Jerry Wohlrabe has traveled the road not often taken to arrive at his Prescott Valley, Ariz., Victory dealership. From a Minnesota kid who was not allowed on “those dangerous contraptions,” to junior high science teacher to traveling salesman, Wohlrabe didn’t foresee opening a motorcycle shop in a small town about 90 minutes northwest of Phoenix.
“I was an avid rider ever since I left home,” said the affable owner. “I was forbidden to have motorcycles, so me and my brother waited until we were out of the house.”
Wohlrabe, however, still had no idea what was down the road. The dealer tried his hand at a few trades before finding his calling. He taught science and later went door-to-door selling wholesale electronics. Wohlrabe also helped his dad with the family construction business. One job led to another, and before long Wohlrabe owned nine backhoes, a few dump trucks and enough excavation equipment to unearth a small city.
Wohlrabe, 63, left the snowfields of the Midwest for Arizona sunshine in 1972. He moved to Prescott Valley in 1976. “Been here 35 years; wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” he said. “I looked around for an opportunity and saw the local Harley-Davidson dealer had closed. Since it already had been a motorcycle shop, and I wanted to open a motorcycle shop, it just seemed like the natural thing to do. Me and my brother, Dean, bought it and opened Prescott Valley Motorcycles in 1997.”
Initially, the Wohlrabe brothers sold used bikes. They bought, freshened and resold motorcycles, bought overstock from factory dealers and consigned bikes, mostly Harleys. In 2000, they became an Indian dealer, pre-Polaris or Stellican.
“We felt good about the Gilroy, Calif.-based Indian,” said Wohlrabe. “They were constantly making improvements and lowering the price. Confidence in the factory was high, sales were really picking up, and then the carpet was pulled out from under us. Indian suddenly folded in 2003 while I was on the way to their dealer meeting in Las Vegas. I was floored.”
It was a challenge to Wohlrabe and his team. “We had to figure out what to do next. It was a tough time, and I didn’t know what to do at first.” Wohlrabe got off the deck, dusted himself off and took a shot at Victory. Within 17 days, PVM became a Victory dealer. “At first, I was unimpressed with their bikes, but they had made big improvements by 2003, so I thought they had a viable product.”
Victory produces top-shelf factory customs, and its aggressive marketing strategies bode well for dealers as the economy slowly recovers. “The factory is doing well and their profits are up, but it hasn’t trickled down to us as much as other Victory dealerships,” said Wohlrabe, “Prescott Valley has been very hard hit; construction and real estate is way down, so we have to work harder to maintain the bottom line.”
PVM has found a specialty in selling bikes out of state. “We can sell anywhere in the U.S.,” said Wohlrabe. “Some people cannot find the model they want locally, or are on vacation, walk in and find something they like. They buy it; we ship it. Some of the bikes are used, like the Harley we just sold to a gentleman from Oklahoma; some are brand new.”
Beyond a well-trained staff, professional and courteous salespeople and a solid service department, Wohlrabe brings a rare intangible to the table: he keeps his word. He has built a strong reputation in northern Arizona as a fair and honest dealer who stands behind his products and service. For any customer, this kind of integrity is worth going out of the way for. “I try to give people the feeling I am not just another fast-talking salesman, that I am one of them and have their interests at heart. It may sound corny, but it’s simple — I treat people how I like to be treated.”
PVM does the usual part, tire and service specials; deep apparel discounts and eBay sales. The dealership has a website and advertises online. It also sponsors a local Victory rider group and uses direct mail to reach its client base. “We’ve also tried Craigslist, but people are willing to only pay 50 percent or 25 percent of an item’s value there, so we’ve stopped using it. Cycle Trader wasn’t working very well, either.
“Some of the things we do, like the oil change/free bike inspection deal, doesn’t make money but brings people through the door. Insurance work has become a nice niche, and we work at developing a good rapport with the insurance companies. Now I’m considering renting bikes, then selling them later at discount.”
Despite a solid standing in the community, a multi-prong sales approach and promotional assistance from Victory’s impressive demo truck and the company’s factory discount coupons, life as a dealer is not easy. “You still need some buyers,” said Wohlrabe, “Last year was a lot better than the year before, which was bad, but right now we’re only about even with last year.”
Polaris’ recent purchase of Indian is expected to give PVM a boost. “It doesn’t surprise me,” said Wohlrabe, who may come full circle with the brand that is too cool to die.
“I think Polaris has been interested in Indian for quite a while, so when the opportunity to buy them came up, they grabbed it. It could be a most advantageous deal for the factory. Even if they make it their ‘premium’ marque, I hope they keep the price reasonable, no more than a couple of grand more than what the Victorys are selling for. I don’t think this market will bear much more.”