An Old Fashioned, Down-Home Dealership

Washington, Mo.-based J&W Cycles centers its business model around community involvement, customer service and personal relationships.

Jim and Bob Jones are proving that it’s possible to run a modern day business in the 21st century on an old fashioned business model and thrive. Over the last 36 years, they have built J&W Cycles into a successful multi-line dealership based on community involvement, customer service and personal relationships — just like businesses used to be built in the old days.

Jim and Bob are brothers, and Bob is the reason the two went into business together.

“It was all my fault,” says Bob Jones. “Jim is my younger brother, and I got him involved in dirt bikes. We did enduros and hare scrambles, and we kept up with dirt biking after I graduated and started teaching history in St. Louis. Jim got a job as the service manager of a large dealership, and on the way to the races, we talked about starting our own dealership. Finally, we decided that if we didn’t do it now, we would always regret it.”

The brothers opened the doors in March of 1977 with Kawasaki. When they started, they knew most of the people in the local business community, and all of the people in the local off-road community. Both groups helped them find a location for the dealership, get the doors open and start selling. By June, they were doing well enough to acquire a Suzuki dealership. Bob, Jim and the J&W Cycles dealership continued to live well and prosper, and a Yamaha franchise came their way in 1983. They survived the early ‘80s downturn in the motorcycle business while on the lookout for new opportunities.

Washington, Mo., is a farming community, but it’s not that far from St. Louis and has become something of a commuter bedroom area.

“We are very lucky — our county has grown tremendously. During the last 30 years, the population has gone from 50,000 to 125,000,” says Jim.

Even as the population grew, the farmers stayed, accounting for a large portion of J&W’s sales of 4-by-4s and ATVs.

The demand for these off-road vehicles was incentive for the brothers to bring on Polaris in 1989. Cruiser enthusiasts are the largest group of motorcyclists in the area, so a Victory dealership was added in 1998. Recently, the brothers added Honda to the mix.

In addition to their organic connection to the local community, Jim and Bob credit their success to a balanced, hands-on approach.

“I have always handled sales, and Jim has always handled service,” explains Bob. “Other dealerships are started by a person who comes from either a sales or a service perspective, so the business slants. We are balanced.

“We have a good reputation for both sales and service,” Bob continues. “A hands-on owner is crucial to the success of a motorcycle dealership. It’s not like a car dealership. People have to have a car — a motorcycle is more discretionary. You have to have a personal relationship with the customer.

“Another important factor in our success is our ability to keep employees. We have half a dozen employees that have been with us over 20 years in sales, parts and service. People ask for our employees by name. They tell us, ‘I don’t want anyone else touching my bike.’”

Anyone entering the dealership is greeted with, “May I help you?” It’s common for female customers at motorcycle dealerships to voice concerns about being ignored, but this is not a problem at J&W. Several female customers have even posted comments on the website, noting how surprised and happy they were with the level of customer service at J&W.

A large dirt bike contingent makes up Jim and Bob’s customers. The dirt bike community is family-oriented, and making one rider happy almost guarantees that nieces, cousins and brothers of the happy customer will show up.

Jim and Bob sponsor several of the local riders and underwrite a motocross race at the fairgrounds, and the dirt bike community in turn supports the brothers in good times and bad. “It helped during the hard times that we are very, very involved in our community.”

Other customer segments include the cruisers (Bob boasts that Washington, Mo., has the “most awesome roads in the world”) and smaller groups of sport bike enthusiasts and commuters. The vast assortment of motorcycles J&W carries allows the dealership to cater to all of these disparate groups. Bob and Jim hold demo events and open houses on a regular basis, and recently hosted a Honda “I Wanna Ride” event and a Victory “Get In Gear” demo.

One venture that was helpful to steer new riders to the dealership, but has more or less run its course, is J&W’s involvement with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. “We started supplying motorcycles to the MSF. They ended up buying the bikes from us.”

J&W Cycles has acknowledged the help it has gotten from the local community by giving back. The dealership belongs to the local Chamber of
Commerce, and Bob has even served a stint as the Chamber of Commerce president. The brothers have also has volunteered to be on the board of the county fair.

One customer said it well: “I’m pleased to say that you all are a special team together. Good begets good. What you sow, you shall also reap. Keep on good sowing. Keep up the kindness and excellent service, it goes a long way.”  

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