The Transportation Revolution
901 Julia St.
New Orleans, LA 70113
Stephen and Gayle Materne
The idea of opening a scooter dealership came to Gayle Materne after a family trip to Rome. Materne fell in love with Rome and scooters. When the family returned home, Gayle and her husband Stephen researched the scooter market and received approval for their Vespa dealership in 2002.
“We started in a very modest kind of warehouse built in kind of a hidden neighborhood to see if it worked,” said general manager of sales Zach Materne.
Zach and Maxwell Materne, Stephen and Gayle’s sons, run the daily operations. Zach leads the front end, while Maxwell serves as GM of aftersales, parts and accessories, service and performance.
The dealership has been through big changes in its first nine years. After much success during the first two years of business, the Maternes decided to move the dealership and found a location in 2004 with the opening set for October 2005 in New Orleans. About a month before the new store’s opening was scheduled, Hurricane Katrina hit, and the family and the inventory were forced into Baton Rouge.
The family reopened the dealership in Baton Rouge, selling scooters out of its backyard. In February 2006, New Orleans Vespa reopened in its new facility, and the Baton Rouge location was closed the following December. Quickly, improvements were made.
“The scooter market was getting softer, and we had the opportunity to expand,” Zach Materne recalled.
Triumph was brought on in 2007, and Ducati joined in 2008. In January 2009, the dealership had a grand reopening, changing its name to The Transportation Revolution and revealing its 1,500-square-foot addition.
“I think that we consider really being in business and really getting going for about the past three years,” Materne said.
Over the past few years, the dealership has changed its business model and has had more success. While the dealership continues to sell Vespas, it’s also seeking new opportunities.
“What was not really honed in on in our market was sport bikes,” Materne reported.
Learning that, the dealership began focusing on that market, attending events at a track located about a 1½-hour drive from the dealership. Six months after focusing on the new segment, The Transportation Revolution learned a new motorsports track was being built within 15 minutes of the store.
“We’ve been with them since the beginning stages of the process as kind of their motorcycle consultants on the project,” Materne said. The dealership will have a facility at the NOLA Motorsports Park and will offer performance services.
“My big concern is sales are picking up now and business is picking up, and manufacturers, at least on the European side, are really caught with their pants down with availability,” Materne said. Right now, the dealership is using limited stock to its advantage, telling customers now is the best time to buy. Materne understands that having select models in stock may urge his customers to buy sooner, but it could leave others without a unit. “There’s always that balance with supply and demand,” he explained, “but you want to make sure that you’re not missing any sales.”
Usually the most popular models in New Orleans vary from month to month; however there are some that have seen steady sales. “On the Triumph end … the Thruxton and the Thunderbird have been really hot for us,” Materne said. Also, Ducati’s Multristrada has seen its popularity grow for about a year. “And just this month, I’m seeing sales in the smaller bikes again,” Materne reported. Recently, the dealership sold three Ducati Monsters in five days. In the scooter segment, the Vespa LX150 is moving well.
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
With the economy seeing some upswing, The Transportation Revolution had a record first quarter in sales. “I’m seeing the market come back. I’m seeing more of the regular buyer coming in,” Materne said. His closing ratios have decreased, but Materne said that’s OK because it means the customer he was used to seeing is returning, rather than just the few who want the hottest model immediately.
“It wasn’t a typical buying pattern,” he said of the recent past. Trade-ins have increased over the past year, and riders are looking for the European models. “I’m now seeing the casual rider coming back again, maybe the guy who’s just starting riding again,” Materne reported. “I haven’t seen new riders for a while.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
The parts and service department are co-branded, while the apparel department is separate. Service has begun to focus on performance. A dyno was purchased, and Maxwell Materne and another technician are becoming Level 3 certified for Ducati.
“We’re investing in our people to make sure we can provide these [performance] services for our market,” Zach Materne said. Service promotion has traditionally been pointed only at current customers, but the store is working on bringing in more business. “Now that we’re offering so much more on the performance end, we’re really trying to go after the people that are there on the track days that aren’t on Ducatis,” Materne reported.
P&A is still focused mainly on customers already in the dealership for unit sales or service. “We don’t really advertise that department outside of the store, but … the customers that are here for service, we up-sell them,” Materne said. The apparel department is one the dealership feels it finally has grasped. It has learned what sells and focuses on safety. “We research what looks good on people first of all, and second, what’s safe,” Materne said.
To create excitement around some of the dealership’s latest products, it has begun working with other area businesses. The dealership works with Red Bull, local liquor distributors, restaurants and bars. Those bonds help the businesses by providing cross-promotion, and they give the dealership an opportunity to host successful Ducati unveilings outside the dealership once a year.
“What we like to do is take our customers to places that they’ve never been before outside of our dealership that’s really exclusive,” Materne explained. The off-site location shows how approachable the bikes are and creates added excitement. In March, the dealership hosted a Ducati Diavel unveiling at a new modern high-rise. Those events and other dealership happenings are promoted primarily through social media.
“The social media has really worked well for us the past few years. We’ve really worked the hell out of it,” Materne said. Though the dealership has stopped using most traditional advertising, sales have increased. “We use [social media] to really promote interest in what’s going on in the shop and really personify our staff and show how much fun our customers have here and we have here,” Materne said.
WORDS OF ADVICE
“It’s really important to pay attention to everything,” Materne said. “We’re making every conscientious effort to make sure our staff is very involved with the company. We’re very transparent with our numbers. In our weekly meetings, we’re showing where we’re at every week, for the month and for the year.” Doing so at his dealership has made each employee more accountable for his or her actions for the success of the business. PSB