The local motorcycle shop Velocity Motorcycles stocks an electric motorcycle.
That’s the sort of interesting and unusual merchandise that has allowed the store, which opened on Boulevard in 2000, to survive even in a lousy retail environment. There is also a motorcycle that comes with a sidecar.
Eric Engler owned the building and first housed his personal collection there. He has been riding for more than 40 years and had a previous career in state government in both his native New York and in Virginia. On the eve of the Retail Merchant’s Expo, BizSense chatted with Engler about the challenges of retail and why he still has second thoughts about selling some of the bikes he gets a little too attached to.
Below is an edited transcript:
Richmond BizSense: You have a service shop and bikes and apparel. What accounts for most of the revenue?
Eric Engler: The service shop. We have three mechanics and stay busy because most of the dealers, such as Harley and Honda, they won’t service older bikes. We will deal with bikes that can’t be repaired just with a diagnostic computer. Whereas they have technicians, we have mechanics.
RBS: How are sales?
Engler: We’ve seen a decline in motorcycles. We were in a recession three years ago. But we reoriented the shop with different bikes and apparel.
RBS: Is it hard to compete for sales with the main shops?
Engler: Well, it’s a handicapping condition because they have enormous brand recognition and huge marketing campaigns. We don’t have major brands, and instead sell smaller volume brands. [The store sells Royal Enfield, which was the first motorcycle ever made, and BMW.]
RBS: Motorcycle enthusiasts are devoted to their love. What are some of the strategies you use to develop a loyal following?
Engler: We do things other shops won’t. We serve the customer rather than the bike. In some cases, a person needs a complete examination of a bike before a trip. Other times, we recommend not spending money on things that are not critical to safe running. We listen carefully to each customer and try to treat them as an ongoing client.
RBS: What other new things are you trying?
Engler: We brought in Eagle Rider rentals. We try to find something new every year. We also have Lambretta scooters.
RBS: Didn’t the scooter bubble pop?
Engler: The scooter bubble passed, but the trend is a real one and it will grow. The Lambretta is a high quality product without the price premium of other manufacturers.
RBS: What is your biggest challenge?
Engler: Probably not selling just one brand. We have to cover everything. Even something as simple as a filter – we have to order all sorts of parts. And there is no floor plan – we pay for everything you see in the store.
RBS: What do you make of the cash for clunkers program?
Engler: It isn’t comprehensive, and it isn’t something that leads to a change in the way people think about transportation. It needs to be something much more thoughtful and with better public policy to determine the long-term objective and allow creative people to think through it.
Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor. Please send news tips to [email protected].