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  • | 11:00 a.m. December 18, 2015
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Executive Summary
Company. Black Widow Harley-Davidson Industry. Motorcycle dealerships Key. Sales volume is key.

It's 10 a.m. on a Monday morning and Bert King offers you a beer.

Four kegs are on tap and the beer is cold at King's Black Widow Harley-Davidson in Port Charlotte. On King's to-do list: Find girls to staff a weekend bikini bike wash.

“You wouldn't do anything like that in the car business,” King laughs.

A longtime auto dealer in Texas and Arizona, King fulfilled a life goal of owning a Harley-Davidson franchise. Four months ago, he acquired the Port Charlotte store, and he's averaged $3 million in sales a month since he's taken over.

Sandwiched between giant Harley-Davidson dealers to his north and south, King says many riders have bypassed the store in the past. “This whole area has probably been overlooked,” he says.

But King is bringing a potent mix of car dealer volume promotion and outlaw imagery to a Harley-Davidson dealership that's off the beaten path. He's tripled the staff to 60 employees, but he won't hesitate to jump on the sales floor himself. “For the first three months I greeted every customer I could,” he says.

The dealership is a fun place to work, too. Employees sometimes pop on a wig that resembles King's shock of blond hair to amuse customers. “I'm not going to run a grind,” King says, chuckling when an employee shows off the wig. “We close at 6 p.m.”

The result is that Black Widow is now a stop on the rider circuit. In four months, King says he's sold more than 500 new and used motorcycles, placing him among the top 10% of Harley dealers.

Drivers to riders
King says he's dreamed of owning a Harley-Davidson dealership for years and had promised himself he'd own one by age 50. “This is a 30-year written life goal,” says the 56-year-old.

And here's the surprising thing: “It's not because I'm an avid rider,” he says. King says he promised his wife, Grace, that he'd never ride again after she experienced a serious auto accident.

Despite the fact that he doesn't ride, King remains a fan of the brand. He's particularly enamored of the deadly spider name of the dealership. “The name is cool,” he says.

He sold his interest in a Nissan dealership in Texas in early 2014 and hit the road, visiting 80 Harley-Davidson dealerships. “I'd go shop them,” he says.

When King heard through the dealer grapevine that the Port Charlotte Harley-Davidson dealership was for sale, he began negotiations to buy it with business partner William Sullivan, owner of a Harley-Davidson franchise in Texas, and two other investors. As an added bonus, King has lots of family from Tampa to Fort Myers, where he now lives.

King's strategy borrows a page from the car-business playbook by not marking up motorcycle prices above the manufacturer's suggested retail price. “The volume is key,” he says.
“We're going to let it rip.”

Initially, King says he expected to sell about 600 to 700 motorcycles in the first year. Now, Black Widow will sell that many bikes after just five months after taking over the dealership, he projects. “I would've never known there was a downturn,” he says.

King says he's sold motorcycles to people as far away as Miami and Orlando as a result. “The word of mouth it gives you, you can't replace,” he says.

That was evident when he visited dealerships during his fact-finding mission: “It's not hard to see the ones that mark them up and the ones that don't.”

Like an auto dealership, King reasons he can make up the profit in other areas of the business such as service and apparel. He's fond of reminding his sales team: “I can replace a motorcycle, but I can't replace you.”

You can tell King relishes being on the sales floor by the way he banters with staff and greets customers. “He's a hard worker,” says George Chaconas with Performance Brokerage Services, who has brokered the sale of numerous Harley-Davidson dealerships, including Black Widow. “He'll get on the floor and sell you a bike. He's not going to sit back in the office.”

Still, the volume strategy isn't winning him friends among nearby Harley-Davidson dealers. “We have a great brand that doesn't need to be commoditized,” says Scott Fischer, founder of Scott Fischer Enterprises who operates Six Bends Harley-Davidson 50 miles south in Fort Myers.

Putting Charlotte on the map
The strategy of selling motorcycles without a markup over what Harley-Davidson suggests has already put Black Widow firmly on the motorcycle circuit even though it's not located on a main north-south artery. It's located on El Jobean Road, an east-west connector between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75 in Port Charlotte.

But in the Harley-Davidson culture, it's not just prices that draw customers. “These riders ride for a cause,” King explains.

There's a tip jar for the free beer that goes to veterans' charities. In addition, King provides free food on weekends for bikers to raise funds for their favorite charities. “We supply the food, they flip the burgers and they keep the money,” King says.

That kind of goodwill breeds loyalty. “That word travels fast,” says King, who recently hosted 200 riders from Orlando representing a law enforcement motorcycle club, for example.

King plans to install a roof over the open-air concert venue behind his dealership and plans to start offering riding classes. “We're going to put in a riders' academy,” he says. “I'm going to have to find a couple acres.”

King doesn't rule out buying additional dealerships once he's grown the Port Charlotte franchise. “We're not going to do anything too quickly,” he cautions.

Still, the additional locations help with recruiting and retaining talent because it offers them opportunities for promotion and even ownership. “You're developing people and careers,” he says.

Motorcycle mecca
The Six Bends motorcycle Mecca in Fort Myers may now also include a hotel.

Fort Myers entrepreneur Scott Fischer is building the second phase of Six Bends, a destination that will include shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. Fischer owns five dealerships including Six Bends off Daniels Parkway fronting Interstate 75 in Fort Myers.

At the center of the Fort Myers development is a palatial Harley-Davidson dealership that opened last year and is nearly the size of a football field. There's a two-acre riding academy, a rock-concert field, a 20,000-square-foot plaza with a fire pit for gatherings.

Now, Six Bends could include a hotel, too. “We ultimately would like to have a really cool hotel that fits the Six Bends destination,” says Fischer, founder of Scott Fischer Enterprises in Fort Myers.

Fischer says he has in mind a hotel could be like Iron Horse, a luxury boutique hotel in Milwaukee. “It's not a Harley hotel,” Fischer cautions.

The second phase of Six Bends, which refers to the six bends in a motorcycle handlebar, will have four two-story buildings totaling 37,000 square feet with restaurants, shops and a brewery.

Construction could begin in the spring on the retail component, but Fischer says he wants to find the right hotel first. “We just need to put the horse before the cart and really the hotel has become the primary focus,” Fischer says.


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