Combine a tight geographic footprint as mandated by its franchise relationship with Harley-Davidson and a real estate market that keeps “Property For Sale” signs at a minimum, and it’s no wonder Huntington Beach Harley-Davidson in California had to wait and then some for the right time to move.
But a new location and a new name for the dealership appear to have it well on its way to continued success. The dealership has doubled its size with a move below the 405 freeway, and Craig Franz is anxious to see how the new move will fit. Craig and his wife, Melissa, are partners, along with Rick and Lisa Jelke.
Craig spent more time he bargained for on the phone with me recently to talk about the move. Formerly Harley-Davidson of Westminster, the owners also made a name change with the move. A soft opening in the wintertime turned into the real thing earlier this spring with the H-D demo truck on hand.
Located only two miles from the previous location, the old 19,000-square-foot store, which opened in 2006, was bursting at the seams. Now in a building that previously was used as a warehouse, the dealership offers 42,000 square feet of space.
“We’ve been trying to move since 2007, but buildings don’t become available on the 405 very often, and when they do, they usually aren’t the right size,” he said. “We have very few opportunities to move to the 405, and these buildings came up so we took advantage of it.”
The old location on Goldenwest Street didn’t provide much visibility, Craig said. Decent traffic on the 22 freeway was mostly of the commuter variety. “So it’s the same people driving by every single day,” he said. “Now that we’re on the 405 we get people travelling from L.A. to San Diego, San Diego to L.A., tourists. We’re getting so many new faces in here of people we haven’t seen before — it’s just shocking the number of new faces that are showing up.”
About 400,000 cars pass by the dealership each day.
“We have three buildings, two of them are right on the 405, so we have two giant billboards essentially on the 405 with signage. We couldn’t have a better opportunity for visibility right on the freeway. Over time, it’s going to be fantastic. We signed a pretty long lease so that we could lock our lease rate in for a long period of time because we got it so dirt cheap. That’s going to be a huge advantage.”
In its first few months of operations, the new store has allowed sales to be “way up” compared to the year-ago period, Craig said.
It’s always fun to ask dealers how they originally got into the business, and Craig’s story ranks up with the best of them.
“I was in the insurance business, and Rick owned an auto collision repair shop,” Craig said. “We both thought this would be more fun than what were doing. But it’s been a lot of work too.”
For starters, the new facility is open seven days a week, up from six.
“We had discussed doing that in the old location, but what pushed us over the edge to make the decision was after we moved in, I was down here on a couple of Mondays doing the things that need to get done,” Craig said. “I was seeing people drive in and out of the parking lot all day. People were driving down the 405 and saw our sign and thought ‘Oh, I didn’t know there was a Harley dealer there, I need to go find that place.’ The first Monday that we were open, I’ll tell you what, we didn’t even advertise it and we had a great day. In fact, we sold a bike the very first day we were open on a Monday without even advertising it.”
Bikes have more breathing room in the new location, with the retail showroom now 14,000 square feet, up from 6,000. The old service area was 9,000 square feet. Service is now in two buildings, including 15,000 square feet in one building. An additional 7,000 in another will become a collision center. Craig admits the collision center will bring a change to their business operations.
“Most dealerships blend any direct bike repairs into their service department, but it disrupts the normal service of a bike and delays the repair of the damaged bike. You’re sitting around waiting for parts and when the parts finally show up, your service department is scheduled out for the next week or two, so now you’re trying to get the bike in without delaying the services that have been scheduled in. We’re going to pull all of the damaged bikes out of the service department and those will go to a completely separate building directly across the street. The only people that come down the street are customers coming to our store, or people going to work in the office buildings.”
A dedicated H.O.G. room takes up 2,200 square feet of space, and eliminates the enormous headache of moving bikes out of and back into the showroom for events.
The collision center could make 2014 one to remember at the dealership.
All in all, it’s another sign that our industry is continuing to make strides, thanks to the initiative of dealerships like Huntington Beach Harley-Davidson to make their store a must-see proposition.
Dave McMahon is editor in chief of Powersports Business. Contact him at 763/383-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.