From the April 1944 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine
A few weeks ago we got all hot and bothered wondering about the “how they did it” of the many motorcycle dealers who are keeping going in the retail motorcycle field, and what about the postwar motorcycle. These, as you know, are two mighty important questions. The answers we got are not only strategically interesting, but we know will make good reading for dealers and riders alike.
One of the trully amazing results was a startlingly unanimous forecast anent the postwar motorcycle-or at least one of the developments that, say the dealers, ought to be undertaken by the manufacturers. We’ll let you read the answers for yourselves- those parts of the many letters that show how the dealers make it click, and predicting the shape of motorcycles to come. So without further ado, here it is.
“I think that we are over one big hump… and most of us with the motorcycle industry have accomplished more than we ever expected,” avers Harley-Davidson Dealer Ray Konkler of Cincinnati, Ohio. “We learned to plug some leaks, and those dealers who accepted things as they were and got their stores and shops in shape are the survivors today, and this same type of dealer should be ready to go to town with the sale of new motorcycles when hostilities cease. The above is reflected in the small percentage of motorcycle dealers forced to quit business…The boys in service write us they cannot wait until they can again straddle their iron horses and hit for the open road.” Ray says that business needs the addition of a good lightweight motorcycle, possibly a 30:50 overhead valve single with a lot of chrome and zip. This will help get new blood among riders. “We always did have, even before the war, a big demand for used motorcycles in the price range of $125 to $200 and we seldom had enough. Selling a younger man when parents object to heavy machines would be easier with the lighter weight and lower price-and then don’t forget the young ladies.”
Jud Carriker, of Santa Ana, Calif., secretary of the Indian Motorcycle Dealers Association of Southern California, and Indian dealer, declares that what would pep up the sales field as much as anything else and bring in new riders, would be a good lightweight machine. This postwar motorcycle should be built to sell for a first low cost, should be serviceable, of rugged, simple construction, and operate at minimum cost. “Such a utility model would afford a sheet anchor of volume for factories and dealers. If the motorcycle industry is ever to be anything but an infant in the American commodity picture, a lot of extra appraisement and effort will have to be made for additional markets, and all this will necessarily have to start at the top, the factories.” Jud maintains an unusually well equipped service department, well stocked with parts and accessories. He asserts that his firm has just finished “one of the most successful two-year periods of operation in our long career. I believe one principal drawback with many dealers has been lack of adequate capital. Fortunately this has not been the case with us, as long experience has taught us that this is a vita ‘must.’ We have been able at all times to acquire paying cash any and every desirable used machine offered…I believe the old quality of business honesty does and always will pay worthwhile dividends.”
Charles “Red” Wolverton of Reading, Penna., H-D dealer, kept a-going by reducing all but necessary expenses, he pens. Among these items of reduced overhead were discontinuance of his electric sign, newspaper advertising and cutting down the size of his ad in the local phone directory. He worked extra hours, found and developed a ready market for “sold as is” motorcycles, thus taking off much of the burden of repairs. And, says “Red,” “I made it a practice to turn out the best work possible so as to retain my good will. This paid dividends.” Factories ought to get away from custom-made jobs, “Red” believes, build no more than two or three models, standardize on no more than three colors and maintain a factory distributing system allowing dealers to get delivery in a few days instead of weeks. “Red” is also sold on a light model MC as soon as the “go” sign permits manufacture.
From Oakland, Calif., Claude Salmon, Harley-Davidson agent, writes that, “There was a time when things looked pretty blue, but by being patient with our customers and educating them that just because they were making a lot of money they couldn’t have everything they wanted, we have found that it did not take long to teach them to be patient and take their turn on the waiting list for parts and repairs. By carefully checking each machine we found we could make that machine run a long time before getting a major overhaul job done on it, thus conserving our supply o f parts.” Claude has checked the p.w. wants of his customers very carefully, opines that by and large they want something new. Particularly for young ladies, a machine they can lift up if it falls with them, and yet run fast enough so they can go on the average club run and keep up with the gang. A good single would be the ticket.
From Louisville, Ky., Dan E. Cunningham takes time out to add his weight to the clamor for a lightweight machine. The war, he says, has created a new demand for a light twin or a single. Dan kept going during the twixt and between period by taking on a scooter line and a motorbike. He is now relying pretty much on shop service and accessories to carry on, and feels that he’ll be able to pull through in good shape. “Our boys are all pretty hungry for some good old motorcycle sports. They will go wild when the first big races like Daytona, Oakland and Springfield are run again…those days can’t come too quick for us.” Cunningham is a Harley dealer.
One grand way to pep up sales and develop good will is the publication of a 28-page book giving trouble saving tips for motorists, writes N.C. Preston, Indian dealer of Kendallville, Ind. Ten thousand copies were printed. “It is our desire to continue selling motorcycles after the war and to build an outstanding line of sales. We are not hurt thus far by the war though our service is rushed.”
If you want to know how Skip Fordyce, Harley-Davidson Riverside, Calif., dealer, kept in high gear, here goes, and it’s a story of guts and ambition: “We played a long hunch, moved to a larger location, took on mechanics, and made sure our location was prominently displayed in front of the people of Riverside and surrounding country, giving the impression to the citizens of this community of a more solid establishment. It worked, inasmuch as we were able to sell used motorcycles to a number of older fellows who were not in the army. It brought folks into our store who n ever have been interested in motorcycles. We had a chance to point out that motorcycles are not dangerous, are economical, and a fine medium of transportation, as well as providing the grandest sport on earth.
Indian Agent Vernon W. Goodwin of Lincoln, Nebr., writes that his dry ice distributorship helped keep him going over the rough spots in MC. sales. “I went to work on the assembly line in a scooter factory, then did what servicing on cycles I could do with the parts I had. Sometimes working as late as midnight. During the early part of the day my wife and 12-year-old son did what they could until I arrived from the scooter plant.” Give him a good lightweight motorcycle and, Goodwin asserts, he’ll really go to town in a big way in sales.