You hear a lot about family-owned businesses and the values such legacies imply. Does this mean you can only have those values if you’re a multi-generational shop? Well, no, because whether your shop is decades old or brand new we all have the potential to develop solid ethics and lead by example, characteristics both your staff and your customers will appreciate.
The power of leading by example came up when speaking with Shelly Rossmeyer Pepe, general manager of Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Harley-Davidson at Destination Daytona, a family-owned shop, but not a typical one. After a career running auto dealerships, Bruce got into motorcycles as a hobby career, one that soon took over his life. When Bruce passed away unexpectedly in 2009 it was part of a perfect storm of challenges for the Rossmeyer family. “The toughest times we’ve had, whether my father was here or not, were because of the overall economy,” said his daughter Shelly.
The family coped then, whether consciously or not, by reflecting on the example Bruce had exhibited in his life. Explained Shelly: “I know this, I witnessed it: If he had a disagreement with someone, next time he saw them he’d step up and shake hands. He never avoided people. And he never made promises he couldn’t keep. People don’t always get along or agree with each other, but the example from my dad showed us how to make it work.”
At Daytona Bike Week 2014 Rossmeyer’s H-D celebrated its 20th anniversary and while there’s not one among the family (there are four daughters, one son, a son-in-law and mom Sandy) who will say it’s been easy, they all agree it’s been worth it. They’re proud to continue Bruce’s dream.
Bruce had started to address the economic changes before his accident, recognizing that business wasn’t what it had been. “It was the hardest thing for him to do but he wanted to make sure we survived and stayed profitable,” said Shelly. “After we lost him it took us six months to a year
to get back to what we needed to do as a company.”
Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Harley-Davidson
Ormond Beach, FL
Year Established: 1994
Number of Employees: 110
So getting to 20 years and doing it without their leader is a satisfying milestone, though Shelly and her siblings had been active in Bruce’s car dealerships long before Destination Daytona came about. There was the H-D dealership on Beach Street, too, the location Bruce opened in 1994 after buying the Daytona H-D franchise from longtime owners Joe and Angie Robison. Biking culture was different then, remember? “Who knew Harley made other things besides T-shirts and parts?” said Shelly, reflecting on the Beach Street days. “My dad was one of the first dealers to embrace that.”
In those days riders wanted access to products that dealerships didn’t usually offer. Bruce responded by bringing the aftermarket world to his dealership, quite a renegade idea at the time for a franchised Harley-Davidson dealer. In fact, he encouraged aftermarket companies to promote their products, which spurred the creation of a vendor village around the Beach Street store that ultimately became a Bike Week hub. As bold as it was innovative, this concept essentially evolved into Bruce’s vision for Destination Daytona.
“It was our belief to open it up and see what would happen and we saw what happened,” said Shelly.
Shelly credits this inclusive attitude not only for Rossmeyer’s success over the years but also for the business’s evolution. “We see the motorcycle industry as a place for combined opportunities. But there was always the quality and value of Harley-Davidson backing it up, and as a Harley-Davidson dealer that’s where we focused as we should.”
And that’s an important point because at any franchised dealership an open approach has to live in harmony with brand loyalty. That’s where balance and creativity enter the picture, something Bruce mastered and Shelly echoes: “We’re very proud to be exclusive with Harley. It’s something they’ve worked hard to protect and we respect that. But I’m always glad to listen to ideas, too.”
If you’ve been to Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Harley-Davidson at Destination Daytona you know it’s way more than a bike shop. Surrounding the dealership on its 150-acre plot are retail stores, a hotel, condos, restaurants and bars, specialty shops, a special events pavilion, even a motorcycle mechanic’s school. When you’re billed as the world’s largest Harley-Davison dealership, it sets up expectations. Shelly said, “Some people think ‘big’ means ‘impersonal’ or ‘expensive’ but the proof of our success is when they have a great experience and leave thinking, ‘This is what buying a motorcycle should feel like!’”
From a business standpoint, the challenges of such a huge facility can be complex, with issues and expenses related to building projects, real estate, and massive overhead and maintenance matters most bike shops never have to deal with. Keeping that all running well, says Shelly, is a credit to the staff. Recognizing their importance is a vital element in Rossmeyer’s progress; and another lesson learned from Bruce.
“We have spent effort on recruiting and maintaining our key management team and associates over the years. I’m grateful for their loyalty and hard work.”
In particular, Shelly credits her husband Dean Pepe, who acts as general counsel. Bruce, who operated largely on a handshake basis, came to value and depend on Dean’s input on agreements and contracts, and today the dealership couldn’t run without this member of the extended Rossmeyer family. “He’s the voice of reason and the most balanced person I know,” said Shelly.
Yes, Bruce Rossmeyer’s spirit, determination and example certainly brought his family to a certain point in terms of business success. But you have to credit their own persistence and talents for where they are now, 20 years on.