It’s past closing time, and Bob Honz is still talking BMW bikes. He’s relaxed, conversational and full of decades of riding anecdotes. This may seem like a small detail, but to dedicated customers, Honz’s expertise in the fine details is the special ingredient that attracts so many Midwesterners to the dealership.
As general manager of Gateway BMW Motorcycles, Honz sets the tone for the rest of the staff. His background in the restaurant business has given him an insight into people and business that has helped build a successful BMW dealership from the ground up. He knows that he has to give customers a good value, a good consumer experience and better than average customer service.
The dealership opened in 2007. David Hunter is the financial guy with a long career in asset management. Bob Honz is the go-to guy with a dream to run a dealership. Together, they saw the perfect opportunity when the previous St. Louis BMW shop closed down. Practical and insightful, they both saw the need for a certified BMW shop to perform the warranty and routine maintenance for Midwestern BMW owners.
One of the more practical and eminently innovative ideas Honz has come up with is their S1000 “Ambassador.” An enthusiastic and eloquent customer, their S1000 Ambassador is a customer who is passionate about sport bikes. “I’m not a sport bike guy. BMW has this wonderful sport bike, but none of us at the dealership are sport bike riders. So I made one of our more enthusiastic customers our S1000 Ambassador,” said Honz.
Who better to promote the brand and the style of riding than a customer who is extremely passionate about it? Their Ambassador travels around to local bike nights and area events and shows off his sporty ride, talks racing and sport bikes, and gives out the dealership’s business cards. He also helps organize track days. In return, their Ambassador gets discounts on aftermarket parts and gear through the shop. It’s a win-win for both parties.
Before 2012, Gateway BMW found a profitable niche by selling base-model adventure bikes. These BMWs are the no-frills ones that customers see in national ads. Yet, when they went into other dealerships, by the time ABS, on-board tire pressure gauges and other BMW bells and whistles were added, the bikes were no longer affordable, entry-level bikes. Honz was laughed at many times by colleagues for offering these bikes, but ultimately he had the last laugh on the way to the bank.
The dealership has changed strategies once again, adapting to BMW’s line offering and the economy’s changing times. Used bike sales now make up almost 25 percent of their gross revenue. In addition, locals aren’t the only ones buying bikes. Gateway BMW has developed a reputation of not only giving good trade-in prices, but also taking care of the customer.
“I always have a good selection of used GSes. We’re a straight-shooting, honest, no B.S. place. We have a good reputation on the forums, and we have a good reputation for buying and selling bikes all over the country.”
While their main advertising venue is Cycle Trader, Gateway BMW also employs a social media person, and they have a strong Facebook presence. They sell approximately 200 used bikes every year to folks all over the country. Understanding motorcycle travelers is an integral part of this. A great many of their used bike buyers opt to do a fly and ride.
“We had two guys fly in from Russia who wanted to buy two F800 GSes and ride to Tierra del Fuego. They’d heard that we were knowledgeable with regard to setting bikes up for world travel, and decided to start their trip here. We had the bikes all prepped and ready for them with tool kits, spares and notes of what they needed to look at along their travels,” said the GM.
Gateway BMW sells not only BMW aftermarket parts, but also Wunderlich and SW Motech parts. The dealership has a broad selection of parts in stock and will install luggage and aftermarket accessories on the bikes ahead of time, so customers can simply show up and ride their bikes home.
While Gateway BMW is good at attracting customers from all over the country, they also do a great deal to cultivate their own loyal, local community. Each year, the dealership offers an off-road riding school. They hire two private instructors to come out to St. Louis and teach their customers the ins and outs of riding a large motorcycle off-road. Honz himself gets involved in rider education by leading groups riding through the Mark Twain National Forest.
Every spring and fall, the dealership hosts an open house, hiring talent such as Chris “Teach” McNeil to show off stunts on his S1000RR. They offer a catered meal, in-shop specials and give away tantalizing door prizes. They have some vendor participation, but it’s really about rolling out the welcome mat and appreciating their customers while illustrating how much fun it is to be a part of a riding community.
Motorcycles, riding and fun: that is the Gateway BMW Motorcycles special sauce.