Investor group banking on Indian, Victory success
American Heritage Motorcycles owners listening to customers
It would be easy for the industry’s five latest investors to sit back and watch their first Indian and Victory dealership thrive in Chicago’s far western suburbs.
Instead, members of the newly formed American Heritage Motorcycles, LLC are taking a deep dive into the daily operations of the shiny store. Located alongside the highly trafficked Randall Road in South Elgin, Ill., AHM Chicago West held its grand opening in April. And just to be sure, the new owners know that the phones work well. In fact, when the dealership makes follow-up calls after unit sales and even service work, the former consultants take turns making the calls. Making those calls, they say, is the best way to get a handle on how the store is performing.
“Every call we’ve made, we found that every one of the customers knew the name of the person they worked with,” AHM dealer principal Jeff Sinclair told Powersports Business during the April VIP grand opening party, complete with a catered hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. “I found that to be unique. Another thing that I found that was unique is that I never got an answer the first time I called. So I would leave a message and nearly every one I called returned my call. That’s a real strong indicator that our staff is involved and engaged with the customers.”
And because all employees are salary-based, the calls allow the owners to learn more about which employees are standing out in their day-to-day operations.
“We want to create a special work environment, which means making a commitment to our core team,” Sinclair said. “So we’re hiring our core team on a salary basis, with bonuses provided based on objectives they reach. Customers want to have a relationship with their dealership, and we can foster that by creating an environment where employees don’t want to leave.”
In the early going of their start-up dealership group, the quintet checks at the door their MBAs from distinguished universities such as Chicago Booth, Harvard and Michigan.
And watching them interact with folks ranging from the store’s service manager to customers stopping in to wish them well to local dignitaries, they seem to be enjoying life as motorcycle dealership owners.
Granted, they bring a business acumen that includes more than 65 years combined of management consulting, including several years with Polaris, the Indian/Victory parent company. The AHM team consists of Dan Finkelman from Columbus, Ohio; Rob McNish from New York; husband and wife Celia Sinclair and Jeff Sinclair, both from Cleveland; and Terry Sullivan, also from Cleveland.
And while it’s their first foray into dealership ownership, Jeff Sinclair admits to being a lifelong gearhead. “If it had an internal combustion engine, I was messing with it growing up,” said Sinclair, whose father was a VP of engineering at Chrysler Corp.
CEO McNish handles the strategy and finance chores, while Jeff Sinclair takes on the operations and product aspects. His wife, Celia, handles the showroom and interior design, and Finkelman brings a retail specialty. Sullivan’s background is private equity. Add it all up and it all up and it’s recipe that has them on target to open seven AHM Indian/Victory dealerships in 2014. The group has received approval from Polaris for 15 dealership points. Next up is the east side of Cleveland, with a second store in Chicagoland likely following in Countryside.
“Once we decided that we were going to do this, the next step was to decide where we were going to do it,” Jeff Sinclair said. “The Midwest is over-indexed when it comes to cruisers.”
Locations are planned for 2014 in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati/Dayton.
Sinclair is high on his team and the location at the Chicago West store. The facility was built as a motorcycle dealership, first as Yamaha dealership. It most recently was an Indian dealership before Polaris relaunched the brand. In fact, a couple of employees had worked at the location previously.
“It’s one thing to make an investment into the brands, but the store teams are going to make or break this,” he said. “And we are so blessed to have such a strong team here.”
They’re already looking to make hires in the six-lift service department, ideally at the B or C level, according to industry consultant Duncan Butler. He and colleague Amanda Blackstone from The Butler Group Atlanta LLC set the operational groundwork for the store, and generally managed the store since its January soft opening.
Now, general manager George Gryparis, parts and service manager Mike Velinske, pre-owned sales manager Jason Mroz and master tech Ralph Andrade steer the dealership. Typically, the showroom will include eight pre-owned bikes, another eight Indians and 12-14 Victory units. The store’s most recent order was for 16 bikes.
The dealership received its license from the state of Illinois on Dec. 9, and took advantage of the timing to sell apparel during the holiday season. A pop-up store on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago featured Indian-only apparel and directed consumers to the dealership.
While the Chicago West location offers about 12,000 square feet, most other AHM stores in the works figure to have a larger footprint, with 18,000-20,000 square feet being an ideal size.
“All of our stores will be destination locations,” Sinclair said. “People don’t drive by and say ‘Hey, let’s stop here. I want to buy a motorcycle today.’ But when they do decide to buy one, we want to be as accessible as possible to those buyers. Victory and Indian are becoming major players in the motorcycle business, and we want to become a major part of that success for those brands. Let’s face it, these are almost never somebody’s first bike. They know what they want and they know what they like. We’re here to provide the experience and the lifestyle.”