522 West Gourley Pike
Bloomington, Ind. 47404
Jeff and Carol Stevens
The Stevens are continuing a legacy of Harley-Davidson, which has had a dealership in the Bloomington area since the 1940s. The Stevens purchased the franchise in 1998, seven years after originally looking into buying it. Jeff Stevens’ perseverance comes from a lifelong interest in motorcycles. He purchased his first bike for $1,300 in 1974. The money for the bike made up half of a college fund his parents provided him. The bike was kept at a friends’ house so Stevens’ parents never knew about it until after he graduated. Stevens and his wife later went into commercial real estate and at one time owned a traveling agency. Since buying the dealership, they relocated the business to within Bloomington’s city limits. The new location was quite a jump in size — the dealership went from about a 5,000-sq. ft. building to a 20,000-sq. ft. location. Their number of employees also has increased dramatically, going from three to 35, with the majority of them being full time. The business includes six departments, including Harley-Davidson’s rider’s training program.
Jeff Stevens sees an “increasing prevalence of dealers discounting the product when they don’t have to.” Stevens fears the powersports industry will fall into the same trap as the auto industry, which he says offers so many discounts that consumers won’t even consider purchasing a car or truck without some type of discount program. “The more prevalent it becomes,” he said, “the harder it becomes to stop.” Besides hurting the bottom line, Stevens said constant dealer discounting can cheapen the product in the eyes of the consumer. Stevens believes some dealers may be resulting to discounts because the OEMs have caught up inventory-wise, meaning buyers no longer always outnumber vehicles. As a result, dealers have to work harder for sales. “Some think (discounting) is the only way” of selling the bikes, Stevens said. “It’s wrong and it’s going to hurt everybody.”
Harley-Davidson’s 2006 Street Glide has been “a pretty incredible home run,” Stevens said. The bike’s simplistic style, trim and paint have “hit a nerve with the public,” he said. The bike also features a short windshield and is slightly lower than other touring bikes. Another big seller is Harley’s Screamin’ Eagle Ultra Classic, which features loads of chrome, intricate paint jobs and performance packages on the engine. “All of ours are sold before we get them,” Stevens said.
Stevens is certainly seeing more women consumers. “The women’s segment is definitely growing,” he said. “If they’re already in the sport, they’re moving up and purchasing the Harley Davidson big twin motorcycles.” Buell also is starting to gain market share, he said. Buell’s new Ulysses, which was introduced this summer, has received rave reviews from industry magazines and Stevens is seeing high consumer interest because of it.
Parts and service
The dealership features seven technicians, three service writers, a couple of shop helpers and detailers, and a service manager. “We’re very particular about who we hire as technicians,” said Stevens, noting as a result the service department has an excellent reputation.
For the first time this fall, Stevens said the company concentrated on improving the traditional slow winter by offering a package of specials. The specials, which both the parts and service departments had a hand in developing, were sent out to the roughly 10,000 people on the dealership’s mailing list. The specials were aimed at the big jobs the service department has a hard time doing in the busier times of the year when maintenance takes up the bulk of their time.
Promotional home runs
Harley-Davidson’s Rider’s Edge program has been a big hit in Bloomington. The dealership was able to offer the training program for the first time in 2005 after spending four years working with Indiana legislators to overcome state statue hurdles. Stevens’ dealership now features a full-time Rider’s Edge program manager. Last year, the dealership put on one New Rider Course every other week. Some of the courses were designated as women-only. All of the courses, which included 12 students and two instructors, proved popular, with nearly all of them selling out, Stevens said. “The results we have gotten from the first year is everything that Harley-Davidson said we could expect,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous program.” The dealership provides the motorcycles and the instructors, but the students do pay a fee. Stevens also believes students gain a link with the dealership and end up purchasing safety gear and apparel. Stevens said he’s increasing the amount of riding courses available this year to one course per week, with the exception of holiday weeks.
Words of advice
“Your people are without a doubt your most important asset,” Stevens said, emphasizing dealers should never compromise on who they hire. Be selective, he said. “Hire great managers,” he said. “Give them the tools they need to be successful, including some measurable goals. Then get out of their way and let them succeed.”