8272 Gateway East
El Paso, Texas 79907
It’s unheard of for someone to buy a Harley-Davidson dealership for $1,200. However, that’s what Sherman Barnett did — in 1977. A close friend practically gave the Harley dealership to Sherman and his family because it was doing so poorly at the time. And Barnett purchased the dealership with a steep learning curve ahead of him, because at the time his family members were strictly Yamaha dealers. “No one in the family even wanted to go over and look at the Harleys for the first two years,” said General Manager Mark Barnett, Sherman’s son. “I don’t think anyone even rode [a Harley] for two years.” When Yamaha sales were poor in the late 1970s and early ’80s because of a recession and high interest rates, Sherman Barnett put everything he had financially in the Harley shop, and business turned around, Mark Barnett said. Barnett Harley-Davidson was one of the first stores in 1986 that went on the designer store plan, where Harley staff came and designed the inside of the store. From there on, Barnett says business thrived. “With the Evolution motor coming out and the store design – those two items really did get us going and made this a serious business.” The dealership continued to grow when Barnett Harley moved into a superstore near a freeway 11 years ago.
Barnett’s biggest worry is the potential for high interest rates in the future. “I think the only thing that can really hurt the motorcycle industry is high interest rates,” he said. “As long as the loans are not expensive, I think we’ll always sell bikes.”
There has been a definite shift as Barnett says traditionally the Softail models were the fast movers. Barnett notes the shift has taken him by surprise, and due to an increase in new customers, the Sportsters have been selling like crazy as well. “That bodes well for the future because I think the average person keeps a Sportster for about a year before they trade up,” Barnett said. “I think we’ve sold more Sportsters this year than any other year.”
Customer Buying Trends
Barnett says people’s expectations are much higher than they’ve ever been. During the past couple years, Barnett Harley has spent additional time aiming to make the shopping experience more pleasant. “People are expecting absolute perfection now,” he said. However, Barnett notes customer service is not a strong point for the dealerships around him, so Barnett Harley has been working extra hard the past two years on that aspect. “We want to make sure everything is handled perfectly.”
Parts and Service
Both the parts and service departments are sections of the dealership Barnett would like to see improved during the next couple years. To create a greater focus in those areas, they built a new service department, waiting area, lounge and they also hired new management. In addition to the new service department, 8,000 square feet were added to the already 26,000-square-feet showroom, most of which will be parts. Another reason Barnett is shifting the dealership’s focus is because he anticipates there will be an increase in bagger riders who will in turn be looking for more parts and servicing.
Promotional Home Runs
Barnett Harley has its hands on just about everything when it comes to advertising. “We spend a lot of money,” Barnett said. They even publish their own magazine, Barnett’s, which has been around for about 10 years. It started out as a basic classified ad magazine for Harleys and evolved into an enthusiast magazine. Now it circulates nationwide and throughout 26 other countries. “Although the publishing business is difficult and a lot of things are uncontrollable, it’s lots of fun, a stress reliever and good name recognition,” Barnett said.
Words of Advice
“The only thing I would say is to be eternally optimistic,” Barnett said. “One thing we do is we don’t ever read any kind of doom or gloom. We just don’t believe in it.”
— Karin Gelschus
Barnett Harley-Davidson – El Paso, TX – Oct. 15, 2007