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Riding together — and staying together

By Kate Swanson

Ohio’s Wheelsports celebrates 40th year

After many years in the business, the Wilson family has seen it all — up years, economic crashes and everything in between. Perhaps one of the keys of the Wilsons’ success is that they are a family of passionate powersports enthusiasts who provide a personal experience for each of their customers.

Established in 1977 by Craig and Wally Wilson, Wheelsports Inc. began as a single-line Husqvarna dealership in Pataskala, Ohio, near Columbus. Wally’s wife Debbie said her husband borrowed money from his dad to get started and opened the dealership with his brother a year after Wally graduated from high school. “It’s the only job my husband has ever had other than working for lawn equipment dealers during high school,” she added.

Wally Wilson raced in the International Six Days Enduro competition for the U.S. from 1981-84, which Debbie Wilson said has had a positive effect on business.

“Because of his activeness and success in racing, that’s what I feel catapulted and kept his business. Lots of people came to visit because he was a Six Days rider vs. visiting with someone who wasn’t that involved in it,” she added.

Owners Wally and Debbie Wilson have sold KTM motorcycles at their Wheelsports, Inc. dealership in Ohio since 1985. Photo courtesy of Wheelsports, Inc.

The dealership added KTM to its offerings in 1985 and in 2002, moved to a brand new 15,000-square-foot building its current location in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. In 2010, Wheelsports was named the winner of KTM’s Best Showroom in North America. “We were very honored to be named it the one year that they offered it. We’re a small shop and we get lots of comments from people that are traveling across the U.S. They come in and 99 percent of the time they walk in and say, ‘Wow. I’ve never been to a KTM dealership that looks like this.’”

Debbie Wilson joined the dealership in the 1990s, helping to sell mowers and lawn equipment while also doing the bookkeeping. She began working full time in the dealership in 2005. Today, after Craig Wilson’s retirement a year ago, the husband-and-wife team runs the dealership. 

“Now that we’re down to just Wally and me, it’s a shared thing, other than he does all the service,” she said. “I tend to do a lot more of the parts counter now. I’ve learned a lot more in the last couple years than I had in probably 10!”

Debbie Wilson, 57, and Wally Wilson, 59, are both still very involved in the motorcycling industry. Wally volunteers with a local AMA club that hosts Enduro races, and the two often participate in bike nights as dealership representatives and as fellow riders. The couple’s children, Heather and Kyle, also ride and grew up going to races with the family. 

Wheelsports currently offers product lines from KTM, Husqvarna and Husaberg, Stihl chainsaws and a wide variety of lawn equipment brands, including Cub Cadet. 

“We mostly focus on the off-road,” said Wilson. “We took on street when KTM began offering those options. That segment has continued to grow.”

To celebrate its years of success, the dealership held a 40th Anniversary Holiday Sale in early December. 

With the year coming to a close, Wilson remains positive about the dealership’s performance in 2017. “It’s been a decent year for us. We’re pretty much on track with where we thought we would be. The motorcycle industry itself has held pretty fast and steady,” said Wilson. 

While the dealership has seen a slight loss of some accessory sales to online competitors over the years, Wilson says that the dealership made the decision to stay small in order to provide optimal service.

“We decided we didn’t want to become a big dealership; we wanted to stay small and personal with everybody. We’ve always had the attitude of ‘I’d rather do one or two brands and do them very well, than carry 10 brands and not offer as good of an experience.’ Having one or two lines, you know a lot more about them and you have in-depth knowledge of stock and parts available,” said Wilson.

Working as a pair seems to have worked wonders for the Wilson husband-wife duo. 

Debbie and Wally Wilson are celebrating 40 years of success with Wheelsports, their Ohio dealership. Photo courtesy of Wheelsports, Inc.

 

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