Features

A business on the roll

Mobile service shops bring technician to customer

By LIZ HOCHSTEDLER
ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Some riders are too busy to stop. When their motorcycle breaks down, they’re at a loss because they don’t have time to drop the bike off at a dealership or service shop, and they can’t find a friend who is free to give them a ride back home.

Seeing this trend and learning from their customers’ needs, some small service business are going mobile, moving their shops into trailers and bringing the entire business to each customer’s door. Two men say the business model has worked well for them, and one says dealers could consider on-the-go service as well.

Matt Sanna’s Mobile Cycle Service out of southern California was born from a concept Sanna envisioned while he was unemployed. In 2005, he had lost his job after working more than 20 years in computer field service. He then bought a new motorcycle and started contemplating his future.

Before long, he stumbled onto his new enterprise. Sanna brought his motorcycle to be serviced, and the work wasn’t performed to his liking. Though he had no background as a motorcycle technician, Sanna knew that with his technical aptitude and a lifetime of experience with motorcycles, he could become a tech himself. But he wanted to run his own business while having little to no overhead.

“I basically kind of dreamed up the idea that I could do service on a mobile basis because I know taking a bike to a shop can take really long,” Sanna said.

Larry Hagberg, owner of Mobile Motorcycle Repair in Emerson, N.J., also started his business out of necessity — not because he needed a job, but because he needed to relocate the shop he already owned.

“My garage is collapsing, and out of necessity, I had to find either another place, or I had to come up with another idea to make ends meet, and going mobile seemed to be the way to go,” he said.

On the road
Both men operate their businesses similarly. Each owns a trailer with equipment inside. They both take requests from customers and then service the bikes at the customers’ homes.

Sanna’s appointments come from customers calling or submitting requests through an online form that’s forwarded to his Blackberry. He then tries to call each customer back in 5-10 minutes to assure the customer of a spot in his schedule.

Hagberg receives his requests through phone calls, text messages or his website.

Advertisement

“Usually I set up first-come, first served for the following week,” he said.

He owns a 22-foot trailer that features a lift, compressors and a battery tester. Some of his diagnostic equipment also has cameras on the end, so Hagberg can show his customers their bikes’ issues on a TV screen before making the repair. The whole system is run on four marine batteries.

Sanna’s trailer is similar, featuring a lift, a generator, mobile power and air conditioning. He uses his attached truck to run for parts when necessary.

“I can put their bike into the trailer, and if I need to get parts, then I can leave the bike and the trailer in the location, so they don’t get suspicious that I’m taking their bike,” he explained.

Parts can be a tricky part of the business. Hagberg has been working to get manufacturers and distributors to recognize his mobile business, but so far only has Interstate Batteries and AMSOIL on board.

“That’s the big problem that I have right now,” he said. “Some of the [major distributors], they’re looking for a storefront, so I’m working through a middle man right now.”

Sanna buys most of his parts from area Harley-Davidson dealers, as most of his work is on V-twins.
“I keep a minimum inventory, again to keep my overhead down, but I have relationships with all the local Harley-Davidson dealers. I’m already established with them,” he said.

Sanna’s relationship with the local dealers allows him to purchase parts for his business from them, while they refer older bikes that require different expertise to Sanna. When Sanna is in the dealerships, he refuses to take customers’ questions, asking them to call his number later rather than dealing with them while still on the dealership premises.

“I try to be very forthright and honest with the dealership,” he said.

Most jobs that the two technicians complete take less than five hours. On average, Hagberg services about five bikes per day. The longest he remembers working on a bike was four hours, and he’s only left two unfinished. One unfinished bike was left because the owner had to leave after only a few issues were fixed. Hagberg returned later to finish the repairs. Another bike was older than Hagberg himself, and the repairs were too complicated. That customer was not charged, and he was referred to another shop.

“I have no problem telling someone that I can’t do a repair,” Hagberg said.

Sanna takes his more complicated jobs home with him.

“For many jobs I would actually pick up the customer’s motorcycle and do the job at my home, especially engine work or transmission work,” he explained. “What I try to focus on is at most a four- to five-hour job in the trailer. For long-term jobs — transmission, engine rebuilds — I would actually pick up the bike and do that at home in my after hours.”

Making it work
So far, the businesses have worked out well for both. Sanna, who started his shop in 2005, originally wanted to turn the concept into a franchise. He envisioned independent techs running mobile shops throughout the area, but that idea dissolved when he found recent tech school grads with whom he dealt lacked customer service skills and often struggled with older bikes. But his own shop stays busy, especially as he markets to telecommuters and those with flexible work schedules, like local firefighters, police officers and paramedics.

“They like the convenience because if you’re going to take the bike to the shop, you’re going to have to have someone follow you and pick you up,” he said.

Though Hagberg just went mobile in March, he’s already had to scale back where he will travel to in order to keep the jobs at a manageable number.

“I do a strong, steady business, and I have a decent customer base, and it keeps growing everyday, so I had to limit the distance,” he said.

Because Hagberg had the tools in his shop already, the business wasn’t too expensive to launch. If someone wanted to start from scratch, he estimates it would cost $36,000-$40,000. However, if dealers wanted one of their technicians to go mobile, Hagberg believes it’s possible, if they keep their overhead in mind.

“It depends on the dealer,” Hagberg said. “I’m sure they could do it if the dealer really wanted to.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button