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Growing from online to brick-and-mortar

By Dave McMahon

Former Internet-only dealer moves into ex-Saturn dealership in Chicago

Haider Saba admits that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and he’s concocted his business plan accordingly.

Free shipping of pre-owned motorcycles to anywhere in the continental U.S.? Check. A money-back guarantee on those same used bikes? Check. Online advertising exclusively? Check.

Saba is owner of iMotorsports in Chicago, a dealership that until recently sold pre-owned bikes out of a warehouse in the Chicago area. Now, Saba has decided to up the ante and formed his own brick-and-mortar dealership on Grand Ave.

“We do stuff that I haven’t even heard of in the industry,” Saba said. “It’s just part of our business model. It’s not cheap, and it’s definitely not free. We don’t want to be your next door mom and pop motorcycle shop. We’re looking to do things on a national scale. We have out-of-state customers who have already bought multiple motorcycles from us.”

Saba and his business partner, Tim Walter, are both 32. They’ve been friends since childhood, with Saba serving as Walter’s best man in his wedding.

“He brings the business side. He’s an account and business major by degree,” Saba said. “I know the industry real well. It’s a perfect match. It’s been a really good match as far as the business goes.”

The 15-employee operation became incorporated in 2009 and opened for business in 2010. Saba was fresh off stints working at dealerships in the area, first as a PDI guy at Schaumburg Honda-Suzuki as a 17-year-old high school student, and later at a Kawasaki-Yamaha store before he was laid off.

iMotorsports business partners Haider Saba (right) and Tim Walter bring complementary skills sets as they aim to make the dealership a national player in the sale of pre-owned motorcycles.

iMotorsports business partners Haider Saba (right) and Tim Walter bring complementary skills sets as they aim to make the dealership a national player in the sale of pre-owned motorcycles.

Those transactions led to the two of them using eBay in 2001 to buy and sell bikes out of a garage.

“This was pre-Craigslist, and back when Cycle Trader was print. We started using eBay and saw huge potential,” Saba said. “But it was a hobby that we did for about a year.”

Saba became a lender at a bank, and Walter had also taken a new job. Fast forward to 2009, when the two revisited the idea of selling the bikes on a massive scale.

“We started talking again and agreed that we wanted to give it a shot, full-blown,” Saba said. “We got some private investors for loans, no equity, and we opened a 2,400 square-foot building with 20-25 used bikes.”

It’s a business model that has some sheen to it, as the company is experiencing an impressive average year-over-year growth rate over its five riding seasons.

“It’s 100 percent used business, and last year we did $3.6 million in sales — no parts or accessories then because we weren’t in the new building yet,” Saba said. “Now we do have a full parts, apparel and service department, and we’re aiming to sell 500 used bikes this year.”

Saba uses extensive photos and videos to market the bikes, which will continue to be important now that the business has moved into a 25,000 square-foot former Saturn dealership in Elmhust, sandwiched between a Honda car dealership and Buick/GMC store. The front showroom has added PG&A to go along with bikes, and the expansive service department in the back of the store now holds the bulk of the bike inventory. Saba said he likes to keep 200 bikes in stock.

“We’re the largest independent dealership in the state, and I think only Road Track & Trail is bigger than us in the Midwest,” he said. “But we’re only doing bikes. If we get the unit at the right price, we’re going to make money. The hardest part is getting the units. We have to go get them and get them right.”

Saba said he uses “a ton of different avenues” to build his inventory (all on-road), including other dealerships, car dealers, wholesalers, and advertising that they buy bikes. The range of bikes is extensive, and including metric, Harley-Davidson, European, and whatever else Saba can acquire.

“Sport bikes fly out of here. The used sport bike market has always been strong for us. We had 88 used sport bikes for sale when I checked the other day, 22 R6s,” he said. “With the market for the used stuff, there’s a buyer for everything. A guy might come in with awful credit but he just got his tax return and says ‘What do you got?’ We cater to everybody.”

A recent check of his online credit applications attested to that.

Previously an online-only retailer, iMotorsports in Chicago moved into a former Saturn dealership and added PG&A and service to its offerings.

Previously an online-only retailer, iMotorsports in Chicago moved into a former Saturn dealership and added PG&A and service to its offerings.

“We do a lot of financing, and from Saturday at 4 when we closed to Monday we had 17 new credit apps,” he said. “The problem is motorcycle lending is hard. There are a lack of banks that do it, and definitely a lack of sub-prime banks that do it. The demo for beginning riders getting into the market is young kids with a lack of credit, or bad credit.”

A year-round layaway program has grown from its initial adoption as a winter-only option.

“The demand is there all year long,” Saba said. “You get someone who sees the bike that’s right for them, but maybe they’re waiting for a CD to come due, and it’s going to be another 45-60 days and they don’t want to miss out on the bike. They can do layaway.”

The new building will bring an additional revenue stream via the service department. Three service techs handle five lifts, and Saba aims to increase the tech count to six full-time employees.

“Our techs stay busy because of our motorcycles in general, but now that we’re a retail location, it’s a whole new animal,” he said.

Saba pays for shipping of bikes that he buys from out of state customers, as well as to ship bikes that customers buy. Strong relationships in the logistics industry have allowed him to keep those fees under control.

“Insurance is up and the DOT is pounding on people. And there are less companies doing it, so they raised their fees for brokers,” Saba said. “I have four or five guys who let me know where they’re going to see if I need any bikes picked up or dropped off. But yes, the cost of transporting is up right now, compared to six months ago.”

iMotorsports held a grand opening celebration at its new location on June 28. Pro sportbike freestyle rider Clint Ewing put on show with stoppies, drifts, burnouts, wheelies and stalls on a van.

The dealership offered $500 off all motorcycles and 20 percent off of parts and accessories. Giveaways included T-shirts, flashlights, stickers, Dunlop tire coupons and more.

“We are very happy with our new home in Elmhurst. It’s an easily accessible location in a great, welcoming community,” Saba commented.”


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