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Chasing their dream

By Dave McMahon

Seeking something better, 7th Gear Motorcycle Co. trio goes it alone

It doesn’t take much to see the success that the trio of thirtysomethings will likely experience as owner-operators at 7th Gear Motorcycle Co.

The new parts, service and customization shop, under the direction of Justin Lowther, Paul Saminto and Don Stefanic, didn’t take long to make its mark on local riders after its May 1, 2013, opening in Albany, Ore.

“These guys are second to none in honest direct answers! If you have a question about parts they are Jonny on the spot to help you make the best choice.”

“This shop is awesome.”

“Honest and professional.”

“Just picked up my ’08 FLHT, Wow, what a great job and so friendly, I will be back and recommend you to my friends!”

And those are just the start of the plaudits on Facebook. Their debut trip to V-Twin Expo in Cincinnati, where they ran into an enterprising industry reporter on the show floor, didn’t leave much time for tomfoolery on the side. “This has been a great day. Not many pictures yet because we’re doing so many training seminars today,” is how one of their Facebook posts reads.

There’s no doubt, these guys were not taking a haphazard approach to opening their own business.

“Our whole goal when we started this wasn’t to dip our toe into the proverbial pool, where you see a lot of small shops open up and they never get past that small shop stage because they don’t take the big plunge,” the talkative Saminto said. “We’ve invested everything from our wives and kids into this business, and we’re reaping the benefits. We’re seeing it ramp up in ways that we dreamed of. We’re excited about our growth prospects.”

That growth started weeks before the store opened, when Lowther reports that the store had a three-week backlog of service jobs. And the business never let up into riding season and beyond in the service department, which has eight lifts.

Owner-operators of the newly formed 7th Gear Motorcycle Co., in Albany, Ore., made their debut trip to V-Twin Expo in Cincinnati: Justin Lowther, Paul Saminto and Don Stefanic.

Owner-operators of the newly formed 7th Gear Motorcycle Co., in Albany, Ore., made their debut trip to V-Twin Expo in Cincinnati: Justin Lowther, Paul Saminto and Don Stefanic.

“In the dead of winter, we had 20 bikes in our shop,” he said.

It’s not like they stumbled upon success, however. They had earned outstanding reputations at dealerships prior to going it alone.

“We worked for various Harley-Davidson dealerships and have about combined 20 years or so between the three of us,” Saminto said. “We worked together at a dealership and are chasing our dream together.”

Their most recent foray was at Latus Motors Harley-Davidson near Eugene, Ore., where a change in ownership didn’t deter their earlier thoughts of opening their own shop.

“We were all tied in and committed to working for the new ownership, but we had already been talking about ‘Hey, this is what we have wanted to do for our whole lives.’ When we met each other, we realized that Don brings a long time of experience with him; Justin brings experience and contacts, and I have been running parts and service departments in retail for years. Each of us coming together were able to create a solid business. They wished us good luck.”

The 4,000 square-foot operation also includes well appointed PG&A departments and an equally impressive customer lounge. Among the brands carried at 7th Gear Motorcycle Co. are: Biker’s Choice, Drag Specialties, Dunlop, Icon, Küryakyn, K&N, Lucas Oil, Metzeler, Michelin, Progressive Suspension, River Road, Roland Sands Design, Speed and Strength, S&S Cycle and Tucker Rocky.

“We specialize in Harley-Davidson service, but we work on everything. We’re motorcyclists,” Saminto said. “We’re not sold on a brand. We do anything from basic maintenance and service to full customization. We don’t really do any ground-up builds, but if you want to bring in your bike and you have a vision of what you want it to be like, we’ll create that for you. Whatever your vision is, we’ll help you achieve it.”

The service repair orders in February were extensive, from a primary job to a stator; chrome front end and custom wheels; big bore kits and cam modifications; disassembly and paint; tires and brakes.

“But that’s just for winter,” Saminto says reassuringly. “Once we get to spring we’re going to eliminate all of those bigger projects and it’ll just be tires and oil. Our first year, we were like ‘Yeah, bring whatever you want,’ and we got jammed up. We couldn’t take care of the basic stuff.”

The three, aided by an office manager, were familiar enough with the local customer landscape to know that they had chosen an ideal location for the store.

“We’re about an hour away from the closest Harley dealer. There had been a Harley dealer in this area until about three years ago, so we went there specifically because of the hole in the market. There’s a Honda dealer about 10 minutes away that sells a lot of off-road.”

The shop also an extremely popular pickup and delivery service (“people really dig it,” Saminto says). And Year 1 finished with the store’s inaugural “Christmas for Every Child” event that raised more than $1,000 for a local charity.

It’s hard to imagine what 2014 might bring to the new entrepreneurs.


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