BLUE RIDGE HARLEY-DAVIDSON
2002 13th Avenue Drive SE
Hickory, NC 28602
30,000-sq.-ft. dealership founded in the mid-1970s by the Livingston family and purchased by Kibby and Jim Albright in July 2002. Five miles from original location (still in the town of Hickory). Carries Harley-Davidson and Buell. 40 employees. “My husband and I were owners of radio stations up north,” says Kibby Albright, vice president of internal operations. “We were relocating to Florida-looking for a company with maybe two other employees-when this opportunity came up.”
Albright says her greatest concern is sustaining the level of interest in motorcycling. “People are just enamored of the Harley-Davidson lifestyle. It's important to encourage new groups of people to enter into the industry, to embrace it; people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.” Since the Rider's Edge training program is one way to attract new riders, is Blue Ridge involved? “To some degree, and we have plans in the near future to become a lot more involved.” Meanwhile, the dealership refers customers to the North Carolina-run program, held at two community colleges in the area.
“On January 3 of this year-for the first time in the history of the Motor Company that I know of-Harley-Davidson decreased production of Softails and increased production of touring bikes,” says Charlie Lewis, general sales manager. “What that says to me is, guys used to care more about what they looked like, and now they care more about what they ride like.” In general, Blue Ridge sells many touring bikes, with the Road King being particularly hot. “The XL1200 Custom Sportster has been a huge seller, too,” says Lewis. “In parts and accessories, the big items are windshields, wheels, backrests, and all sorts of chrome. There again, the market trend was that nobody had a windshield; now 90% of bikes do.” While Blue Ridge does have a dedicated chrome consultant, “My staff and I also do that. We're at the very top in the southeastern region for accessories per bike, averaging $2,500 per unit. And we don't front-load them; we sell a customer a stock bike first. Also, we're doing a lot of performance work, installing 95-inch kits and head stroker kits.”
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
Albright says the typical Blue Ridge customer is in his or her 40s. “The typical customer knows what they want. Many customers are returning to riding because their children are out of college or their home is paid off. They have more leisure time; motorcycling was something they did 25 years ago, and they just couldn't wait to get back into it again. We have a really great base of women customers as well. The Catawba Valley-Hickory NC Harley Owners Group meets here, and we have an active Ladies of Harley group within the chapter. This is just a wonderful riding community, and many people rider year-'round because of our milder climate.”
Albright says the top issue in North Carolina “is in line with what the industry itself is experiencing: noise via loud pipes. Harley-Davidson recently sent literature for us to display. We're making their countertop piece a user-friendly size, then mailing it out to our customers.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
Blue Ridge has six parts salespeople and 10 folks in service (including seven full-time technicians). “One of our techs has been with the dealership since 1981, and another for more than 10 years,” says Albright. “We have several at the PhD level.” The dealership is open seven days per week. “If we receive a phone call at closing and someone has broken down, we arrange for the service they need, whether it's towing or getting them to a hotel.” The dealership also has a Power Commander tuning center, which enables it to enroll customers in the “100 Horsepower Club.”
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Albright came from a marketing background. “So we use a mix of advertising: billboards, electronic (radio and TV), print, and sponsorships through poker runs. When we acquired the dealership, we immediately immersed ourselves in the community, as we did up north with our businesses there. I accepted anything that we were invited to do, simply because we were new to the business and the community. We also want to give back because this community has welcomed us with open arms. Hickory has been extremely supportive of the dealership, us, and our new location. In 2004, we won the Small Business of the Year award from the Chamber of Commerce. This had not been accomplished before by a company that had been in business for such a short time.” The Albrights used the building itself to help cement that relationship. “It looks like a lodge and has a lot of local craftsmanship. We dismantled a barn from Charleston, S.C., and put the wood on a very tall wall. Then a local artist recreated the bar and shield in paint with an antique look. We've had several murals painted; there's a scene of the Blue Ridge Mountains in our customer lounge. And we used reclaimed lumber for part of the showroom floor.” The dealership has a 2,000-sq.-ft. deck under roof, and the parking lot is level with an 8,000-sq.-ft. porch. “Our customers can ride their motorcycles right up under the covered porch, where we hold all our events. Weather permitting, on weekends we have cookouts with a DJ or a two-piece band. We get a lot of interstate travelers who first see the building and wonder what it is, then see the bar and shield pole sign.” The dealership attracts international visitors; a rental program may be slated for the future.
WORDS OF ADVICE
“Focus on your goals, support the industry, and give your customers the best service-the kind that you would want to receive,” advises Albright. “You can have the most beautiful dealership and the best stock of bikes, but if you fail your guests with poor customer service-if they don't feel they have had a good experience in your store-you've lost more than a sale. It begins and ends with excellent customer service. We were named a Silver Bar and Shield dealership for 2004, which we worked very hard for. We've been very blessed by community support, and our customer geographic range just keeps growing. A lot of that has to do with our staff members, who know how we stress the customer service angle. That includes greeting them within 10 seconds of entering, and determining their needs-especially new riders. It's tough to maintain that level of customer service, but we do. The key is our employees. They're on the front line, and who people see first.”
- Julie Filatoff