Power Profiles

Flat Out Motorcyle – Indianapolis, IN – Oct. 17, 2005

Flat Out Motorcycles
8118 E. Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46219
317 890-9110
Bill Starkey
Flat Out Motorcycle started as a small repair shop in May of 1997. At the time, they specialized in sport bikes and street drag racing setups. From there, Starkey and his partner started buying wrecked bikes to glean parts for their customers. Soon after, they started building and selling bikes from damaged parts. They also did performance work on the dyno, one of the first in the area. Since those beginnings in the original facility, Flat Out has grown tremendously. The downtown store that opened in January 2002 has quickly grown into one of the largest Suzuki dealers in the Indianapolis area. Starkey opened his second store, a Yamaha franchise, outside of Indianapolis in Greenwood in 2004. Between the two stores, Flat Out carries Suzuki, Yamaha, KTM, Aprilia, American Ironhorse, Kymco and Eton. The Suzuki store is approximately 7,000 square feet, with an additional 4,000 of parts storage, service and offices. By the end of the first year, that store was in the top 10% of Suzuki dealers in sales. The groundwork for the Yamaha franchise started to be laid in 2003. The store opened in 2004 and is 9,400 square feet. Between all locations, Flat Out now has 17 full-time employees and 2 part time.
“The rising cost of doing business versus the decreasing profits,” says Starkey. “We’re making less and less on our units than we did three or four years ago. And the Internet has absolutely changed accessory sales. eBay has been an absolute nightmare. A lot of people come in and try a jacket on, and I’ll spend 15-20 minutes with them explaining all the features and benefits and they say, ‘We’ll go back home and see if we can find it cheaper on eBay.’ That is absolutely my greatest concern — the way people shop today. The younger they are, the more apt they are to buy online. But when it comes to garments they want to try it on at the store that has everything in stock. But that’s not the store they are going to buy it from.”
“The number one unit is the C50 Boulevard,” says Starkey. “I probably sold more of those than anything. If it’s not that, then it’s probably the GSX-R 600. Boulevard accessories seem to be doing really well. I sell a lot, I stock a lot. We accessorize a lot of units on the floor.”
“I can’t generalize my customer base,” says Starkey. “I get more rural customers at my Greenwood Yamaha store than I do at my city store. What’s really interesting, especially with the Suzuki store and the Hayabusa, I’m getting people from 18-50. It’s a really diverse crowd. That’s what really cool about the Suzuki line. The real trend that’s going on right now with the young guys is they want stunt bikes. The stunt stuff is going through the roof. They are buying brand-new machines and six months later it’s just trashed. There are a lot of people who are in their 30s that may have bought a cruiser that are going back (to sport bikes). I get that all the time.”
We had two tracks close, but it wasn’t anything to do with the state,” says Starkey. “One was a track called Marion County Motocross at the fairgrounds and they closed it because the fair administration didn’t want it anymore. The other one was called Knobby Hill, and it had been around for about 20 years. It was a big part of our motocross scene. It got bought out and was closed and reopened two or three times. But, now it’s closed and it doesn’t seem to be reopening. It had a big impact on our dirt bike sales. In 2001, I sold 68 KTM dirt bikes. In 2004, I sold 15. You’re seeing guys come in and say ‘I used to be able to ride on this guy’s farmland, but now he won’t let me.’ It’s constant. I think it’s a combination of people developing housing additions, taking farmland away. It’s also people being conscious of being sued. The liability of people riding on their property. Unless you are in peak areas like Kentucky or West Virginia, where they have tons of state land — we have none. I don’t think we have any state owned riding areas in Indiana. If we do, I wish I knew about it.”
I’m pretty well known in this area for customizing Hayabusas,” says Starkey. “I have one on the showroom floor with a 240 rear tire kit, different swingarm, different drive, everything, brand new, turnkey, for $17,000. I have chrome packages for them. That’s kind of my specialty. I stock over 100 sets of chrome wheels, for any sport bike. I still do a fair amount of business with that.” As for a service breakdown, Starkey estimates that repairs make up about 55% of his techs time, service is roughly 25% and upgrades are 20% at max. “That’s dyno tuning, putting an exhaust on, putting on a plow or winch, we’re talking about accessorizing a Rhino or putting a big-bore kit on a Zuma, whatever. At the Yamaha store one tech is the service manager as well, and he can handle both. At the Suzuki store, I have three techs in addition to the service manager, and one tech is a part time service writer. I have three at the Yamaha store dedicated to parts. One of the three is devoted to Internet sales. The other one is dedicated to shipping and receiving as well as Internet hard parts sales. No accessories, just Yamaha and Suzuki hard parts.”
“Mainly, I focus on radio and events like open houses,” says Starkey. “Now when I do open houses, unlike anyone else around here, we do demo rides. We do demo rides for two days, we do more than 180 rides. We get people who come from all over the area to ride some of our cool machines. We’ve been doing it for eight years, and I get a lot of e-mails from people of how great it is. We cook hot dogs and hamburgers and put a tent in the parking lot and do live remote radio, to tell people about it. We make a party out of it. The other thing we do is in conjunction with the Miracle Ride. On the Miracle Ride they’ll have as many as 10,000 bikes. On the Saturday prior to the event, they’ll have a poker run. It’s so big that Suzuki gives a $12,000 motorcycle to that poker run. We always host an event for one of the Miracle Ride poker runs. I also do a lot of print ads in a publication called Indiana Auto and RV. I don’t do any billboards; I don’t think they are cost effective. I don’t do any TV any longer. I have done cable in the past and I haven’t seen any results from it.”
“Monitor your growth,” says Starkey. “Growth is good, but be careful with it. If you don’t grow at a reasonable rate, you can’t control all the little details of your business. All the little things that make a seasoned store work smoothly, if you grow real fast, you overlook a lot of those little things, and they can come back to really haunt you.” psb
—Blake Stranz

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