308 Beaver Vallley Pike
Willow Street, Pa. 17584
After retiring at the age of 46, Tim Hamilton didn’t want a job, but instead was searching for something fun to occupy his time. Less than two years ago, Hamilton jumped at the opportunity to be the general manager of Lancaster Harley-Davidson. It not only allowed him to satisfy his workaholic trait, it turned into something fun. “I love the H-D family,” he said. “It’s kind of like getting paid to go to a candy store every day.” His enthusiasm extends throughout the dealership to about 45 full-time employees. As big as the dealership is, it’s still a Ma and Pa dealership. It was first opened in 1951 by Ray “Tex” Texter and his partner Bill Miller. In the late ’50s, Miller was bought out, and the store was moved from its Lancaster location to just south in Willow Street where it has been ever since. The store was later passed down to Tex’s son, Randy, who has been involved in the business nearly all his life. “Tex still comes into the store every day, still rides his trike every day,” Hamilton said. “He’s still very involved in what’s going on.” Throughout the years, the dealership has evolved considerably being that it has been through four or five renovations. “Each time it expands and grows, and today we cover about 45,000 square feet,” Hamilton noted. “The original store may have covered about 2,500 square feet.” The dealership has three different buildings, one of which is a warehouse that holds a museum of antique motorcycles.
Keeping production balanced with demand, particularly with Harley-Davidson, Hamilton says. “Having spent 29 years in the auto industry and owning my own dealership and franchise, I watched the auto industry put themselves in the pickle that they are today,” he said. “They were not in tune to the fact they we’re over producing and over manufacturing compared to the demand.” Unlike many other dealers’ concerns, however, Hamilton’s apprehension has been tended to in the past year or so that he’s been with the dealership. “I watched Harley address those issues head on, and they’ve done a very good job with it,” he said.
A few different bikes have proved popular to Lancaster Harley-Davidson’s customers. Among them are the new Fat Bob, Screaming Eagle and the Cross Bones. He adds the dealership is always selling the big cruiser bikes as well. “They’re pretty solid,” he noted. “We also have a number of people buying the Buell line. The 1125R is a great new sport bike.”
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
A notable trend, Hamilton says, is more of the dealership’s customers are payment buyers. “People are coming to a place where saving for that Harley some day may just not happen,” Hamilton said. “They’re willing to step up to make their dream become a reality now and budget a certain amount of money each month for it. With the fact that a lot of your Harley riders keep their motorcycles for a little longer period than others, it’s not difficult for them to stretch those payments out.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
Known globally for its parts department, Lancaster Harley-Davidson carries an extensive line of parts that are no longer manufactured, dating back to the early 1900s. “We get calls from across the country and really around the world when people learn that we have a lot of obsolete, unavailable parts,” Hamilton said. “It expands our customer base and our clientele. There’s no doubt.”
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
“If you live life on the edge, no one can get in front of you.” Hamilton’s philosophy is used to promote the dealership, and that’s what has inspired its employees to think of some unique events to hold. “When we do an open house, we do it different than anyone else,” Hamilton said. Last May the dealership held an event where they registered 105 people since it was Harley’s 105th anniversary. Each person had the opportunity to roll six dice, which had the letters H.A.R.L.E.Y on the sides. If any one of them would have rolled the letters to spell Harley, all 105 people would have won a motorcycle, and the person who rolled it would have received $105,000 in addition to the motorcycle. “That’s what I call being on the edge,” Hamilton said. “We did something totally different, totally out of the box. The promotion we got out of that was pretty phenomenal.” Although no one rolled the word Harley, the person who rolled the most correct letters, which was four, won a new Sportster.
WORDS OF ADVICE
“What we have to do as business owners and managers is find a way to broaden our margins,” Hamilton said. “For every dollar we make, we have to find a way to hold on to more of that dollar; not so much in our spending, but in the way we’re marketing our products. Discounts don’t drive sales. Margins are a key factor a lot of dealers don’t look as close to as they should. Be more conscious of your margins than your total net sales because margins are what pay your bills.”
— Karin Gelschus
Lancaster Harley-Davidson – Willow Street, PA – Sept. 1, 2008