this will be my last column for PSB, I wanted to share a few of them with you.
- Never tell someone their baby is ugly. Baby, in this case was a very rough Honda chopper. I was service manager at a Phoenix dealership when this guy comes in wanting us to repair the mangled wiring on what he referred to as his, "rat chopper." I didn't want to accept the work so after he was done talking I said, very politely, "We don't work on junk like this." The guy went ballistic, yelling and cursing at me, which pissed me off and the next thing I know we were almost in a fist fight. Following that lesson, I started referring rat bikes we weren't interested in to a local independent shop, and I always complimented an owner's vehicle from then on, no matter what condition it was in.
- Don't tell people what to do if you don't have the authority. Case in point. My first day at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute on January 25th, 1981 (yes, I remember the day, it was life changing) I walked into a classroom, not wearing an instructor shirt, and noticed a student was installing a tire with the balance mark 180-degrees off. The "student" was 15-years older than me. When I told him to correct the tire position he didn't take it well. Thirty seconds later I was almost in a fist fight. OMG, there's a trend here! In my defense, I did have the authority, but the student didn't know it. That reminds me of a strategy learned from an old friend. Instead of telling someone what to do, lead with the words, "What do you think about (insert idea)?" This allows the other person to feel they had some control in the decision.
- Change tactics for a different outcome. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. After about three years at MMI, I was perturbed that my annual raise was always less than I deserved. I had gotten into the habit of presenting my case each year to the school's owner, in his office. Problem with this scenario were the constant interruptions, which derailed the conversation. So, about the fourth year I invited the owner to lunch on my dime, offsite. In this environment we were uninterrupted and got to know each other on a personal level. Consequently, my point of view was much better received. The result? I earned more than other directors in the school at that time. Those $25 lunches really paid off!
- Don't accuse if you don't know all the facts. My most memorable lesson was when I was teaching Harley classes in the `80's and rebuilding my `66 Shovelhead on the weekends using the school's shop equipment. At some point I couldn't find the connecting rods to said motorcycle. I looked everywhere and came to the assumption that a student had stolen them. So, I gathered the students to confront them and ultimately punished the class by cancelling their graduation party because no one had confessed. About a month later I found the rods in the carb cleaner bucket. That's when I remembered I had put them there to degrease them. But, the students had graduated and I couldn't apologize for my bad behavior. If you were in that class, I humbly apologize now. I'll buy you a beer when you visit Prescott!
- Don't use snapshots to make snap decisions. Having taught over 5,000 folks in the motorcycle business over the last 33 years, I've learned that some mistakes happen over and over again. One of the most common is that managers make snap decisions based on seconds or minutes of observation. Doing this often ends up in misdiagnosis and can erode employee morale. For instance, a few years back I was visiting a dealer principle in his upstairs office when he looked down upon the showroom to see a customer walking around the bikes, unattended. The dealer raced out if his office, headed downstairs and reamed out a salesman for not tending to this customer. Later in the day, when I spoke to that salesman, I learned the he had engaged that customer, who told the salesman he preferred to look around by himself before talking numbers. Asked why the salesman didn't tell the dealer this, he said, "What's the use. He already made up his mind." BTW, employee retention at that dealership was poor at the time.
I could go on, but it's time for me to say farewell. I am semi-retiring from the motorcycle business and am focusing my attention to my wife's real estate business here in motorcycle-friendly Prescott, Arizona. I will continue to write, as I feel I have something to offer and because, I enjoy it! So, check out my newly minted Facebook page at David Koshollek.
Thank you for your kind appreciation of my services over the years. Working with you, and for you has provided me with a most rewarding life. See you on the road. Ride Well — Be Profitable!
Dave "Dako" Koshollek has worked in the motorcycle industry since 1971 as a motorcycle mechanic and service manager, as a technical trainer and national director for MMI's Harley-Davidson training programs and as vice president for Dynojet Research's motorcycle division. In 1998 Koshollek formed the DAKO Management company that provides sales, management and product training both in print and in person. He has written over 200-articles for Harley-Davidson's dealer publication, ShopTalk, has developed and taught numerous Harley-Davidson University courses in dealerships and at dealer conventions around the world and has authored a column titled "Dako's Fuel for Thought" for over 10-years that delivers proven parts and service operations best practices. Dako lives by the principle, "Ride Well - Be Profitable," which applies to all things in life.