Three years away from his 50th birthday, Bob Ladd stood in one of his seven pharmacies and had a moment of insight. He knew of a trend that when people turned 50, they have a “coming of age moment,” which is a turning point on how an individual moves forward. Typically, this person does something that they normally wouldn’t have done ten years prior, like buying their dream car and getting a new job. Ladd had plenty of cars, so his next adventure would be to find a new job.
That day, Ladd called Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee and told them he wanted to be a motorcycle dealer. Aligning his application with the motor company, Ladd was on a wait list until a dealership was available in Virginia.
“I walked into a Harley-Davidson dealership and they asked, ‘do you want to buy a bike?’ and I told them ‘I want to buy all of them. I want to be a dealer,’” Ladd said.
After negotiating a deal, Ladd became the owner of Shenandoah Harley-Davidson in January 1998.
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Ladd was one of Harley-Davidson’s top dealers between 1998 and 2011.
“I bought the dealership and they put the deal together with Harley, getting 15 units to sell in 15 months. The next year, we sold 150 units,” Ladd explained. “We were the largest volume used motorcycle dealer in Virginia for 13 years and we built our business 13.6% a year to $16.7 million in 2007 and moved into a new $6 million complex that I built in 2005.”
Through the success of his dealership, Ladd reached out into the community after 9/11 and began an annual charity fundraiser in October 2001, called the Freedom Relief Ride. He planned and led a ride to the U.S. Capital to raise money for victims of 9/11. This ride continued every year until 2011 to benefit different groups in need.
“I thought to myself, ‘Bob, you can do more than write a check,’ so I said I’m going to do a ride.”
The dealership also held several major concerts to groups like Grand Funk Railroad, Molly Hatchet and Steppenwolf to name a few.
“Do you ever think I dreamt I’d stand on a Woodstock-style stage and look at my friends, neighbors and customers and welcome these bands? That’s not even a dream people have. This just happens because you’re active and you keep things rolling.”
Though widely popular in the area, when the Great Recession hit in 2008, the dealership took a hit.
“We did almost $17 million. My goal was to do $20 million, but in 2008, it was a different world. Our gross dropped 30% over two years. All the net profit went away, and life was a struggle. So, I decided to sell the dealership.”
Shenandoah Harley-Davidson was sold in 2011. As of Aug. 18, 2020, the dealership closed permanently under new ownership.
Since the closure, thousands have come together to sign a petition to bring Ladd back into the dealership business.
“Bob is well known throughout our community, the Valley, Virginia and beyond,” the petition, written by Ginger Ham, event coordinator SHD HOG Chapter and Troy Price, VP of SHD Charity, Inc. read. “He helped make Shenandoah H-D the local landmark that it is today and a destination for thousands. Bob treated employees and customers like family, greeting just about everyone by name. His former employees speak highly of him, which is rare in today’s environment.”
The petition continued, “The dealership thrived under Bob’s leadership and the local community benefited as a result. Re-opening Shenandoah with Bob taking charge would not only support the needs of local bikers, it would create jobs, both at the dealership and at surrounding businesses, more traffic going through the dealership increases the likelihood of visits to nearby businesses.”
The petition currently has over 1,800 signatures.
“It is unbelievably humbling and satisfying,” Ladd said in response to the number of signatures. “It shows that what we did was appreciated.”
Ladd is looking to add more signatures to present the petition to Harley-Davidson to negotiate the dealership’s return in a professional way and hopes to sit down with Harley-Davidson’s CEO to discuss.
“It’s all about mechanics, not mechanics as far as technicians, but mechanics in ways of running a business and making money and doing it the right way. You have to decide what makes you happy. Life is a verb and you gotta live it!”
To learn more about Ladd, Shenandoah Harley-Davidson and to sign the petition, click here.