Guest blogger Aaron Heinrich visits a Triumph dealership with a difference.
Back in 1968 when Anthony ‘Tony’ Felice was out of work and unsure what to do next, his father-in-law thought he had the answer.
As it turned out, Sheldon Pine, an insurance adjustor living in Chicago, was right… there was decent money to be made in salvaging motorcycles.
He was right. Almost half a century on and the business is booming, built on a blend of technology and customer service that keeps riders coming back.
“We bought a piece of property in Folsom, California, and became the first licensed motorcycle dismantler in California. We took everything apart. Triumphs, American bikes and literally every type you could imagine, and sold the parts. That became the basis for a pretty successful business,” explains Tony.
That business became known as A&S Motorcycles, named for the first initials of Anthony and Sheldon. But their eventual success didn’t happen overnight.
“It was rough the first few months. We’d bought 14 or 15 salvaged bikes but barely had any customers, so we had to get odd jobs just to make ends meet. Once we started advertising, it finally started to pick up.”
It didn’t take long for A&S to go from taking bikes apart to repairing and servicing. And just as they learned to tear down any kind of bike that rolled through the shop, they also learned how to fix any bike that limped its way in.
A few years later, the custom bike scene of the 70s was gaining traction, and so was A&S. They were carrying parts for old bikes the custom builders needed and couldn’t find elsewhere. This was a time when the Triumph Bonneville was one of the mainstays of the custom world, with the emphasis on long, raked out front ends, no front brakes and those awkward-looking king and queen stepped seats.
“Custom bikes back then also meant a lot of chrome, so we decided to open up a chrome shop and were chroming parts for bikes and cars. We were also building our own 21-inch front wheels with a small drum brake of our own design. It didn’t take much for us to decide to start building some custom bikes of our own.”
Tony said they won awards at a few custom bike shows, but they stopped building customs once they decided to close down the chrome shop. The salvage business was booming, they had opened a second location about 25 miles away in Sacramento and needed to focus.
Meanwhile, Tony’s son Randy was learning the business, and had been since he was old enough to rebuild a carburettor. He went to college, started finding new ways to categorise and computerise the parts A&S was carrying and started putting some processes in place for their repair work.
The business grew even further to the point where Tony had his wife Adrian come in and help with the books. That temporary position lasted a couple of decades until she retired in 2003.
The success of the salvage and chrome businesses led the father and son to start looking at other opportunities. So, at the urging of one of Tony’s brother-in-laws, they acquired an existing BMW motorcycle dealership in 1988. A few years later, the salvage business was scrapped for good so A&S could concentrate strictly on selling new and used bikes.
By 1994 they became one of the first Hinckley-era Triumph dealers in California, and BMWs and Triumphs were sitting next to each other at A&S. It was a move, Tony said, that was driven by the heritage of the Triumph brand and what they knew of the bikes from their days spent salvaging them for parts.
“We sold Triumphs for nearly five years, but the work we were doing with BMW as a supplier to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and other law enforcement agencies in the state soon took over our space and time, so we had to give up the Triumph business in 1998. That was a difficult decision.”
It wouldn’t be until 2010 that A&S started selling Triumphs again, but they have since rapidly grown that part of the business to the point where they’ve been a ton-up dealer (selling 100 or more units a year) for three years in a row and sold more than 140 Triumphs in 2016.
Tony has since retired from the business, leaving Randy in charge. He said there are compliance issues around the job he doesn’t miss, but loves seeing the new bikes when they come in. He still gets out and rides whenever he can.
In a business that has seen a lot of dealers come and go with the varied stages of the economy, one has to wonder about the secret to the A&S success. Randy has a ready answer: “Customer service and adaptability. We’ve always gone out of our way to be customer service oriented because it’s one of the things that sets us apart.”
The dealership also became an early adopter of technology that would help streamline and market the business. Besides the various processes and technologies Randy continues to update, that also includes engaging in social to the extent that they now have someone on staff dedicated to managing an active Twitter feed, YouTube channel and Facebook page. Like customer service, technology adoption isn’t just checking off a box for A&S, it’s being committed to making it work right.
By 2018, A&S will be coming up on 50 years in the motorcycle business, so it’s only natural to wonder what Tony and Randy think of the future of the industry.
Randy says: “Bikes are going to have to get safer to attract new buyers. And builders will be creating more bikes for smaller niches. We’re already seeing that in all the different bikes Triumph is now offering. And wooden floors and bikes stacked next to each other are going to give way to more unique ways to showcase the product.”
As for the future of A&S, given the success of the dealership since that life-changing decision in 1968, it’s not hard to imagine that the next 50 years may be even brighter.