Ever owned a motorcycle business?

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by cccolin, Feb 19, 2014.

  1. randyo

    randyo Long timer

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    You may want to look for an established business that the current owner is at retirement or soon to retire, give you a chance to transition, it can be a win win, you get an established customer base, owner gets to retire without feeling he has forgot his customers needs
    #41
  2. cccolin

    cccolin Long timer

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    I really appreciate all these thoughtful responses, guys. This has really helped clarify my thinking on it. For now, I'm going to primarily pursue the other path I had in mind, which is to move towards becoming a project consultant/designer for structural fabrication/engineering projects. I'll be able to challenge myself mentally and not have to deal with retail hell. In the meantime, I'm going to do the part time small garage version of this, fixing bikes, flipping some used ones, and building a few customs, as a hobby. I really love motorcycles, and I would like to continue loving them. I'm already really good at the other stuff and know how to make pretty decent money at it without getting in over my head in terms of capital investment. It's just a matter of setting myself up to work in an advisory capacity rather than the daily grind on the shop floor I've been doing for the last 10+ years. It'll be a challenge and a lot of hard work, too, but that's ok with me. I don't want to lose my favorite hobby and large sums of money in the process.

    I've looked into apprenticing in another moto shop, in NY it's basically impossible. Everything is so competitive and expensive here that no one wants to take a risk on creating a competitor down the road. I'll just do it my own way on the weekends as a PT hobby for now.
    #42
  3. KingOfFleece

    KingOfFleece SplitWeight(tm) waterproof seat covers

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    Good move. One thing not mentioned is that when you have your own shop your annual mileage drops about 90%!
    All the fun stuff you used to do with your riding buds-well, sorry, gotta run the shop, can't go.

    Not to mention that you'll hear 500 times a day "but it's .45 cheaper at Ted's discount cycle superstore."
    #43
  4. Bar None

    Bar None Candy Ass

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    I do all my maintenance on my bikes and enjoy it but hate working on chain saws and weed eaters so I take them to shops.
    Don't seem to have much trouble with my lawn mowers or tractors and don't mind working on them.

    Just saying that getting in a small engine repair business as some suggested sounds like a good idea. Cherry picking bike repair jobs for fun/income also sounds good.

    I started a IBM main frame consulting business after I retired from IBM in 1992 and it was so nice to be able to turn down some customers that I had to put up with when I worked for IBM. I was the boss and the sole employee. :D
    #44
  5. anotherguy

    anotherguy unsympathetic

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    Having been in the motorcycle business for 30+ years as an owner and employee I second guess my choices almost daily. First and foremost this is a double edged sword right now. It may be the best time to start a business and it may be the worst. You location and financial abilities/reserves are paramount.

    Before commenting directly on your plan let's hear your plan. If you don't have one you're done before you start. I don't mean a loosely gathered box of ideas I mean a strictly constructed orderly plan of action including projections and numbers. And most of all a Mission Statement.

    I will say if you have to borrow to do it don't. Wait and save.
    #45
  6. Pantah

    Pantah PJ Fan from Boston

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    You need a lot of money to begin with. For starters, you have to own the building and pay rent to yourself. Very hard to get get buildings zoned for automotive services. Neighbors resist. You need a big floor plan finance program to buy inventory. Better to pay cash, but most use floor plans. Very expensive. That means you have to have a high turn rate. If you have to pay rent, and you need high inventory turnover, you won't make a reasonable wage. You are basically working for your landlord and the finance arms of your brands. Then you don't get to cherry pick the products you want. You buy what they'll allocate you.

    I know one fellow who did a great job with it, because I was competing with him. There was a BMW dealership up in the North Shore. The whole thing was for sale at a big discount. New bikes, parts inventory, equipment and customer lists. It had some key employees too. It was a long established store. The problem was that the buyer had to move it. I searched and search for a local building with no luck. The fellow who bought it moved it 40 miles north to a main drag in NH! Presto! Instant success with new sales records out of the box. Not only that but he had a great building and set up a GS test track behind the store. It didn't hurt that he was a master tech either. That young fellow was a genius. That was 2002. The youngster has a couple BMW stores now.

    But for every story like that there are 20 total failures. I think you better off buying an existing business than a fresh start up. But either way, you'll make more money teaching and fabbing the stuff you already are.

    You mentioned the money wasn't the focus. No job is more hated than the one that doesn't pay you your due. I know that first hand and have seen many others learn the same disappointing lesson. Motorcycle retail stores are hard to make pay.
    #46
  7. cccolin

    cccolin Long timer

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    Thanks. Teaching pays terribly. The going rate for the type of schools I teach at, and the kind of classes I teach, is about $3k a semester. if you teach 3 classes a semester, you're making $18k a year before taxes. FT and tenured jobs are extremely scarce and getting rarer, so insurance and benefits are nowhere to be had. Staff jobs in education are a little better, I just quit a job as a shop tech at a "top" school here in NYC. The students were paying $45k/year for their degrees, and I was getting $37k with union mandated 3% raises (inflexible rate). Benefits were good, but it was the most stressful, soul crushing job I've ever had, and in the end it wasn't worth it. after taxes, I was making around $500 a week for basically running the entire sculpture department. and living in NY, my rent is around $900/mo for one bedroom, not to mention transit, food, etc. Was ending up with about $500/mo after living expenses.

    Fabrication pays better, in large urban markets like NYC or LA, I can make around $55k. However, it's very difficult to find jobs that have any benefits at all, most of them are long term 1099 freelance gigs. and the hours are long and physically very demanding. Part of the reason I'm trying to get out of it is that continued exposure to particulates and vapors over the last decade has given me some health issues.

    As I alluded to before, I've decided to go back to school to be an engineer/designer. That way I can still use the skills and knowledge I've acquired over the last 15 years, but move forward and not have to be in the grit in the shop all day everyday, and hopefully make a bit more money. It is a passion of mine, and I know what to expect as far as the ups and downs, and I know I can manage those. I'll do motos on the side for fun and maybe a little profit.
    #47
  8. blue72beetle

    blue72beetle Look at my Wee

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    Not motos, but similar situation.

    Quite a few years back I loved anything and everything related to old Volkswagens. Wanted to own an old VW restoration shop like you see out in SoCal. So I went the auto mechanic route, worked for a couple Chrysler dealers. After working on peoples cars all day, the last thing I wanted to do was come home and play with my own cars. Much like gynecologists don't look at super models all day, I didn't work on Dodge Vipers all day.
    I learned not to mix hobbies with work. It will suck the fun right out of it. Same thing with music when I was in high school, went to college for music and it became work and no longer fun.

    Now if was actually working on old VW's all day instead of people's junk filled minivans? Maybe it would be fun. But I still try not to mix hobbies and work.
    #48
  9. Pantah

    Pantah PJ Fan from Boston

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    There was a young motorcycle road racer in the late 1990's. He raced 250GP TZ's on AMA. I think he was champ one year too. His name is Roland Sands. Turns out he is an artist like you. Plus his Dad built a mondo custom Harley parts mfg called Precision Machine. Mostly wheels for choppers.

    Roland walked away from all that to start a custom bike fab shop of his own. His work is unlike anything anybody else builds. They are working sculptures. They are a unique mix of performance and classic elements. His racing roots are clearly on display in all of his masterpieces. He's in LA. You should reach out and see if you could work in his studio for a few months. You probably have skills he could take advantage of, and you might learn something special about yourself.

    Yeah, your teaching pays terribly. You'll never keep a decent woman happy on that, let alone be happy yourself. You are doing the right thing in trying to find a good way to move on. Don't give up. You'll find your groove if you keep trying.


    #49
  10. Tanshanomi

    Tanshanomi Your Favorite Uncle

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    I do computer graphics and years ago I was doing so well moonlighting out of my home that I tried to make a go of it. Sunk a bunch I couldn't afford into equipment and office space...biggest mistake ever. My suggestion is to keep your day job (or get another one you can stand) and try moonlighting in the bike building biz out of your garage after hours. Because being a business owner means working nights and weekends anyway, no matter how you slice it. Remember, entrepreneur is French for "you never get to leave work."

    Find a dealer locally that will give you a discount on parts. Same with machine work; if you don't have a lathe and mill, see if you can make arrangements with a local fab shop to farm out the stuff you can't do at home at a reasonable rate. Find a happy medium where you're doing something rewarding in the field you love every day, but not basing your whole income on it.
    #50
  11. cccolin

    cccolin Long timer

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    Walt Seigl, too, both a racer and an artist. I already contacted Walt and never got a reply. Have contacted about 10 shops so far about apprenticeships and have gotten a big fat no each time. They either don't have the time, don't want to create a competitor, etc. I'm just going to buy a thumper engine and rebuild it, then move on to a twin, etc. It'd be nice to get some real experience and know-how about stuff like suspension/chassis and engine stuff...but I'll figure it out. I've taught myself everything else I know how to do, so that's what I'll do this time, too.
    #51
  12. Bill Harris

    Bill Harris Confirmed Curmudgeon

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    Bingo. I've always had a day job and a "hobby job that pays".

    --Bill
    #52
  13. Bill Harris

    Bill Harris Confirmed Curmudgeon

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    That wouldn't be MAX BMW would it?

    --Bill
    #53
  14. markk53

    markk53 jack of all trades...

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    I have worked in the retail part of the motorcycle industry and the key factor to realize is that no one in the United States thinks you deserve to make dime one in any dealings with motorcycles.

    You are expected to sell every motorcycle at or below cost or you are branded a "stealership". If you make 20% profit on any parts or accessories you are a thief. That is why so many dealerships fail. They try to meet those expectations or will lie to make you think they are meeting them. The only dealers that are semi-immune are Harley dealers and BMW dealers.

    In other words, be prepared to be reamed by anyone and everyone if you do anything with motorcycles.
    #54
  15. markk53

    markk53 jack of all trades...

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    You honestly think he "walked away" from that? :lol3

    I'm betting he started goofing around long before he set up shop and I'm sure Dad had no problem cooperating with him and probably being a significant contributor to making it fly. Ever notice all that PM stuff on his bikes? I think that lets you know the connection is still there and I'm betting all his custom parts were originally made on PM equipment for sure. Odd are also that some of it still is.
    #55
  16. SkiFastBadly

    SkiFastBadly A beer? Yes, please

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    Looks like the OP already made a decision but I never let being late to the party stop me. I have two comments:

    1) If you haven't yet read it, check out "Shop Class as Soulcraft" ; http://www.amazon.com/Shop-Class-Soulcraft-Inquiry-Value/dp/1441800107

    It's a great book and even if it has no impact on anybody's decision, it's still a very provocative read, especially for those of us in white collar jobs.

    2) For a number of years I lived in Park City UT, which you may know is a ski resort town. All winter long tourists would go to the state owned liquor store to buy their wine, which was not kept cold, and their beer, which also wasn't kept cold. They would ask "Do you have ice? Chips? A corkscrew? Cups? Mixers? etc." Nope, the liquor store only sold liquor. So Mrs. Skifast and I thought it would be a great idea to open up a little shop right next door where we'd sell all the stuff regular liquor stores on earth sell. And we thought we'd be super clever and buy one of those wine chillers and offer to chill the wine or beer for free. It takes three or four minutes, have a look around. We wrote up a business plan. We had all of our assumptions nailed and low balled them all. With the cost of the lease, we may have barely scratched by. We thought about it and bailed.

    Six months later, the state closed the store for an 8 month remodel. We would have been totally screwed.
    #56
  17. Forde

    Forde Been here awhile

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    if you enjoy not making any money youre in luck
    #57
  18. Bultaco206

    Bultaco206 Back-to-back motos suck

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    I've been in the business a long time. I've worked in dealerships in sales, finance, parts, sales management, and as a GM. I've been in various positions with distributors and manufacturers.

    I've also been a life-long racer, hobbyist, race promoter, collector, and ADVer.

    I will tell you that there are times when I literally hate motorcycles. It's not all the time. But it happens more than you think. I have 7 bikes in my shop and there are days I can't stand to look at them.

    Mixing your hobby with your livelihood is a love/hate thing. And it's not for everyone.
    #58
  19. markk53

    markk53 jack of all trades...

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    One reason I don't regret not selling anymore. It pretty much ruins your hobby.
    #59
  20. anotherguy

    anotherguy unsympathetic

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    That kinda stuff is why I buy things like the CRF450R and Tuono for myself. They need little or nothing and are user friendly bikes built to ride hard. 'Cuase if I ever actually hate riding a motorcycle someone please shoot me in the head.
    #60