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Destination Dealership: Preowned Powerhouse

American Cycles, Chattanooga

Used inventory can spell big bucks for dealers, and while buying for his boss at National Powersport Auctions last spring, Craig Collins decided to go it on his own by establishing American Cycles, based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A lifelong enthusiast and dealership employee, Collins knows what it takes to make it, even in the tough times facing dealers today. With the support of his partners Mike Caron and Andre Shved, Collins opened the dealership’s doors in May of 2007.

“When we started it was just going to be about reselling Harley-Davidsons,” says Collins. “But in order to be competitive in this market, with the economy in the shape that it is, we’ve had to establish a niche, and that niche is the custom bagger and the custom bobber.” While Collins says used H-D sales are still his bread and butter, he’s got customers rolling in his door from all parts of North America to snag his custom creations.

So where are these high-end customs coming from? Simple, they’re the same used bikes you’re seeing at auction, “The guys at NPA have been extremely helpful to me,” he says. 80 to 90 percent of my product comes from their auctions.” Collins is willing to take on bikes that other dealers might pass on because they’ve got some damage or are missing parts. But Collins isn’t looking to turn and burn his inventory — that’s where his stellar service crew comes into play. They throw one hell of a dose of TLC into the mix and add mouth-watering parts and accessories that enable Collins and his sales force to sell used units at prices comparable to the MSRP of Harleys straight off the production line.

Craig’s rockstar crew of ex-military mechanics is led by Heather Nevel. “I would put her up against any tech anywhere,” says Collins. “She is one of the hardest working people that I’ve ever had in here.” She brings her own exacting standards to the table, and Collins also prides himself on the quality and originality of the rest of the work that comes out of his shop. Collins went a step further than dropping an ad in the local paper to find his service crew — he used motorcycleindustryjobs.com, and was thrilled to find such qualified and competent help.

Quality customs and a stellar crew make a lasting impression at American Cycles, and Collins continues to follow an aggressive marketing plan to build his reach not only in his local market, but to garner a national (and even international) clientele as well. Collins advertises in local biker publications and a national magazine; he’s partnered with his local Fox affiliate; and he also takes his web presence seriously. He notes that putting bikes on eBay is also a great way to drive business to his web site and into his brick and mortar store. “They’ll see an expensive bike on eBay, and they might not buy that bike, but they might like the wheels or the exhaust,” says Collins.

His expansive reach has customers coming to American Cycles from as far away as California and Canada, and for good reason. “There’s not a whole lot of people doing what we’re doing,” says Collins. He’s also stoked about a blossoming relationship with the team over at FBI. They started offering Gary Chipp’s fat tire kits, and are now offering the lineup of three FBI Motor Company motorcycles. Collins claims to have a competitive edge over other FBI dealers, as he’s worked a deal with Chipp to paint his own sheet metal. “We can custom paint to the customer’s specs,” says Collins. “We try to get that leg up to have the advantage of a totally custom painted bike for the same as FBI retail.”

While Collins is realistic about the limits of our current economy, and is feeling the results of the credit crunch, he’s optimistic about the future of American Cycles. “In the down market, the custom bagger niche is still growing,” he says. “For the next four or five years, that’s what’s going to be hot, so we really wanted to put a footprint down and show people that we were different than what you could go to your local dealership and find. I think we’ve done it, and it continues to grow. I probably ride less now than I ever did before. But I enjoy it. I get up in the morning, and I go into work, and I love what I do,” concludes Collins. If you want to see more from Craig Collins and the crew at American Cycles, visit them on the web at americancyclesllc.com and stay tuned for next month’s MPN cover showcasing American Cycles’ artistry in iron.

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