Destination Dealership: San-Diego Harley-Davidson

Fearlessly moving forward

According to tradition, bikers are rebels, bikers on Harleys even more so. That said, it shouldn’t be surprising that “New York” Myke Shelby, owner of San Diego H-D, is an intrepid individual who unequivocally states his beliefs without regard for conformity. But as a Harley-Davidson dealer, one might think Shelby would be stifled by business dynamics. Not so. And that’s more to the benefit of both his customers and the corporate structure his shop represents. “This,” says Shelby, opening his arms to indicate the dealership, “is what America is all about. Be yourself and be free.”

See, SD H-D has a colorful history, so you could say daring behavior is more than appropriate here; it’s required. When famed engine builder and race tuner Leonard Andres ran the dealership from the ‘40s to the ‘70s, the shop was a standout gem in the H-D crown. By all accounts, Andres was an outgoing, personable guy. Though some say the dealership lost its pizzazz when Leonard retired, there’s no question that the spark reignited when Shelby came on the scene in 1993. For proof, visit SD H-D’s website and view some of Shelby’s TV commercials. He insists that it’s the American made product — the Harley-Davidson motorcycle — that riders identify with, not a marketing campaign or a corporate structure. “Everything in life comes down to freedom,” he says. “It’s why we’re doing this, it’s why we’re still here.” And that’s the message that Shelby is emphatic about and quite good at delivering.

Shelby is an ardent activist for motorcyclist’s rights, whose patriotic fervor and intensity for riding are impressive. After more than 15 years at the dealership’s helm, he still works hard every day to maintain SD H-D’s solid reputation. His no-compromise attitude trickles down to everyone on the payroll, too.

A major benefit of this high-energy atmosphere is the fresh thinking and innovation that results when people are inspired to hustle. There’s pride of accomplishment and competition even between the three separate locations that fall under the SD H-D umbrella, including a shop at Seaport Village in San Diego Harbor, the main store on Kearny Mesa Road, and the downtown store in Little Italy (above), near the franchise’s original 1915 location. Employees at the downtown location are happy to point out their building’s unique architecture and singular spaces, unmatched, they say, by the other “modern” facilities. This is also where Rider’s Edge classes are held and is the site of frequent “Kettner Nights” street parties.

The Kearny Mesa store is campus-like as it spills into adjacent buildings in its industrial park setting. To keep the energy pumped up, live bands are scheduled here most every weekend, along with charity gatherings that benefit such groups as Fallen Officers and Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which is appropriate seeing Shelby is a U.S. Air Force veteran. Intent on maintaining their edge, both the Kettner and Kearny Mesa shops have undergone recent refurbishment and expansion projects. In fact, they were both under construction when I visited. “It’s not about surviving; it’s about thriving,” Shelby says.

Shelby’s personal ride is a stealthy, blacked-out V-Rod, but his attitude is inclusive as far as the H-D brand is concerned. “They’re all great bikes, they’re all American made,” he says.

Shelby deals on the level, too — no price cutting, no gouging. And he’s unapologetic about running his business with intent. “I need to make a profit to keep my people employed and to make sure we’re here when you need us,” he says.

Thanks to the balmy San Diego weather, barbeques are held year round and family events are scheduled on various holidays. Monthly New Bike Nights bring together new owners for special events. Frequent group rides are planned by the dealership’s HOG chapter to the Del Mar races or other area events. Savvy marketing partnerships expand the shop’s reach, too (see sidebar).

“I’m never afraid of competition,” says Shelby. “What I’m concerned about is government regulation.”

And that, friends, is the deceptively simple philosophy of an earnest and thoughtful man.

There’s something we can all learn from that.

Double the Fun

San Diego’s weather allows for year-round riding, and one way SD H-D recently capitalized on that fact was a partnership with the Hard Rock Hotel to develop the “Hard Rock and a Hog” package. Originally planned as a temporary promotion, the offer has been extended and includes two nights’ accommodations, a one-day bike rental, goodie bag, ride suggestions, meal credit and VIP access to the Hard Rock’s nightclubs. According to SD H-D’s event coordinator Trisha Marshall, “The idea was to encourage riders to enjoy our great weather and fine riding. Partnering with the Hard Rock just made sense.” They’re two great things that are better together, and make sense and sound like fun, too. Learn more about the promotion at www.sandiegoharley.com or www.hardrockhotelsd.com/harley-davidson.

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