Once snow starts flying and temperatures drop below freezing in the northern part of the U.S., most motorcyclists trade their two wheels for four, and earning profit in a motorcycle-centric dealership’s service department is deemed nearly impossible.
But Power 15 dealership House of Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee has found a solution to the nagging problem of earning winter service — indoor storage. By offering storage and encouraging service of stored bikes over the winter, the dealership has increased its service department profits and kept it’s staff of 9½ techs busy throughout the year.
“Unless the service department actively seeks out opportunities to develop business, it will be a long, hard winter,” House of Harley president John Schaller said.
House of Harley starts encouraging winter storage as early as August. The dealership sends mailers to its customers, advertises the service on its website and mentions it in-store.
“From August forward, the service writers are pushing the service storage business, and we’ve also given them better training as well to make them better salespeople,” Schaller said.
The bikes are stored in a secured off-site warehouse. Before each bike heads into storage, it receives a 30-point inspection and pre-storage fuel system treatment. In the spring, the staff charges and load tests the battery, washes the bike and gives it a final test ride and inspection. Besides charging $199 for storage, the dealership offers pick up and delivery starting at $49.
“We’ll do pick-ups and deliveries, which after the snow flies is a big deal,” Schaller said.
But the biggest winner for the service department is the $700 of winter repairs the dealership averages on each bike. To encourage winter service, the dealership waives the storage fee for any customer spending $1,000 on parts and service.
“We make money in our service department, and I don’t know that there are many Harley dealers that have profitable service departments, especially in the winter,” Schaller said.
Service is an integral department at the House, and Schaller said it remains that way because of its “world-class service manager and assistant service managers.”
In addition to the winter program, House of Harley also offers an Express Lane, which started as a Harley pilot program.
“If a person brings a bike in by 2 o’clock, and we think it’s less than two hours of work, we’ll have it to them same day, so it’s eliminated the two or three week waits we had in the summer,” Schaller explained.
Express Lanes aren’t for every dealer, but Schaller credits his staff for his dealership being able to offer the service.
“It really requires really, really skillful work by the service writers, so we know where everyone is, so we can get the work done,” he said.
The dealership has a 3-to-1 tech-to-writer ratio, and six of its techs are master technicians. With little turnover, the department runs like the well-oiled machines they work on.
“There’s a significant level of competency, and they’re all good guys we haven’t lost. In the last eight years, I think we lost one tech that we didn’t want to leave,” Schaller said, adding that the only staff member who left did so because of his wife’s career.
Schaller points to his winter storage program as key to keeping staff on hand, as they stay busy enough in the winter to avoid layoffs or hour cuts. His service department, he says, is important to keeping the entire dealership in business.
“I’ve always thought the second sale to a customer is really made by the service department,” he said. “Unless we’re going to take care of customers in the service department, they’ll go somewhere else to get their bike.”