J. Richard Tapia owns and operates four Harley-Davidson dealerships in California and Nevada, employing 60. He is one of the company's 650 U.S. dealership owners, who collectively sold 375,000 of the pricey bikes in 2004, at least 12,700 of them to Hispanic buyers.
These dealers operate in a market niche that has become largely synonymous with Anglo baby boomers. However, Mr. Tapia describes a younger, affluent, Hispanic buyer demographic that just might help sustain the Harley market as the baby boom market peaks.
Mr. Tapia, a Los Angeles native whose parents emigrated from Mexico, holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, and at age 46 has accumulated a slew of businessman-of-the-year distinctions. Though he does not reveal specific financial data, Mr. Tapia says his Carson City, Nevada dealership and its Lake Tahoe satellite (called an "SRL," or secondary retail location) sell about 300 Harleys per year. His other dealership, Yosemite Harley-Davidson, in Merced, California, and its Golden Valley satellite store in Los Banos, sell about 250. He bought the Merced dealership first, in 1998, and opened the fourth location, Los Banos, in 2004.
He says he was bitten by the Harley bug after riding with friends who owned various brands. Already a General Motors-certified master technician with experience as an expert witness on "lemon laws" (consumer protection laws obligating manufacturers or sellers to repair, replace, or refund the price of motor vehicles that prove to be defective), he bought his own Harley at retail price. And, having made friends in the motorcycle ranks, he decided to inquire about dealership prospects west of Denver. After a four-year wait, opportunity revved up.
According to the company, a typical 20,000-foot Harley dealership stocked with 160 bikes and a large array of clothing, accessories, and custom parts requires a minimum $900,000 investment plus excellent credit.
"Harley makes most of its money on clothing and accessories," says Mario Nieves, president of the international Latin American Motorcycle Association (LAMA), a touring club and "the foremost representative of the motorcyclists in the Hispanic community" with more than 22 chapters and 2,500 members in the U.S. "[The company] has blazed the trail in motor clothes," he adds, "making the Harley-Davidson label on a par with designer labels."
The Hispanic Factor
Within the company's corporate structure, including its various manufacturing plants, Harley-Davidson is "one of the most ethnically diverse organizations I have ever seen," claims corporate effectiveness expert Lee Ozley, co-author of the book More Than a Motorcycle: The Leadership Journey at Harley-Davidson, from Harvard Business School Press.
But on the dealership side, to date the company reports no target dealership demographics, saying simply it encourages all minorities to seek out availability.
The Harley Web site lists two ways of coming on board: buying an existing dealership or a new dealership location. At this writing it indicates there are opportunities to buy existing dealerships, but no new dealership locations.
Mr. Tapia knows he may be a relative rarity in the Harley universe: He can name only Victor and Joe Guidera, owners of area dealerships in Yuba City and Rocklin, California, as fellow Hispanic Harley dealers. But then, insiders agree, the company historically tended to regard ethnicity as irrelevant among dealers and buyers alike. Rather, Harley has viewed their customers as a demographic in their own right.
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