Power Profiles

Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson/Buell – Thiensville, WI – June 2, 2003

139 North Main
Thiensville, Wisc., 53092

Wayne Houpt

35,000-sq.-ft. dealership founded in 1975. At present location since 1986. Carries Harley-Davidson and Buell. 55 employees.

“I feel that, in this area, the industry is completely sound; there’s not going to be any downturn, even after the 100th anniversary celebration,” says Rich Johnson, general manager, who joined the dealership five years ago. “I was worried about the economy. But what we found is that after 9/11 and the economy dropping, people said, ‘I’m not going to wait anymore for a motorcycle. I’ve been putting it off for 20 years already. I’m going to buy it now.’”

“Our hottest-selling models are the full dressers,” says Johnson. “Our clientele is a bit older. The average bagger rider is about 46 years old. We probably sell more baggers — Classics, Ultras, and Road Kings — than any other dealer.

“We are the largest parts and accessory dealer in Wisconsin, and probably one of the top five in the world, with a $2 million parts inventory. People come in and say, ‘I want this bike and I want a bunch of accessories on it.’ We sell a lot of bikes to Harley-Davidson employees, probably more than any other dealer in this area. Many H-D employees trade in their bikes every year, and have been doing so for longer than I’ve been here. So we have beautiful used bikes, usually 75 to 100 in stock at any given time, with low mileage. I just took in a perfect, one-year-old, red-and-black bagger that has 2,600 miles. It looks brand-new.”

Johnson says Buell sales are picking up a bit every year. “I think the Motor Company would like to see Buells go further and sell more, but all in all, the product has been very well received. The redesigned Buell Thunderbolt has been a really hot item. More and more young people and sportbike riders are attracted to that line. We sell Buells to them with hopes of getting them into bigger Harleys in the future.”

“Milwaukee is a motorcycle city, like nowhere else in the country,” notes Johnson. “On Thursday, Aug. 28, we’re having a big block party for the 100th in our large parking lot and two rented lots across the street. There will be vendors, food, and live entertainment. Thiensville is not a big town. What’s really nice about Thiensville is that the whole community gets involved with the Harley-Davidson dealership. That doesn’t normally happen in most towns, but here we’re the big draw. People like us and want us here.”

Every one of Suburban’s 14 service technicians take Harley-Davidson’s self-study PHD course. “Once they attain a certain level through home study and dealership study, we send them to school at Harley-Davidson,” explains Johnson.

Suburban remodeled its parts area to bring it up to date. “We have two service facilities — one in the dealership and another across the street, because we ran out of room here. We’re all computerized with Harley’s Talon computer system, which works fantastically for us. We’re one of the largest dealers that does everything on-line. A lot of dealerships don’t even use computers, but we have for years.”
He adds, “Many bike-building shops around Milwaukee buy their parts from us because we carry a lot in stock and get orders quickly.”

“All you have to do to be successful in this business is take care of the customer,” advises Johnson. “Make him feel like a part of the whole Harley lifestyle. Treat him as you would a friend. Some dealerships act a bit like they’re better than everybody else. That’s a downfall. People come into our dealership just to talk and gawk at their motorcycles. It’s a great business; I love it.”


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