By Neil Pascale
In 1998, the part owner of Sportique Scooters believes he could have counted the number of scooter-only shops around the nation on one hand. Maybe two.
Today, Adam Baker probably needs both hands to count just the local competition for his Colorado-based, scooter-only retail outlets.
Further west, SF Moto owner Eric Halladay knows of at least four scooter-only shops within the San Francisco area.
Even in Boise, Idaho — not exactly a known scooter hotbed — competition is heating up.
Clearly, the scooter-only dealership has transformed in the United States from the street corner repair shop to a new, growing business entity. Retail outlets that focus primarily on selling new scooters, plus providing service and parts and accessories, could number in the couple of hundred, if not more, industry sources tell Powersports Business.
Peter Warrick has seen the transformation first-hand. The owner of three — soon to be four — scooter stores in Florida and Georgia first got into the business in the early 1970s by opening a Vespa dealership. During the next 30 years his stores’ primary focus has changed from selling new units to repairing current or vintage models to again selling new units.
“I think the potential is enormous,” Warrick, the owner of Scooter Superstore, said about the segment’s future. “What I’m seeing is a trend for anybody and everybody to come up with alternative transportation, especially in the 3-5 mile range of what their travels are.”
That traveling by scooter is not just occurring in the big metro areas either, as Kitty Smith could attest. The part owner of Scooters of Boise has seen new unit sales increase each year since the store opened almost four years ago. Maybe because of the success of the store, which carries KYMCO, SYM and Genuine among other brands, two other scooter-only shops have opened within five miles of the downtown Boise store.
“It’s the people who have the SUVs that don’t want to put gas in them, that’s who is buying the scooters,” Smith said of her growing clientele. That customer base, split evenly between men and women, has been noticed by manufacturers, who no longer merely count on large metropolitan areas for scooter sales.
“You’re seeing a lot more mid-sized cities that are moving along very nicely with the two-wheel line,” said Bruce Ramsey, KYMCO’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Ramsey saw the transformation start around 2000 when such dealerships went from being mostly vintage scooter shops that were doing restoration and parts and service to doing more and more new unit sales. “They really took off in the past four-five years,” Ramsey said.
That’s about the time when Baker of Sportique Scooters began alerting area motorcycle dealers that his shop was seeking scooter repair business.
“We dropped our business cards off at the motorcycle shops because they didn’t like working on scooters,” Baker said. “They hated it; some of them still do.”
By welcoming the scooter service work, Baker and Co. also invited a diverse consumer group. The tactic evidently has worked as the dealership now has four locations.
“Motorcycles have a very clear and distinct image in people’s minds,” Baker said. “There’s the Harley guy; there’s the sport bike guy; there’s the BMW guy. The problem with having such a distinct image is it does two things: It either makes you popular because people are looking for an identity or it makes you unpopular with people that already have an identity and don’t want to buy into another one.”
Halladay of SF Moto actually has been able to take advantage of the two separate segments, motorcycles and scooters.
“It’s a really tough market,” he said of the San Francisco area, which he says has 16 different powersports dealerships. “You have to find your niche and carve it out and expand it as much as you possibly can. Find the things that are working for you that nobody else is capitalizing on and really drive that market as far as you can.”
For Halladay, that means converting some of his scooter clientele into preowned motorcycle buyers or turning his lower-displacement scooter owners onto a higher-displacement SYM, one of the more popular brands he carries.
How best to find and attract those consumers into his store is something Halladay continues to work on.
“I’m still trying to unlock that box,” he said. “The buyers are all over the board.”
Warrick of Scooter Superstore agrees.
“I have to tell you, it’s wide open,” he said of his buyer demographics, which range from the 86-year-old Vespa owner to the 16-year-old teenager.
While narrowing down a buyer demographic to effectively market to them might be one of this group’s biggest challenges, it doesn’t seem to be something much of the rest of the industry is coping with — declining new unit sales. As Smith of Scooters of Boise said, “As long as gas prices keep going up, this is going to be a good business.”
A dealer transformation
By Neil Pascale