By Matt Bolch
Few scooter dealers can claim the longevity that Peter Warrick has in the industry. He opened a Vespa dealership in Fort Lauderdale in 1972, where he sold as many as 600 scooters a year until Vespa pulled out of the American market. Warrick later sold Yamaha scooters and used models and then was a scooter repair shop for many years until the scooter business picked back up.
Warrick now owns dealerships in Hollywood, Fla., in-town Atlanta, the Atlanta suburb of Duluth and soon will open the fourth Scooter Superstore of America showroom in Gainesville, Fla.
“I remember a time in South Florida in 1985 on a stretch of road where I saw 10 scooters and one motorcycle in a row,” Warrick said. “When I started in this business, I said I wouldn’t stop until every other thing I saw on the road was scooter. I’m still working on it, but we’re getting closer and closer.”
During the past few years, scooter-only stores have popped up around the country, led by the resurgence of Vespa and Piaggio brands. Warrick carries Vespas in every store but the Hollywood location, where the Vespa franchise went to another dealer. Depending on location, the Scooter Superstore also stocks scooters from Genuine, KYMCO, TGB, Daelim, Aprilia and Moto Guzzi motorcycles.
“Sales have been excellent, getting better by the day,” Warrick said. “The whole concept behind the Scooter Superstore is that we cater to the scooter customer. You don’t go into a steakhouse and order fish.”
Scooter sales also are hard to peg by demographic, notes Bob Hedstrom, general manager of Scooterville Minnesota, located in Minneapolis. “The core demographic is from 30 (years-old) to 65, evenly split between men and women,” Hedstrom said. “Buyers in the category are hard to pin down, but a lot of sales are around commuting.”
Hedstrom says sales of the Vespa, Piaggio, Genuine and KYMCO models the store stocks increased about 20 percent each last year. But so far this year, sales have skyrocketed and could be up 50 percent if current trends continue, he adds. Part of the reason, Hedstrom says, is that the store moved from a somewhat remote location on the end of a gravel road into a higher-visibility location in October.
Until recently, 50cc scooters comprised 70 percent of the dealership’s sales, but the phenomenal success of the Genuine Buddy 125 is bringing those numbers closer together. “I kiddingly describe the Buddy as a license to print money,” Hedstrom says. “People are sold before they enter the store. It’s the reason they go and get a motorcycle endorsement.”
AllPro Powersports in Ontario, Calif., opened four years ago after several years of selling powersports equipment on eBay, says Evelyn Acosta, manager. The store doesn’t sell on the Internet anymore, stocking units from Tank Sports, Bajaj, KYMCO, Barron, CF Moto and Hyosung. The Bajaj has been a particular good seller with its two-year parts and labor warranty. However, the Indian manufacturer is pulling out of the American market, which will make remaining models collectors’ items, Acosta says.
Value, quality service key
Customers are looking for good value, a good warranty and sales incentives, Acosta adds. Bajaj models have a two-year parts and labor warranty, and Tank has a three-year parts warranty. Hyosung offers $300 off retail for students over 18, those in the military and people who take a motorcycle safety course, Acosta says. KYMCO often runs zero-down, zero-payment offers or special financing rates to entice customers.
Sales at Vespa Portland were up slightly volume-wise last year, aided greatly by the Genuine Buddy, notes Justin Fisher, owner. “Vespa/Piaggio models sell well, but Genuine really kicks (tail),” said Fisher. “The value proposition of the Buddy just can’t be beat. In a model year or two, I believe Genuine will be my best-seller.”
By May 1, Fisher is relocating his downtown Portland dealership a short distance, renaming the store Joyrides and adding snowboards to the product mix as a counter-seasonal item. “I’d been looking for a winter business for five years,” Fisher said. “I just took up snowboarding, and my first time out, a light went on inside my head.”
The showroom will feature 2,000 square feet of snowboard displays and 8,000 square feet for scooters. “We have three other scooter specialty shops in town and large powersports dealers that sell scooters, but we’re the only one downtown,” Fisher said. “We cater to urban density folks and concentrate on service. Everyone who works here is a scooter enthusiast, instead of being a motorcycle guy who has to sell a scooter.”
David Meyer was in the used and wholesale car business in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in 2006 when his daughter suggested he add Vespa scooters to increase visibility. She was living in Seattle and saw many scooters on city streets. He dismissed the idea at first but did his due diligence months later and discovered no other Vespa dealers in the immediate area.
After adding scooters to the showroom in September 2006, Meyer sold a half-dozen or so in October and November before selling three dozen in December. Meyer was hooked, selling his auto inventory in April and picking up the Moto Guzzi and Aprilia franchises, too. He calls the dealership “a boutique stocked with bling” in a showroom that features 100 scooters and lots of accessories.
Last year, Vespa Thousand Oaks sold 274 units and became a top 10 Vespa dealer in its first year in business. Already, Meyer says one-half of sales come from repeat and referral business. He believes 2008 will be another stellar year, as high fuel prices and increased awareness of scooters come together.
Meyer is beginning to catch the bug that has infected Warrick from the Scooter Superstore for nearly four decades. “If you’re not passionate about motorscooters, you’re not going to be successful,” Warrick said. “You can’t rely on your importer or distributor to do it for you; you’re an independent businessperson first.
“I sleep, drink and eat scooters,” Warrick said.