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Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson

This dealership is steeped in history.

How many dealerships can claim to have a museum on the premises? Not many, but one of them is Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson in Phoenix. However, the museum is only one aspect of this dealership that celebrates generations of motorcycle culture. In fact, Frank Stubbs, the owner of Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson, is a third-generation motorcycle dealer carrying on the legacy his grandfather started almost a century ago.

Motorcycle Born and Bred

Stubbs’ grandfather became a Harley-Davidson (H-D) dealer in Decatur, Illinois, in the 1930s and continued selling motorcycles through the 1950s. During the ‘60s, Stubbs’ father, Buddy, started racing motorcycles for H-D, which included winning the Daytona 100-mile race in 1963. Thereafter, Buddy stopped racing, but he didn’t let go of his motorcycling roots. He then started the company Arizona Harley-Davidson, and when a location came up for sale in Phoenix, he bought it. On July 16, 1966, the dealership officially became known as Buddy Stubbs Arizona Harley-Davidson — the only H-D franchise in The Valley at that time.

Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson
Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson was established in Phoenix in 1966 by Frank Stubbs’ father, Buddy.

To this day, the company remains the only authorized H-D dealer within the city of Phoenix, but now it is in Stubbs’ hands. Stubbs, who was born in 1978 and grew up surrounded by motorcycles, graduated from the University of San Diego in 2000 and right away began working in the dealership. His younger brother also joined the company shortly afterwards.

In 2005, the dealership moved to its current location on North Cave Creek Road, and in 2009, it opened up a second store, though Stubbs shuttered it during the pandemic. While that might seem like a loss, Stubbs feels that closing the second location ultimately benefitted the company, since it helped eliminate a lot of debt.

Getting Door Swings

While the pandemic offered its own set of challenges, today, inflation and the economy are the store’s main paint points. “The price of motorcycles has just gone up significantly,” Stubbs says. “Same motorcycle three years ago is $3,000 to $4,000 more now.” With people cutting down on extraneous and recreational expenses, the last six months have seen less floor traffic for the dealership, but Stubbs knows he’s not alone. “This district is down about 30% for the year. We’re just looking at every deal and trying to make it make sense, and it’s really all you can do,” he notes.

Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson
On the the dealership’s biggest traffic drivers is the vintage motorcycle museum.

Buddy has always relied on several methods for bringing customers into the store, and the dealership continues to use them now. For instance, Buddy offers rider training for new riders and holds numerous other events.

Naturally, the attached motorcycle museum is another major traffic driver. With his passion for vintage motorcycles, Buddy started collecting them in the 1980s, buying many from overseas — even as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Now, visitors come from around the world to see the collection of 130 vintage bikes from 37 different manufacturers across 3,000 square feet of display space. With the oldest bike hailing from 1903, there are over 110 years of history on display in this free-admission museum.

Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson
The museum contains over 130 vintage bikes from 37 different manufacuterers.

“We also have our own rental department,” Stubbs adds. Recently, AZ Big Media, an online news source, surprised the dealership by listing the museum in its article titled, “13 free Arizona museum experiences this summer.”

H-D Trends

While the museum showcases some of the global motorcycle trends from the past century, Stubbs is noticing some intriguing new H-D-specific trends in his store.

“The Softail family has actually gotten back even with the Touring family,” Stubbs says. “Touring bikes used to be the best sellers, hands down. Now, Harley has really put a lot into the Softail line with the Low Rider and the Low Rider ST. That family is actually outperforming the Touring family for us right now.”

Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson
Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson

As far as his bestselling parts, gear and accessories go, Stubbs answered immediately: t-shirts. The company even has an apparel store about 20 minutes north of the main dealership that primarily sells t-shirts. Of course, parts and accessories are popular too, and Stubbs notes that performance upgrades, exhaust systems, lighting and luggage do best in that category.

However, there’s one H-D trend that Buddy Stubbs hasn’t gotten on board with yet. In 2019, Harley-Davidson shook the powersports world by announcing the LiveWire electric motorcycle brand. It was a bold and unexpected move from a company so steeped in the tradition of bringing a rumble to life. H-D later spun the brand off to be its own publicly traded company, but it still owns 74% of the company and reports its financials. According to H-D’s 2023 Q1 financial statement, LiveWire revenue decreased by 25% year-over-year due to lower sales. But while LiveWire sales are not anywhere near those for traditional Harleys, those who do ride them tend to enjoy them.

Stubbs doesn’t believe riders on the whole will be transitioning to electric any time soon. However, he does have a LiveWire in his garage, which is his current daily rider — and he loves it.

“It’s super fun — it’s amazing. I mean, it’s like riding a rollercoaster,” he notes. “With that being said, with a range of 100 miles, it’s not what our customers are looking to do. For me, it’s great, because I ride it back and forth to work and charge it at my house.”

Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson
Performance upgrades, exhaust systems, lighting and luggage are the best parts and accessories sellers.

These conflicting views illustrate that while Stubbs can see use cases for electric motorcycles, he doesn’t see a business case for his dealership. For instance, he notes two major problems the average rider would face with these low-range motorcycles: finding charging stations and long charging times. Especially for those who ride in groups, no one expects their riding buddies to sit around for hours while an electric motorcycle charges on the road. “It just doesn’t make sense,” Stubbs says.

While he admits that they can be useful for daily riders or those with short commutes, he notes a caveat: As it stands now, whether you own a car or a motorcycle, an electric vehicle can’t be your only vehicle.

“You also need a gas-powered one,” Stubbs says. “That’s the thing. I even feel the same way about cars. A bunch of my buddies who have Teslas — if they want to go on a trip, they really a lot of times don’t take their Tesla.”

Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson
Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson has the pulse on what its customer base wants.

While he may not be totally on board with selling electric motorcycles, Stubbs does think electric bicycles are something dealerships should consider. In fact, not only does Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson sell a brand of electric bikes, but Stubbs purchased one for his daughter and says it’s “phenomenal.”

Whatever the future holds, it’s likely Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson will weather the storm. Built on three generations of motorcycle selling experience, Buddy Stubbs is the last family-owned Harley dealer in Phoenix, and those strong ties to the past are bound to help the dealership navigate the future.

Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson

13850 North Cave Creek Road
Phoenix, AZ 85022
(602) 971-3400
www.buddystubbshd.com

OEM: Harley-Davidson
Distributors: Parts Unlimited, Tucker Powersports, Western Power Sports
Number of employees: 50
Number of locations: One (plus an apparel shop)

If you would like to nominate someone or be featured as a Dealer of the Week, reach out to Greg Jones at [email protected] or Meagan Kusek at [email protected].

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