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  • Bob LoCicero

Vermont Dealerships Adapt to Survive

A mask wearing salesman at Wilkins Harley shows a customer a motorcycle
A mask wearing salesman at Wilkins Harley shows a customer a motorcycle

Vermont’s motorcycle dealerships are adapting and hoping to survive the Covid-19 pandemic by doing things a bit differently. From service to sales, things have changed and the thin margins that rule motorcycle dealerships have gotten a bit thinner.

“We’re still here, we’re still open, we just have to do things a bit differently”, said Tamara Boise Dealer Principle of Cyclewise Ducati/Triumph Vermont.

Cyclewise is offering pick-up and delivery for service and part orders and hoping that they can keep customers happy. “We’re just trying to meet customer demands”, said Boise.

A sign outside Cyclewise Ducati-Triumph Vermont urges customers to throttle through
A sign outside Cyclewise Ducati-Triumph Vermont urges customers to throttle through

Wilkins Harley-Davidson is offering loaner bikes and pickup and delivery for service. Roadside Motorsports is providing curbside drop-off of motorcycles for service.

The Wilkins van making a customer pickup
The Wilkins van making a customer pickup

Sales of motorcycles haven’t taken a big hit -- at least not yet -- but the work involved in each sale has increased. John Lyon of Wilkins Harley-Davidson in Barre said the dealership sold 26 bikes in April, but is delivering motorcycles to the buyer’s homes to complete the sale.

Cyclewise has had a similar experience. “Unit sales are not far off”, Boise said. “But, it takes two or three times as long to do each sale”. Exchanging paperwork has become a major chore.

The Ducati factory in Italy shutdown in March creating back orders for popular models like the Ducati Streetfighter. Harley Davidson, Yamaha and other also shutdown due to the pandemic.

Accessories and apparel have taken the biggest hit, since dealership have had to close their showrooms. Shoppers have turned to online sales -- a trend that dealers have been fighting for years -- and the impulse buy is no longer an option.

The closures were a factor in Wilkins closing their newly purchased Essex store. “We just didn’t have the runway to turn around an under performing dealership”, Lyon said. “We want to be here for the customer for the long-term. When a customer buys a bike from us -- new or used -- we make a long-term commitment to be there for them.”

“We’re making decisions to preserve the long-term viability of the business,” Lyon said. Wilkins has been in business for 73 years.

Cyclewise and Wilkins are both known for running community events for their customers, but both are taking a wait-and-see approach before committing to running events this summer. Both dealerships canceled their March and April events.

A Cyclewise employee pushes a bike inside for service
A Cyclewise employee pushes a bike inside for service

Cyclewise is looking for creative ways to run events this summer and hopes to still do demo rides. “It’s going to be more of a VIP experience,” said Boise. Rides will be by-appointment, groups will be small and bikes will need to be disinfected in between riders.

Cyclewise hopes to do their traditional Father’s Day weekend track day at New York Safety track. Additional rider registrations are needed to make the event happen, though. Currently, New York Safety track is planning to open.

When dealerships are given the green light to open their showrooms customers should expect a different experience. There will likely be limits on the number of people allowed into the store and masks will be required.

“We’ll do our best to size customers before trying on apparel,” Boise said. Unsold gear will likely need to be quarantined after a fitting session.

So the new normal will be different than before: let’s do our part to keep Vermont dealerships in business by buying local and supporting Vermont businesses and the people who run them.

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