Petersen Motors has seen a lot of changes since Russell “Pete” and Grace Petersen started selling Studebakers and Packards in 1953. At the end of this month, there will be another one.
After 43 years as a Harley-Davidson dealership, the sign out front will come down March 1. Brothers Ross Petersen and Russ Dulany, who took over the business from their parents in 1995, will turn their attention to Honda.
“It’s time,” Petersen said Monday, hours after the decision was announced.
“Harley is going through a major restructuring and part of their plan is to add fewer dealers,” he said. The brothers felt it was a good time to voluntarily “retire” from selling the brand they’ve been known for since 1978.
The decision means just one thing: They won’t be selling new Harleys any longer.
“We’re still going to take care of our customers who have purchased Harley- Davidsons and other motorcycles over the years,” Petersen said.
They can service Harleys, sell used ones, get parts and do non-warranty work. They also look forward to maintaining the friendships they’ve made with Harley riders from across the country, some of whom have been stopping by the shop for 25 years.
Finding their legs
Harley-Davidson has been struggling for market share for several years as its loyal customers age and younger riders aren’t as sold on the brand.
The pandemic didn’t help matters. The company closed its U.S. plants in March as the virus spread and it was widely reported in May that it wouldn’t be shipping any more new bikes in 2020 to about 70 percent of its 698 U.S. dealers.
The decision was part of an apparent strategy to cut costs while making the cycle more desirable by making it tougher to get ahold of.
Petersen Motors sells far more Hondas, Petersen said. But because Harley-Davidsons are “a premium product,” the dollar sales were about equal, especially when considering the revenue from clothing, parts, accessories and service, along with cycles.
But overall, he said they still earn more profit from Honda. They’ve also seen a lot of growth in the past year because of the very thing that has hurt Harley-Davidson — the pandemic.
“The four-wheel side of Honda, the recreation side, the off-road has exploded in the last year,” Petersen said. “COVID-19 did something none of us expected whether we were a motorcycle-powersports dealer, campers, boats, whatever — stuff families can do together.”
Sales where brisk and they — and dealers all over the country — quickly ran out of product.
Those vehicles, whether used by farmers and ranchers or families out for a fun time are where the growth opportunities are, the brothers said.
“That’s what really keeps our shop busy,” Petersen said. “Farmers and ranchers depend on them so much, if something happens, we take care of them.”
They also said moving out of the new-Harley business “frees up a lot of resources, not just monetarily, but the facility and employees who will be able to do a lot better job at what we’re good at.”
Despite the initial hit to revenue and product to sell, they said they will keep their four full-time and two part-time employee and are looking to hire more as they anticipate growth.
And before you ask, no, you can’t buy the Harley-Davidson sign out front. The brothers guess this latest one has been out there 10 or 15 years.
“Whenever we get a new sign we have people who want to buy our old one,” Dulany said with a laugh.
It won’t happen. At the end of the month, the company will be coming around for it, ushering in the latest change for Petersen Motors.