Founder J.R. Kelley left his footprint on show
When dealers see KK Motorcycle Supply’s booth at Dealer Expo this year, the company’s presence will be a familiar sight. KK Motorcycle Supply has exhibited at each of the 45 Dealer Expos, and the company founder was involved in the show before it even became what dealers see today.
J.R. Kelley founded KK Motorcycle Supply in 1959, after working for 13 years at his father’s Triumph, BSA and Indian dealership in Dayton, Ohio, following a stint in World War II. KK Motorcycle Supply slowly started securing product from a variety of aftermarket manufacturers, including Beck/Arnley. In fact, Kelley bought $12,000 worth of parts from Beck/Arnley for his first shipment.
“Every item I bought I knew I would sell, and the dealers supported me,” Kelley said in a January interview with Powersports Business.
Kelley was a flat track racer, which helped him make connections with a lot of dealers. The dealers would support him with their orders, and he made sure everything he did helped their businesses.
“The business just zoomed,” he recalled.
Soon KK Motorcycle Supply also became a Webco distributor, and it was that relationship that brought Kelley directly into the path of Dealer Expo.
“Some time in the ’60s, Webco wanted me to come out to California and see a first annual motorcycle magazine show. They were putting on a show at Disneyland, and I went out to view the show. It was very small, but very good,” Kelley said.
A year or two after the first show, Bob Bagnall and Larry Hester, founders of Motorcycle Dealer News, told Kelley that they planned to bring the event to the East Coast.
“I said, ‘When you come back East, I’d buy a booth,’ and they came back, and I’ve had a booth in every show they’ve had since then, since the ’60s,” Kelley reported.
Bagnall and Hester brought their dealer show to Cincinnati, and Kelley took advantage of the move, which placed the show only an hour’s drive away from his company’s headquarters. For four years, Kelley threw a big party for his dealers and others in the industry at the Netherland Hotel in Cincinnati. Bagnall and Hester took notice, and one year donated $1,000 to the party. A few years later, they took it over.
“I did it to entertain the accounts, and so many of the other distributors came to the party. Then [Bagnall and Hester] took over the party because it got too expensive for me to do,” Kelley recalled.
As the modern-day Dealer Expo gained traction, it moved from Cincinnati to Columbus, Ohio, and on to Pittsburgh before returning to Cincinnati and eventually finding a home in Indianapolis, Kelley said.
“At first, we used to sell up to $100,000 worth of merchandise at the dealer shows, but then at the later shows, it got to be so much competition and so much price cutting that the show changed, and it changed our course that we just entertained dealers. The times just changed, and competition changed,” Kelley said.
But he’s glad the show has stuck around, and his company still has a presence at Dealer Expo. Health issues eventually led Kelley, a 1999 AMA Hall of Fame inductee, to retire. For a time, Tim Wourms ran KK Motorcycle Supply. Now members of the Kelley family are again at the helm, with J.R.’s son Pat serving as president, and his grandson Bryan taking over the role as vice president.
“It’s still a family-run company,” Bryan Kelley said.
Bryan reports that KK Motorcycle Supply is now only one of two companies that have been exhibiting at Dealer Expo each year throughout its 45-year history, a streak he’s glad to see continue in 2012.
“We have a lot of history, and it’s neat that we’ve been a part of it for so long. For me, it’s cool that my grandfather started it all, and we’re three generations now going to it,” he said.
As a member of the KK Motorcycle Supply family, Bryan attended Dealer Expo on a few occasions as a child and young adult. Since he joined the company in 2009, he has attended each year as a KK Motorcycle Supply representative.
He has seen, over the years, the same trend that his grandfather witnessed. “There’s not as much order-taking going on now. It’s more about the meet-and-greet,” he said.
But he’s still glad to attend each year, even if they show’s more aimed at providing a little bit of that face time that his grandfather enjoyed for decades.
“It’s nice for me to meet the customers that our sales reps talk to every day and put a face with the name of the dealership,” he said.
KK Motorcycle Supply’s main goals while at Dealer Expo are to find more dealer customers, reconnect with longtime customers and find new products to carry.
J.R. Kelley hopes that KK Motorcycle Supply will be able to continue its presence in the future, as long as the dealers continue to be supported.
“As long as you protect the motorcycle dealers, motorcycling will be strong,” he said. “What worries me right now is all these, whatever you call them, mail order businesses that are coming in, and every time they sell something, they hurt the motorcycle dealers, and if you hurt the motorcycle dealer, you have no motorcycling.”
After all, Kelley built his business on supporting dealers, and he knows his family and KK Motorcycle Supply’s employees will continue that tradition he started decades ago.
KK Motorcycle Supply offers Avon promotion at Indy
After 45 years of displaying at Dealer Expo, KK Motorcycle Supply is taking a different approach this year. Instead of driving over from Dayton, Ohio, with an assortment of product that will already be on display at the manufacturers’ booths, KK Motorcycle Supply will be focusing more on signage and promotions to draw orders from new and longtime dealers alike.
The key promotion the company is offering is an Avon Tyres special. KK Motorcycle Supply will be offering discounts on Avon Tyres, and for each tire ordered until the end of March, dealers will get an entry into a drawing taking place in April for a two-day ride with Pat and Bryan Kelley, owners of KK Motorcycle Supply. The ride will run from Virginia to North Carolina on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it will include stops for photo opportunities, food and drinks and stays at motels along the parkway. An entry bonus will be offered for dealers ordering their tires at Dealer Expo.
KK Motorcycle Supply will also be offering savings on brands such as Yuasa, NGK, All Balls bearings, 6th Gear, Dunlop Tires, RK Excel and Bel-Ray.
In 2012, KK Motorcycle Supply is also looking to enhance its Dealer Portal and add more products into its lineup.