An expedition to pre-owned success
After 42 years as a franchised dealer, Lorin Besser opted to start anew
“I have about 70 different places right now that I turn to for my inventory. It’s kind of like being on ‘Survivor.’ You’ve got to form your alliances. I’ve worked well with other dealers, in state, out of state, all over. Someplace somewhere there’s something that doesn’t sell as well in once place as it does in another. You’ve got to have those connections to find it.”
And Lorin Besser wasn’t joking about pre-owned survival skills. Besser, to be sure, has a knack.
Besser, owner of Besser’s Bike Barn in Sauk Rapids, Minn., knows the importance of offering plenty of pre-owned inventory options for his customers. In fact, his family’s former dealership, Honda House in nearby St. Cloud, became known during its 42 years of Besser family ownership as being the largest pre-owned dealership in the state. Besser certainly helped build that moniker, and now, as the owner of 1-year-old Besser’s Bike Barn, Lorin is seeing his expertise at pre-owned continue to thrive.
Selling the dealership
“The first thing I remember doing there was being a janitor at age 7 or 8. By the time I was 12, I was putting stuff together,” the 53-year-old Besser said. “The era of the Honda 360s was big. I put more of those together than anybody ever cared to see. Then I went into parts and sales. The boom years were the year of the noncurrents, 1985-86 Magnas and Sabres. Selling those was like selling candy to kids.”
Those were indeed memorable times as Lorin grew up in the family dealership. His dad, George, took ownership of the store thanks to some fortunate timing. George owned restaurants in the St. Cloud area — George’s Café and The Burger Hut. (“Even then I was child labor. I had to fill the cigarette machine, so you know how long ago that was!”)
Walt Pederson was a restaurant customer who later got hooked on expeditions to the North Pole. Pederson also happened to own the local Bombardier/Honda dealership.
“It’s a bizarre story, for sure,” Lorin recalled. “I remember Walt tried to make it to the North Pole one year and the ice cap started to melt so they had to turn around. Then when he wanted to go again, his wife told him ‘You have to have that motorcycle business gone before you go.’ So he came to my dad and said ‘Do you want to be in the motorcycle business?’ You buy the store now and when I come back from the North Pole I’ll buy it back from you.’ So then Walt goes to the North Pole and comes back, and decided that he liked doing the expeditions better than owning the dealership. So guess what? We were in the motorcycle business.”
In 1975, Bessers added Honda automotive to the lineup, and dropped the Ski-Doo line. The Ski-Doo franchise returned nearly 15 years later, when Dave Auringer, now VP of national sales for CFMOTO, entered the shop and asked Lorin if he wanted to become a Ski-Doo dealer again.
Besser was into his fifth decade of operating the family business of Honda auto, Honda powersports and the full BRP line when, in 2010, “the time was right to sell.” Luther Auto Group, one of the largest automobile dealers in the state, bought Honda House from Besser, who continued to work for the new shop for a year after the purchase. His brother, Larry, had overseen the service at the store, while Lorin managed sales.
But Besser prefers to be his own boss, and he had always dreamed of owning a pre-owned-only powersports shop.
“I always wanted to start a used motorcycle store alone,” he said.
“I wanted to stay close to our old store. We had a very, very good following in the area and stuff,” he said. “It’s the part of town with the motorcycle shops.”
Still family operated
When Besser says he helped to build his new store, he means from the ground up. In fact, his contractor was lamenting the need to hire more help to get the 16,000-square-foot building completed. Instead, Besser convinced the builder that he and his son could help him get the job done.
“I said, ‘Nah, I’m not working anymore, I’ll help you build it. And my son will. He agreed, and about a week into it we were eating lunch and he said he wished he could hire help as good as us.’”
Besser located an ideal piece of land and the built the new store from the ground up. It opened in December 2012, only days before the calendar turned. Not quite a year into his new venture, Besser is already calling it a wise move.
It’s a full-fledged family operation. Besser’s wife Cindy is the accountant. His son Blake is in sales, and daughter Robyn does F&I. A nephew runs the service department.
“I wanted to get something going again and get this younger generation in it like we had it. Hopefully someday they can take over,” Besser said. “They’ve been riding since they could walk, just like me.”
A projection to sell 200-250 units in Year 1 got a boost with the addition of the CFMOTO line of ATVs, UTVs and motorcycles. “We’re at over 300 new and used already it’s just into December. It’s been a very, very good go,” he said. “Our big concern was leaving a store that we had been at for 42 years and building another one. Is your clientele going to follow? It’s been great. It’s always nice seeing that old clientele come back.”
Building inventory for the store’s opening was important to Besser, simply because he wanted to offer a range of motorcycles, ATVs, PWC and snowmobiles. He also sells OEM parts for all brands, and says the store does well with its products from Tucker Rocky and Küryakyn. Building off a successful career of Gold Wing sales, the dealership also builds trikes from Motor Trike.
With a showroom floor that configures into an 80-by-120 square foot space, Besser opened the doors with 170 units. His previous store typically had 150-250 units on the floor. “And our inventory is getting up there now, but we’re getting ready for spring,” he said.
Besser saw the margins in pre-owned when he operated Honda House, and wanted to continue to see that type of profit at the new store.
“Pre-owned is what the consumer can afford today,” Besser said. “And the beauty of selling used is I don’t have to have any alliance to one brand. Everybody builds a good product. I just cherry pick whatever manufacturers build and that’s what we stock. It works well.”
Besser says the most difficult bikes to find these days are big bore metric bikes. Cruisers are maintaining their popularity, and Besser does a significant amount of used Harley-Davidson sales. “There are not a lot of dealers that stock a lot of beginner to intermediate bikes, and we do. I believe in starting the rider out with the right sized bike, then trade up.”
Besser has built on previous relationships with local credit unions to supply him with inventory financing. “They’ve been fabulous to work with.” Retail financing, meanwhile, continues to trend in a positive manner, according to Besser.
“It’s starting to loosen up,” he said. “Money’s a little easier to come by. If they’re working and have a little bit of a down payment, it’s pretty easy to get them a 3.99 percent interest rate right now.”