Russian manufacturer finding its target market
In the nearly two years that Chuck Schram has been VP of sales and dealer development for IMZ-Ural, he has become all too familiar with UDF timing. It’s not a mechanical device, however. It’s Ural Delay Factor. That means that a 10-minute trip to the grocery store turns into a 25-minute journey after he answers a slew of questions from interested passersby. (“Wherever you go, people stop you and ask how old it is. It’s brand new. Oh, where can I get one?”)
There’s no question that 2013 figures to be another growth year for the Russia-based manufacturer of sidecar motorcycles. The past two years, in fact, have seen over 30 percent year-over-year sales growth. Schram, who built his career with an eight-year run at Polaris before moving on to Piaggio/Vespa and Vectrix, spent some time with Powersports Business to shed some light on that success.
PSB: What’s the state of Ural in 2013?
CS: We see 2013 growth to continue to be at least 30 percent. Ural offers a new entry and re-entry into motorcycling. We offer adventure and the joy or riding to all demographics. A Ural speaks to those who have been motorcyclists in teh past, and it attracts new motorcyclists, male and female. Ural allows a broader experience, one motorcycle for multiple experiences and riders. Motorcycle dealers around the country are listening and looking at the opportunities that Ural has for their business and their customer.
PSB: Any markets that have been surprising to you?
CS: What we’re really seeing now is families. This is a great way to get families into the sport of motorcycling at an inexpensive price. You can get the husband, wife, dog, kids — get in the sidecar and away you go. It’s just a blast. What other motorcycle can offer this opportunity?
PSB: What was your attraction to joining Ural?
CS: It’s a niche market and small company that gives me the opportunity to build a really profitable, growing company. That’s what I loved about it. The Ural team is very customer-focused. They work night and day to make a great product. They strive for quality and consistency. In the late 1990s it wasn’t much of a bike, but since the new ownership took over in 2002, the bike has changed dramatically. Now it comes with a bumper-to-bumper two-year warranty with unlimited mileage. It has Brembo brakes, Ducati ignition, Herzog gears in the transmission and timing — the same gears you’ll find in BMW and Triumph just to name a few of the high quality parts that make up the Ural. The dealers love the changes.
PSB: How is the dealer footprint shaping up?
CS: We’re growing by 25 world-class dealers a year. We set our sights on dealers who understand their market and customers, and know how to sell. They understand what Ural can provide for them in their market. They know it’s not going to be their main line, but that it will be a very profitable addition to their store, giving them a very, very nice return on their invested money.
PSB: OK, how fast does it really go?
CS: If you’re looking for a bike that’s going to do 80-90 mph down the freeway, it’s not your bike. The Ural sidecar bike will do 63-68 mph, while the Ural Solo will move along at 75-80 mph. My saying is ‘Enjoy the adventure of the journey.’
PSB: You mentioned that in its heyday, Ural produced 3.2 million motorcycles annually, and that number dropped to 130,000 per year in the late 1990s. What’s the plant like today?
CS: It’s operating at 100 percent capacity, and we’re selling through our allocations usually a month or two ahead of schedule, which keeps inventory in high demand and lean. That’s good and bad; good because the bikes are selling at a rapid pace, bad because the customer may want a particular bike and the dealer doesn’t have it so the customer will have to wait to get it. But that’s a good problem to have.
PSB: What’s ahead?
CS: When I went to work for them, I asked Ural where they want to be in five years. And their answer was to grow larger profitability, but yet stay small as a company. They want to stay in touch with the dealers through excellent communication and focus on great customer service. With the large manufacturers thsi can be tough at times. Our longterm goal is to have 150 world-class dealers strategically located in major markets.
PSB: What kind of margins are Ural bikes generating?
CS: Ural is a profitable line. The majority of our dealers generate an 18 percent gross profit before freight and setup. Selling as few as 10 times a year, dealers can make a nice profit and return on investment.