7688 Indiana Avenue
Riverside, CA 92504
The Dabney Family
Brothers Jay, Ty, and Marshall Dabney, sister Susan Moore, and mother Ida Dabney own the dealership (although Ida is not involved in day-to-day operations). The dealership was founded in 1941 by Skip Fordyce and his wife Ruthie; the Dabneys bought the business in 1974. At present 35,000-sq.-ft. location since August 2002; moved from a 13,000-sq.-ft. facility one-tenth of a mile away. “We used wheelbarrows to pull parts down here,” says Jay Dabney. Carries Harley-Davidson and Buell. 50 employees.
Jay Dabney is concerned about “general business issues that we have in California. For instance, our premiums doubled this year through the confusion and deterioration of the worker’s comp system in California. And the general litigious nature of society these days is an ever-present problem for a dealer; we’re always concerned about that.”
“The hot-selling models right now are the touring models — the FL family, including the Road Glide, the Road King, and the Ultra models,” says Dabney. “That has been a shift, at least in our dealership and maybe in Southern California. Although the Softails, like the Fat Boy and the Heritage, are still really hot, I think that as our customer base — the Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers — get older, they’re looking for more functionality and practicality.
“They chose cruiser bikes to create that perception of riding a Harley-Davidson. Now they’re looking more at comfort and the purity of riding, and that entails longer distances — and therefore they want the amenities of a touring model.”
As for accessories, “any kind of chrome sells well — boy, we’re just selling tons. The packages, including custom paint jobs, are really popular, especially with the limited range of colors for the ’03 models. Also, we order the factory custom colors for the different models. Those are pretty cool.”
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
“Customers have grown older over the years, although through the Buells and the V-Rods we’re continuing to bring people into the sport,” says Dabney. “I would say a typical customer is in his late 40s to early 50s and is a blue-collar worker in the different construction trades, because the building boom is really hot here in California’s Inland Empire. Maybe his kids are a little older and he wants to get back into the sport on a touring bike.”
“In California there’s the ever-present emissions issue, which we monitor through our dealer associations: the Southern California Harley-Davidson Dealers Association and the California Motorcycle Dealers Association,” says Dabney. “They are heavily involved with those issues and they do a great job in keeping us updated and protecting our interests in Sacramento with a lobbyist. Of course, noise issues have become a concern in recent years and we’re monitoring that to mitigate any damage to our dealership or to the sport in general.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
Skip Fordyce has eight service technicians plus a service manager, three service writers, and four service assistants.
“We’re talking about a 17,000-sq.-ft. service facility with 10 bays that are all double-lifted,” explains Dabney.
Dabney believes that progressive dealers want to give a customer “the full experience” of their store. “For instance, our store has been designed to enable the customer — especially new buyers — to see all parts of the experience. Our large, tall showroom really opens up. Accessories are all over the Harley-Davidson wall system leading into the Motorclothes area.
“As part of our delivery process, our salespeople introduce the new customer to managers of all the departments, and he eventually ends up in F&I and gets a chance to add on the different back-end products and services. When you have a great F&I business manager like we have, it really makes it convenient for the customer. We’re financing about 75% of our unit sales now, and get about the same penetration on service contracts. Also, we sell a lot of pre-paid, scheduled maintenance.”
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Skip’s Bike Night, held the third Friday of every month, averages 500 attendees.
WORDS OF ADVICE
“Join a 20 group that enables you to share information about current issues, best practices, and the external problems we face, and permits you to compare financial data to set benchmarks for yourself,” says Dabney. “We find that’s very effective for focusing on areas of weakness. When we really take aim at a very specific target, we see the performance increase. We’re in two 20 groups, actually — one through Harley-Davidson and one through Lemco. Frankly, I would prefer to have progressive, smart dealers in my area who are operating in the most efficient fashion possible, because the spillover effect helps bring new customers into our sport.” Dabney also advocates reading the industry publications “because they provide the data and resources that enable us to stay informed and run our business better.”