Open Road Harley-Davidson – Fond du Lac, WI – July 2, 2007

Open Road Harley-Davidson
24 South Rolling Meadows Drive
Fond du Lac, Wis. 54937
Pete Johnson and Lori Thiel
Partners Pete Johnson and Lori Thiel have only operated their Harley-Davidson shop for a couple months, but already the dealership has solid practices in place, from offering F&I to having a comprehensive and successful marketing plan. Both lifelong motorcycle enthusiasts, Johnson and Thiel grew up in Appleton, Wis., and worked in the finance services industry in the area, but they didn’t meet each other until one fateful day at Sturgis several years ago. When they both decided they wanted to do something different with their professional lives, they knew they wanted it to be something they would be passionate about. What better option than that which brought them together? After some research and talks with H-D, Johnson and Thiel met a Harley dealer in nearby Fond du Lac who was looking to retire. The pair officially took control of operations at the dealership, which includes a 12,000-square-feet showroom, in January and set about gently restructuring it into what they envisioned it to be. Their first step was to re-brand the new and pre-owned H-D location from Bob’s Harley-Davidson to Open Road Harley-Davidson. Johnson and Thiel also wanted to bring a few new focuses to the dealership, particularly bringing more young and female riders into Harley-Davidson and building solid customer relationships.
Both Thiel and Johnson are concerned with market over-supply, although they learned a bit how to balance that in their previous careers. As demand for Harleys has been so high and consistent for so long, today’s Motor Company is having a harder time adjusting to a lower-demand market, Johnson said. The solution for Open Road is cultivating strong relationships with all customers and providing superior service, he said. “I don’t think there is a more oversupplied industry than the financial industry, so [I learned] customer relationships have to be better than everybody else,” Johnson said. “[Dealers] can’t just be good at the basics. You can’t move up in fulfilling needs until you fill up the basic bottom needs.”
“I would say the touring bikes have been very popular,” Thiel said. Of Harley-Davidson’s touring lineup, the Ultra Classic, Street Glide and Road Glide have been the best sellers at Open Road for the first part of the year. The Screamin’ Eagle Softail Springer also has been popular, likely because of its tribal flame graphics. Although the limited-production bike is pricey, it seems to fit the ticket for a number of baby boomers searching for their dream bike, Thiel said.
Customers are looking for quality and a dealer who won’t dupe them with inferior product or second-rate service, Johnson and Thiel agreed. “[Customers] want to trust that they can come to you and ask questions and you’re going to do what you say you’re going to,” Thiel said. “There’s that reliability factor. And it’s a one-stop shop. They don’t need to go anywhere else.” People also are looking for more safety, spending more time checking out headlights, brake lights, turning signal features and safety gear before deciding on a final purchase, Johnson said.
Performance pipes and heated riding gear are a couple of the most popular aftermarket products Open Road Harley-Davidson sells. In addition to selling such traditional PG&A, the dealership offers a healthy assortment of Harley-Davidson domestic goods, including barstools, rugs, clocks and mirrors. The dealership has six certified technicians in its service shop. In March, Open Road held a Spring Service Seminar on recommended maintenance pre-first spring ride, proper helmet fitting and safe riding. “Knowledge is the key to fear,” Johnson said. “We want to try to make sure people understand some of the core maintenance. It’s an investment that will provide a significant return to you, so education is a big key for us.”
Open Road’s most innovative marketing event evolved from a program Harley-Davidson offers, which Thiel has taken and developed into a successful monthly happening. Garage Parties, held on the fourth Tuesday of every month, are for female riders who want to learn more about riding and Harley-Davidson. Group sizes are kept small so all participants can easily observe and learn from the interactive class. Thiel created four stations for the event, covering types of motorcycles, riding gear, parts and accessories for customization, and service. During the three-hour events, women can learn how to properly pick up a motorcycle, observe a dyno at work, share a meal and ask questions of a motorcycle safety instructor. The event creates a lot of emotion and excitement around the prospect of owning and riding a motorcycle, Thiel said.
Focusing on customer relationships should be any dealer’s top priority, Johnson and Thiel concurred. Also, “don’t entice people by price points,” Johnson said. “Somebody else will always beat your price when you live in that discounting world.” Thiel added, “We’ve had a successful start even though we’re young in the business because people see we’re passionate, we’re always looking out for the best interests for our consumers and we want to build [a business] that people want. Tap into the consumer that’s walking through the door. Men and women are different. Twenty-somethings are different than 40-somethings. Know what they want.”
— Lisa Young

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