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House of Harley plans for a helluva party

Dealership schedules theme days for H-D’s 110th

When you’re a Harley-Davidson dealer and you set up shop just 10 miles from the Motor Company’s headquarters and museum, it’s always something special. But during large celebrations, such as the company’s 110th anniversary party Labor Day weekend, it’s especially a treat. And for House of Harley-Davidson in Greenfield, Wis., the dealership would be remiss if it didn’t throw a huge party that weekend.

So that’s exactly what it’s doing. The dealership kicks off its six-day celebration Wednesday, Aug. 28, hosting a party with a different theme each day. For its event, House of Harley is blocking off four blocks of West Layton Avenue to bring games, music, food, vendors and more to visitors.

Themed activities

The kickoff marks Military Day, in which Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and four military generals will lead a group of riders to the Civil War Memorial at the Zablocki VA Grounds and near the construction of the new Fisher House for families of veterans being treated at the VA hospital. Other activities include a flyover by the War Birds, a parachute drop by a local parachute team and a shooting competition at the Marine Corps’ Simulated Marksmanship Trainer. All proceeds from the day will go to Fisher House.

“I hope we raise $25,000 to $50,000 for Fisher House,” said John Schaller, president of House of Harley.

The second day, Law Enforcement Day, features a ride to the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Memorial for a bike blessing. Erik Estrada, also known as Ponch from the TV show “CHiPs,” will lead the ride, and proceeds will benefit Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.). That will be followed by Firefighter Day Friday, which includes a ride benefitting the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). Saturday is themed toward Harley’s Latin outreach with a Harlista Bike Show and a Sound & Pound audio competition. Sunday’s Women Rider’s Day includes a ride with proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation of Southeast Wisconsin, and Monday concludes with a ride to Miller Park for a Brewers game.

The themes draw a variety of crowds and give the dealership a base to build on.

“There’s all that activity that would have no reason to be created if it were not for the theme,” Schaller explained.

The charities were all chosen by a committee consisting of law enforcement officials, firefighters and members of all branches of the military. Each ride costs $25 and those funds go directly to the charity of the day.

On top of all those events, House of Harley also has daily features, such as a go-go bar, a cyber café and ping-pong tournaments brought in by local bar and grill SPiN. Entertainers throughout the week, gathered with help from media partner Clear Channel, include country artists Chris Cagle and Aaron Lewis and Beatles cover band The Britins.

Learning from experience

Harley-Davidson’s 105th anniversary celebration, held in 2008, drew more than 175,000 people, according to police estimates. House of Harley-Davidson in Greenfield, Wis., expects to see about the same number of visitors for this year’s 110th.
Harley-Davidson’s 105th anniversary celebration, held in 2008, drew more than 175,000 people, according to police estimates. House of Harley-Davidson in Greenfield, Wis., expects to see about the same number of visitors for this year’s 110th.

Though hosting a six-day anniversary event like the 110th represents a huge undertaking for a dealership, House of Harley is lucky in that this isn’t its first go-round. The dealership hosted similar celebrations for Harley-Davidson’s 100th and 105th anniversaries, and Schaller said that experience was invaluable.

When House of Harley began planning the 110th festivities in June 2012, the dealership pulled out its materials and templates from the 105th. Knowing what it had done in 2008, the dealership again wanted to close the street because that allows for drainage of the area in case of rain.

“We sort of start by planning it backwards, so knowing we’re going to close the street, what does that mean? What issues does it cause for ourselves and our neighbors?” Schaller said.

He walked to each business in the nine-block area affected by the party and talked to the business owners about his plans. Schaller offered each neighboring business a free booth within the House of Harley grounds, and about half a dozen have accepted the offer. Local operations also lend a hand, as Greenfield High School and Kindred nursing home allow the dealership to use their parking lots. And the high school and ITT Technical Institutes pushed their start dates back three days to accommodate the festivities.

In addition to working with local businesses, House of Harley also works with friends, hiring what Schaller calls “a small army” to help with the various extra jobs created by the event. About 200 friends, family, neighbors, customers and HOG members are assigned to tasks such as security, parking, garbage pick up, parts running, bagging merchandise and bar running. They’re all on hand to make sure the week goes smoothly, making the event better for customers.

“I hate lines. I don’t want lines. Long lines reduce sales,” Schaller said about his reasoning behind hiring so many additional staffers.

With 125,000-200,000 expected to stop at House of Harley alone, the dealership has to increase its staff just to keep up. But after the 100th and 105th, Schaller has no problems filling those positions, as people are excited to meet the variety of Harley riders in town.

“I’ve said ‘Look, this will be shortest and the longest eight days of your life, and you will tell stories for the rest of your life about things that happened at the 110th,’” he said.

Turning to relationships

The years of experience have helped Schaller create a number of relationships with vendors he uses, such as those offering portable toilets, as well as with vendors who display at the House of Harley site. This year the dealership expects about 150 vendors to participate from a variety of fields. In the past, they’ve been as diverse as hair salons to furniture stores.

“Most of it is focused on motorcycle riding or the motorcycle business, but there is a significant variety. It’s a broad cross-section of businesses that want space, and I think that’s smart,” Schaller said, adding that it’s a good idea for any business that wants to be seen by 125,000-200,000 people.

In the past, the celebrations have been so fruitful for the city of Greenfield that the mayor has asked in jest if the House if it could host such an event every year.

“There are no problems, and yet to get 150,000 to 200,000 in this town, it puts the city on the map in a way that otherwise wouldn’t happen,” Schaller said.

His goal, of course, is not only to help the city, but to boost his business as well. In addition to the sales House of Harley makes throughout the six-day celebration, the dealership expects to see future sales resulting in customers’ experience with the brand while they’re in town.

“Between the store and the remote locations, it’s my hope that every, every rider that comes to town will see House of Harley at least three times before they leave,” Schaller said, adding that the exposure often leads to Internet sales and return visits.

With all the entertainment and events planned throughout the 110th celebration, the House of Harley’s goal is to bring people back to its store and keep them spending money with the dealership and its vendors.

“Most people will ride from store to store and down to the museum and maybe Miller Brewing,” Schaller said, “but they’ll come back to the place and stay longer where things were clean and they were organized and there was stuff to do and it was fun.”


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