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Rice Honda’s 50 years of service

By By Kate Swanson

Dealership celebrates half century in Black Hills, S.D.

It’s not often that grandparents, parents and grandchildren all have the opportunity to work under the same roof. But such is the case for Rice Honda Suzuki in Rapid City, S.D. Over the past 50 years, the Rice name has gained popularity with powersports enthusiasts everywhere for its customer service, family values and signature Sturgis Rally T-shirts.

Phyllis Rice and her son Wade Rice of Rice Honda Suzuki have each played key roles in daily dealer operations for more than 30 years.

Phyllis Rice and her son Wade Rice of Rice Honda Suzuki have each played key roles in daily dealer operations for more than 30 years.

The legacy began when Don Rice began running a motorcycle business out of his garage when he wasn’t working as a plumber. After nearly a decade of successfully selling motorcycles, an expansion was necessary. In 1965, Don Rice and his wife Phyllis opened the Honda dealership just off Interstate 90. But that location was not meant to be, said Wade Rice, Don’s son and current owner of Rice Honda Suzuki: “Basically, he had to start back over in 1972. The original building was built in a flood plain, so they had to relocate. … We moved into the new building in ’76, and business started to go crazy.”

After flooding destroyed the showroom and forced the dealership to move, Rice Honda reopened in a new location on Cambell Street, and there it has stayed for nearly 40 years. “Moving to our current location in 1976, Rice Honda has become one of Rapid City’s landmarks. With the Sturgis Rally just 25 miles to the west and the adventurous riding areas in the Black Hills, it has been a recipe for success,” said Rice. “Add that to a team of driven, skillful employees, and you’ve got the perfect combination.”

Running the dealership is truly a family affair. Rice says the Rice Honda family is “three generations strong.” He began working at the dealership in the early ’70s and purchased the majority of the company in 2011. Rice says his mom Phyllis “has been so involved” on the back end of the business that Don started. “In the past 50 years, my sister worked here for a while; my daughter has worked here and still continues to in the summertime,” he added.

Rice Honda is focused on family values and treating others as they want to be treated. “Probably one of the most important things, I feel, is the ability to have a business that gives back to the community by supporting the employees,” said Rice. “And giving them a livelihood. I have as much pride in that as being successful.”

Rice Honda Suzuki has stayed in its current location for more than 40 years, after flooding caused the dealership to move from its original space.

Rice Honda Suzuki has stayed in its current location for more than 40 years, after flooding caused the dealership to move from its original space.

Good idea at the time

Where there’s family, there’s fun. Rice remembers an infamous mini bike race that he and a few friends hosted in the dealership’s showroom. “It was in the mid-’80s, and my parents were on vacation. We decided we should clear out part of the showroom and have a short track race on new and used Honda and Suzuki mini bikes,” he said. After the fun, Rice spent three hours cleaning the black marks left on the showroom floor. He remains skeptical that another race could ever happen again in the future; after all, “It took such a long time to get those black marks off.”

With so much history, Rice has made hundreds of connections within the powersports industry.

“We are thankful that we have had some of the best employees we could ask for. For the last 50 years we have employed over 1,000 people,” he said. “I want to thank them all for getting us where we are today.” One notable former Rice Honda employee is Bill Nash, COO of RideNow Powersports, whose first job was in the store.

While some dealerships tend to sell more street bikes, Rice says that his dealership sells more ATVs and dirt bikes. “We’re too small to do that,” Rice said. “We still have a rancher business, recreational side-by-sides and ATV business, dirt bike business and snowmobiles.”

The dealership’s proximity to local tourist destinations like Mount Rushmore and Sturgis provides the perfect opportunity for new customers. “We end up doing a lot of business for a number of people from far away,” Rice said. “We’re definitely a tourist dealer. The two weeks in and around Sturgis are always the biggest volume that our store does, and rightfully so with that many bikers in town.”

In the past, Rice Honda has shared a booth with Victory Motorcycles and sold T-shirts during the Sturgis Rally. While the designs are not finished yet, Rice says plans are in the works for a commemorative 75th anniversary Sturgis T-shirt as well as a shirt that features the dealership’s new 50-year Honda logo.

New Victory name

Recently, Rice made the decision to transition the name of its Victory franchise to Black Hills Victory instead of Rice Victory. Rice says that by changing the name on the T-shirts from “Rice” to “Black Hills,” more tourists will purchase the shirts as souvenirs. “By selling T-shirts that say the ‘Black Hills’ on them, it’s almost like they bought it from a region, not a dealer,” he added.

Rice Honda Suzuki makes a point of planning a poker run event the first Saturday of every rally that goes through the Black Hills. The poker runs are popular, well attended and often feature nighttime tours through the Badlands.

Rice Honda Suzuki makes a point of planning a poker run event the first Saturday of every rally that goes through the Black Hills. The poker runs are popular, well attended and often feature nighttime tours through the Badlands.

For the rest of 2015, Rice says the future is bright for Honda in general. “I think Honda’s going to get back into the motorcycle business. … I think when they decide to turn the gas on, it’s going to pull all the Japanese manufacturers with them,” he said.

Honda Motor Co., Ltd. celebrated the dealership’s longevity by sending Rice Honda a celebratory half-century plaque. Rice says the dealership is still in the planning process to celebrate Rice Honda’s 50 years of service, but that it will be well worth attending. A “bike of choice” giveaway is rumored to take place, where 50 people will qualify and then compete until the number is narrowed down to one winner. At previous events, Rice has had contestants draw pool balls out of a bag or pick playing cards, relying on chance and making an entertaining event for all involved.

“It’s just incredible when you look back at all the Honda reps we’ve had, all the advertising people, banking people and all that were involved in helping us along,” said Rice. “It’s pretty cool to look back, and I just can’t say ‘thank you’ enough to all of those people.”

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