V-Twin Expo attracts newcomers, repeat dealers
Nobody at V-Twin Expo knows whether Michelle Storts owns and operates a 10,000-square-foot dealership or a gear and accessories store 1/10th that size.
And she fits in perfectly.
That’s why Storts, owner of the 1,000-square-foot Hocking Hills Motorcycle Ranch in Rockbridge, Ohio, will be back in Cincinnati for the sixth consecutive year.
“I’m always looking for something new and different there,” she said.
Storts found from the first time she attended V-Twin Expo upon opening her store — she was a naturalist at the city’s parks department before putting on her gearhead — that she was as welcome as the rest of the dealers in attendance.
“I have the nickname ‘Stalker’ when I go to Cincinnati, because I like to track down all the big-name guys and get my picture taken with them,” she laughed.
Hocking Hills’ location at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains is no laughing matter, however. Helmets, leather and bike accessories take up the bulk of the space inside the store, and Storts hopes to add to that inventory by finding more must-have products in Cincy.
“I started this shop because I got tired of going into dealerships and not finding stuff for real women,” she said. “And I don’t know how to do anything halfway, so I opened the store. It’s not an imposing place to walk into. We’re family friendly. We don’t get into some of the trashy things that you might see at other stores.”
Storts has hired a retired woman to oversee the store on weekends — she still needs to ride — and from the beginning, she’s countered the competition’s hours by being open on Sundays and Mondays.
“When I first started I stayed open seven days a week,” she said. “Then I decided to close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”
Storts, who rides a Road King Classic 250-300 miles a day on her days away from the store, said business was down in 2013, mainly due to a wet spring. But she also found that her profit margins had increased. A conceal carry leather vest, along with AMSOIL products, were her top sellers for the year.
“I always say my shop would be a great reality TV show,” she said. “We’ve got a nice big side porch where everyone comes to hang out. It’s a meeting place here. If I could sell beer I’d be a millionaire. We’re a small store, but people really enjoy stopping by to see us.”
‘Like Christmas for me’
The dyno at L-A Harley-Davidson in Lewiston, Maine, runs daily during the summer months. But being located in a seasonal riding environment forces the dealership to deliver sellable performance packages during the offseason.
That’s why you’ll find Wes Perham, the dealership’s assistant service manager, in attendance at V-Twin Expo.
“It’s like Christmas for me,” said Perham, who oversees the store’s service technicians. “We are a dealership, but we’re also a huge performance shop. It’s a great place to interact with a lot of the people I talk to during the year. You get to talk to the owner or the person that’s fully responsible for answering technical questions.”
From S&S Cycle to SuperTrapp to T-Man Performance to Dynojet to Andrews cams, Perham already had his itinerary planned for Day 1 in Cincy.
“I like to talk to everyone there, really,” he said.
As a performance shop that offers work on motors, cams and heads, L-A Harley-Davidson has found its dyno important to business.
“We’ve had one here since we opened in 2008, and it paid for itself in 13 months,” said Perham, a former mechanic. “We explain to our customers that if you’re going to do motor work and exhaust changes, you’ve got to fine tune it. We use the Screamin’ Eagle from Harley-Davidson and Dynojet’s Power Commander for fuel management systems.
“In some cases when we can’t test ride in the winter, we’ll put the miles on the dyno and get the bike to operating temperature,” he said. “It works well for us.”
A new store, and a new show
Top Gear Powersports opened in 2012 to meet the demands of growing need for apparel, parts and accessories in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. With a customer base that includes both metric and V-twin riders, operations manager Mike Harlow is aiming to enhance the business outlook of the store, located in Roselle, Ill.
“With Dealer Expo no longer in Indianapolis, we thought V-Twin Expo would be a good chance to get a jump on 2014,” he said.
Top Gear (3,300 square feet) sells products from both Parts Unlimited and Tucker Rocky Distributing, but Harlow is aiming to build his Harley clientele.
“That’s what I’ll be doing in Cincinnati, looking for Harley-driven apparel companies and getting more familiar with the core Harley vendors,” he said.
As for the store’s top-selling product in 2013, Harlow said it’s helmets.
“Pretty ironic for not having a helmet law,” he said.
DC Cycle & Racing owner David Crane owns a performance V-twin shop in Red Bay, Ala., on the Mississippi border. He’s making his debut in Cincinnati this year and hopes to go home with a lot of goodies to please his staff of four techs.
Now in its 15th year of operation, DC Cycle specializes in dyno tuning and head work.
“Business, I’ll be honest, has been really good this year. It’s probably double what it normally is,” Crane said. “Cams and dyno work are our number one thing. It seems like every week we’re putting cams in.”
When it comes to oil inventory, Crane’s store is tough to beat. The lineup includes AMSOIL, Screamin’ Eagle, Lucas, Redline, Castrol, Drag Specialties, Bel-Ray and Mobile 1.
Huey will be there. Will you?
What would V-Twin Expo be without Huey Schwebs in the house? The owner of Cleveland Motorcycle Mfg. Co. has been building custom bikes since he was a teen. These days his operation includes custom Harley work, sheet metal fabrication, custom built motors, big bore installation kits, cylinder boring and sleeving and valve jobs.
“I like to go to V-Twin Expo to look for new products, see what the latest trends are in customizing motorcycles, and see what’s available now,” Schwebs said. “I bring my whole crew that works for me. This way everybody can walk around and see what’s available, check out the new products that we can incorporate into our business.”
His crew of eight has found business picking up “a little bit, but it’s still not where it was. It’s a on rebound and coming back,” Schwebs said. “We’re doing a lot more repair work and engine rebuilds, and a little less customization. We’re starting to get into those big wheel dressers more and more. And we’ve seen a lot more people asking about café racers, which is more of a budget consideration for the younger guys. We’re seeing some older Harley restorations, with a lot of people looking to restore old shovelheads and panheads.”