is one thing. But weathering a category five hurricane and staying in business afterward is something else altogether. “Katrina is a big chapter of our history,” says Zach Materne, son of Gayle and Steve Materne, owners of The Transportation Revolution in the heart of downtown New Orleans.
The Transportation Revolution started out as a Vespa Boutique in 2002, one of 30 such storefronts to open in the U.S. With only two models to sell, a 50cc scooter and the “bigger” 150cc version, the Maternes had to be creative. Classic movie posters, an espresso machine and a Euro ambience prevailed.
Within two years, the shop had captured a respectable portion of the market, so they bought a one-time Packard dealership in central New Orleans and began remodeling it to provide both a new storefront and living quarters. Enter Katrina, a long delay and an abrupt change in, well, just about everything.
Fortunately, the Materne’s sons, Zach and Max, had already joined the business; Zach handles sales, apparel and the showroom, while Max runs service and parts. Because the inhabitants of New Orleans are realists, the family had a storm evacuation plan in place before Katrina hit. They scheduled periodic drills to perfect the routine, moving the entire inventory to the second floor of a nearby parking garage as the plan dictated.
“When we actually needed to move as the storm was coming, we were a finely tuned machine,” Zach says. So just days after Katrina hit, much of TTR’s inventory was waiting safely in the parking garage to be shuttled to a Baton Rouge warehouse. The family was living in a pre-arranged rental home near LSU, with space enough for employees, extended family and friends.
However, business didn’t stop as a result of Katrina. “We got back into the city ten days later,” Zach says, “and though it was six weeks before there was any order at all, we sold a bike three weeks after the storm and were right back in business. People needed transportation.”
So TTR operated out of Baton Rouge, shuttling vehicles, people, parts and everything else back and forth as needed. “The backyard of the rental house was sales, and the garage was the service department,” Zach explains.
Thanks to well-kept and rescued service records, the staff contacted customers and drove in to meet them in the city to pick up their scooters for service or to deliver parts and new vehicles. This shuttle operation lasted until February 2006 when TTR opened at their current location on Julia Street, in The Big Easy’s warehouse district.
Once the shop was reestablished, the family diversified its product offering as a means to recovery. Part of growing its two-wheeled foothold in the city was the acquisition of the Triumph line in June 2007, a departure from Vespas to be sure, but an allied step up for riders wanting a more powerful machine that retained across-the-pond styling. TTR is now the exclusive Triumph dealer for the entire Gulf Coast region, covering a territory of 300 miles.
In August of 2008, TTR took on the Ducati franchise, also creating a custom retail showroom for the marque that stands as one of just four in the U.S. It’s a great fit with the other lines, too, maintaining the Euro feel and tapping into a swoopy, race-inspired sportbike spirit that serves to further broaden the customer base. “When we only sold scooters, we’d lose the customer who wanted to upgrade to a larger street bike. Now we get them started and bring them along when they’re ready to move to a bigger bike,” Zach says.
The additional offerings have become even more vital since TTR has been hosting MSF riding classes twice monthly. “This brings another 25 serious customers through the store every other week, and we get these people thinking about riding different brands of bikes,” Zach says.
Making the best use of their rather compact showroom space, TTR has created distinctly different areas of the store that are thoroughly infused with their respective brands. They’ve applied a streetwise retail savvy that packs a punch while creating a feeling of openness in the store’s design, which incorporates plenty of windows and natural light. “We’ve tried to put a lot in the space we have,” Zach says.
In terms of how the service department has handled the expansion to additional brands, Max says it’s become important to get familiar with different kinds of riders and their attitudes.
“We teach Vespa owners how to maintain their machines, to help stop problems before they start,” Max says. “Ducati riders are much more performance-oriented and generally more technical. They’re also smart enough to know not to work on their own bikes,” Max says. “And they’re likely to form a relationship with the service department right from the start.”
Working on Ducatis is not necessarily easy, Max adds. TTR’s technicians must attend specialized, multi-level training to be fully educated on properly servicing the bikes. Max says that Triumphs are also technically intricate. “They have high-tech electrictronics, and there’s recently been some new diagnostic software to decipher,” he says, “but Triumph riders are often down-to-earth types. They just want to ride a dependable bike that has distinctive looks,” he said.
TTR must be hitting the mark because both Triumph and Ducati came to New Orleans for their new model launches in 2009 and the shop was glad to participate. And why not? Everyone knows New Orleans can host a party.