Adapted from Margie Siegal’s article in Motorcycle & Powersports News
Take a look around your shop. You have the equipment. You have the tools and you have the employees. But do you have all of the work your shop can take on?
It may be time to add a niche to your engine building services and draw in new customers.
One specialized engine market that can provide additional revenue to your shop is motorcycles — specifically, the vintage ones.
While the new bike business has had its ups and downs, interest in vintage motorcycles is as strong as it ever has been. Although statistics are hard to come by, vintage rallies and concours events are attracting the same participant numbers they have for the past 10 years. Prices at vintage bike auctions are down somewhat, but old bikes are still selling.
“While some in the industry may complain that there’s not a lot of business with vintage, but the vintage business is always steady,” said one parts supplier for a variety of bikes.
It’s not as big or as lucrative as the new bike business, but it is always there.”
In fact, a new type of old bike enthusiast is beginning to appear. Twenty-somethings are starting to buy vintage motorcycles.
One owner of a parts and restoration provider for Triumph and BSA triples based in Central California, has noticed an upswing in young customers.
“People in their twenties have no mechanical skills, but they are getting into vintage anyway, and they need someone to work on their bikes. There’s a lot of old Triumphs out there, but I only know of two people in the Los Angeles area who are working on them. I only know of three people in California, including myself, who know how to work on triples.”
“CB 350 Hondas are the most popular bike,” explained a sales manager of an aftermarket carburetor and vintage parts business. “Young people are buying them and cafe’ing them out. There’s even a racing class for them. We can’t get aftermarket carburetors for 350s in fast enough. Other popular bikes are CB750s, Kawasaki H1s and H2s and Norton Commandos.”
Cycling In New Business
Thinking about adding some classic motorcycle work to your shop? Here are some tips on how to draw in some new customers.
Host a Vintage Show
A vintage show is not only a lot of fun, but can make good business sense.
One owner of a repair and restoration facility for old Hondas, points out four reasons to put on a show: “First, you are going to gain a lot of good will in the community.
Second, you are going to get a lot of traffic to your door. People love old bikes and will go out of their way to see them.
Third, you are going to see what kinds of old bikes are popular in your community.
If you are thinking of developing a vintage bike sideline, its helps to know what your neighbors are riding.”
“Last, and most importantly from a business owner’s standpoint, if there is a swap meet with the show, you can see who is buying and how much they are willing to spend. Even if a bike is popular, if the owners will not spend any money on it, there is no reason for you to get involved.
You don’t need to do all the work of putting on a show yourself. Approach the local vintage bike clubs.
For example, the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, (www.antiquemotorcycle.org) the Classic Japanese Motorcycle Club (www.CJMC.org), the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club (www.vjmc.org), the Cushman Club (www.cushmanclubofamerica.com ) or the Kawasaki Triple Club (www.naktc.com).
The clubs should do most of the organizing and advertising. Involve the Boy Scouts or the Lions Club to sell hot dogs and drinks and have an area reserved for the swap meet.
Another idea is to attend the local tracks and strips to see what types of old bikes show up at Bike Nights.
If you go to the races, there are often vintage classes. These venues can give you an idea of the classic bikes that are popular in your community.
You can extend the good will and interest gained from your vintage show by learning what parts are available for locally popular vintage bikes and special ordering them for customers.
Remember, vintage bikes are here for a reason. Riders have kept them that long because they really like that bike. If you are able to take care of a vintage bike that a customer loves, you will have a customer for life — actually a lot of customers. The enthusiast community will get the word out about a shop that can help.
According to one bike broker, new bike sales these days have slowed. “The most money you can make on a motorcycle today is on a used bike. Used motorcycles for sale are drying up — people are not buying new. A new bike has an MSRP. On a vintage motorcycle, you can name your own price. A motorcycle shop I know is getting into vintage, he is making more money on the used bikes and the vintage bikes than he is on the new bikes.”
While displaying vintage motorcycles, offering your parking lot for a show, and ordering parts for customers involves little risk, working on vintage bikes can be problematic.
“Encourage a young engine builder who is interested in actually learning about mechanical stuff,” advised one cycle shop owner. “A 750 Honda is a history lesson. It’s a design that hasn’t changed dramatically over the last 40 years, and it’s what turned America on to in-line fours.”
Also, determine if the brand is already familiar to you, said another. “For example, if you already work on Kawasaki engines, a vintage Kawasaki isn’t going to be a real challenge.”
But, you should look into more training if you plan to rebuild a bevel drive Ducati or a 1929 Henderson if such engines haven’t been in your shop.
If your shop is already rebuilding performance, racing and late-model engines, understand that working on vintage bikes is not the same as working on new bikes.
In fact, many modern dealerships don’t have the current expertise to work on an older bike, which may be a plus for an engine shop like yours.
The key to unlocking vintage restoration and rebuilding is getting a competent engine builder, said one shop owner. “I have one guy who only works on vintage BMWs.” If a engine specialist is not experienced in vintage motors, he or she won’t have the special skill set required to competently repair vintage machinery.”
One parts supplier explained that a pre-Evolution Harley is put together very differently from today’s Twin Cam machines, and the engineering concepts are not the same.
“Mechanics who are capable of working on a Panhead or a classic Indian are either retired or have their own independent business.”
One mechanic who has made a specialty of working on pre-Shovelhead Harleys, cautions that a person with the best of intentions can ruin the value of these bikes during a rebuild.
One of those ways is by sanding and polishing the many castings on them. “There is no way to replicate the original casting look after sanding and polishing. You can’t get it past a concours judge.”
Before you take on smaller engines like vintage bikes, make sure you enjoy the work. “You have to love it,” says one engine specialist. “While you are not going to make a $100,000 a year doing it, vintage is steady. And vintage bikes draw customers for your new bikes.”
One motorcycle specialist explained how he started his current business. “I used to work on anything old. Then, someone brought me a Superhawk. I got it running well. The customer told me that no one would work on it, and he had friends with old Hondas. Next thing I knew, people were bringing me Dreams and 160s. I had customers I liked and bikes I liked to work on. I had a whole new business model.”
So if you have the shop resources and a staff person and are looking for ways to make money outside of the box, classic bikes are one suggestion.
“Get a bike, and use the restoration process to train your people,” suggested one restoration specialist. “Put the bike on the shop floor, get sources for parts, put the word out and people will come to you.”
The American International Motorcycle Expo (AIMExpo) has announced the inaugural Retro Affair, Vintage Motorcycle Show, presented in partnership with the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club (VJMC). This judged motorcycle competition, to be held at AIMExpo in Orlando, Florida, October 16-19, 2014, will showcase historic, restored and customized American, Japanese and European motorcycles built before 1984.
Motorcycles entered into Retro Affair will be seeded into classes based on make, model and year and judged on condition, originality and functionality.
Top placing motorcycles in each category will be awarded trophies, merchandise and cash prizes with a special prize going to the Best of Show.
Retro Affair will consist of a variety of classes. Vintage classes will be open to all make and model of motorcycles from all over the world with other classes specifically for café racers, the Honda Ruckus and Grom, and motorcycles under 125cc. The goal of this bike show is to create a quality showcase with a large variety of bikes to engage all motorcycle enthusiasts.
Entries into the competition must be submitted on-line to: www.regonline.com/AimExpo2014RetroAffair
For more info: AIMExpoUSA.com.