By Ryan Gueningsman
Garage parties, dinner rides, a “green lane,” and building expansion are all part of the plans for new owners of Crow River Harley-Davidson, Rodney and Virgil Scherping.
After taking over the business from the Donahue family in October, the father-and-son team have been learning the ins and outs of running a Harley-Davidson dealership.
Once the Scherpings and Donahues reached terms for the business, the hoops really began. Rodney described an interview with Harley-Davidson, having to be accepted by the corporation, along with a new dealer orientation.
He said the new dealers sit in a round room by a table, and all the different areas of motor department come in and talk about the warranty on bikes, different paint schematics on bikes, parts and accessories anything and everything having to do with selling and maintaining a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“There was a box about 30-by-30 by-30 they told us, ‘When you guys are ready to leave, that box will be plump full of literature and different things we give you,’ and they were right,” Scherping said. “It was new for us. We didn’t know what to expect.”
Scherping said it was also interesting to take a tour of the main corporate headquarters in Milwaukee, and also see where the bikes were first developed.
“I’ve been driving bikes since I was 16 years old. In 1990, I bought my first Harley, and all my buddies thought I was just nuts buying a Harley,” Scherping said. “Now, they all drive Harleys, so everyone’s coming around.”
With several months under their belts, the Scherpings are looking forward to expansion plans for the business.
“First off, we want to create some more storage for used bikes and the new bikes as they come in we want to get them in a heated area, so we’re going to add on to the back,” Scherping said. “That’ll give us a bigger heated area for customer storage bikes in the winter, and also more cold storage.”
Once the Scherpings add on the area in the back, their plan is to move the entire showroom parts and accessories, clothing, and the bikes, to that area, and during the winter months, they plan to tear off the front of the existing building, expanding from 6,000 square feet to 13,000 square feet for the showroom.
Scherping said that Harley-Davidson is heavily involved with the expansion plans.
“It’s my money, but it’s their ideas that we have to apply, so we’re going to be starting that here at the end of March,” Scherping said, adding that they’ll be getting final numbers together, permitting that comes with the project, and working with Harley-Davidson to meet the necessary requirements.
“A lot of it is set up for customer satisfaction and convenience,” Scherping said of the expansion. “We want to get a lot more bikes on the floor in the showroom, so we’re not walking outside to another area to look at bikes. We want everything to be right there.”
Scherping said the spring of 2010 is the anticipated completion date for both phases of the project. He said phase one will be the back warehouse addition, and phase two will be the new office/showroom addition.
Along with the plans for expansion, the Scherpings have also added quite a few positions, and have hired a new service manager, Greg Park.
Park is from South Dakota, and has some friends in the Chaska area who led him to Minnesota.
He had been in the Harley-Davidson business for 12 years, and said he wanted to get back in the business.
“I missed it,” Park said.
Something the Scherpings and Park are starting in his department in Delano is the “green lane” featuring instant oil and tire changes.
“The problem for many years has been oil changes and tire changes for your Harley,” Park said. Now, at Crow River Harley-Davidson, a technician has been hired specifically to do oil and tire changes, so there is no making appointments or waiting several days or even weeks for your bike to be serviced.
“It’ll be just like the quick lube down the road,” Scherping said. “If you pull in and somebody’s in front of you, you have to wait. Harley-Davidson has been toying with the idea, so we thought, ‘why not do it?’”
The Scherpings and Park are planning on starting this new service Saturday, March 17 St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s the green lane on green day,” Park said. “Hopefully, it’ll be 70 and sunny.”
He said the big thing about the shop at Crow River Harley-Davidson is there are three employees who have each been there more than 20 years.
“They are all master technicians,” Park said. “What makes that unique is that most dealerships have technicians that have been with them for three years, and then leave to go somewhere else.”
Having Jeff Etzel, John Metz, and Fred Thorston in the shop ensures customers quality service.
“These guys are awesome,” Park said. “There’s a difference between a fast technician, and a fast and good technician.”
A lot of first-time Harley-Davidson owners have waited 40 or 50 years to get their first bikes, and now that children have moved on to college, people have the opportunity to dive into other recreational avenues.
“That first ride is a big deal,” Park said. “The first time you feel that vibration, and you get about two miles down the road, this exhilarating grin hits your face, and you want to keep that feeling all the time.”
Park, himself, said he rides “every chance he gets, and said motorcycles have been a part of his life since he was 4 years old.
The Scherpings also love to ride, and have developed that same passion for riding over the years.
“By owning Crow River Harley-Davidson, we are able to realize our dreams,” Scherping said.
The Scherpings owned Scherping Systems in Winsted, which is a manufacturer of stainless steel equipment for dairy and food processing industries.
They sold the business in 1996, and now felt the time was right to “try something different.”
Rodney Scherping oversees a majority of the day-to-day operations of the facility, while Virgil is around for part of the year. In his time not spent in Minnesota, he resides in Arizona.
Rodney’s wife, Becky, also works at the Harley-Davidson store several days a week when she’s not too busy with their business, Embroidery Express in Winsted.
Above all, Scherping said he wants to create a friendly atmosphere at Crow River Harley-Davidson.
“Everybody here is a Wal-Mart greeter,” he said. “They all want to say ‘hi,’ and make you feel welcome when you come. I can hear the door open every time someone walks in. If I don’t hear someone walk up and talk to the person, I’ll go out.”
Having a larger customer lounge area is also something that is in the works.
“Harley-Davidson focuses pretty hard on that keeping your customers happy,” Scherping said, noting there are also dinner rides starting in May on Tuesday nights that will run through September that will feature a 40-mile ride and dinner.
“It’s a way to meet other people and talk to other enthusiasts,” Scherping said. There is also a local chapter of the Harley Owners Group (HOG), sponsored by the dealership, that has about 140 local members.
The Scherpings are planning on having more events, including a motorcycle museum in August, an antique motorcycle show in the first part of May, and also every Saturday the dealership will have “hogs and dogs,” which is free hot dogs, chips, and pop for people stopping by.
A quarterly newsletter from the dealership is another way Scherping hopes to reach out to his customers and keep them informed of upcoming events and specials.
Another avenue that Scherping is finding to be a success is the Harley-Davidson motor clothes.
“They are getting to be pretty fashionable right now,” Scherping said. “A lot of people who don’t even own a bike will come in to buy clothes. It’s the current trend.”
Crow River Harley-Davidson is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and closed Sundays.
For more information, call (763) 972-6282, or visit www.crowriverhd.com.