OZBIKE was there recently and we had a chat with Simon, the man behind the successful business, and his wife, Merilyn.
OZBIKE: You started this business 40 years ago?
Simon: I started underneath my father’s garage doing up Harleys. Overly loud ones, and from there progressed to a motor vehicle apprenticeship from Holden, then brought this block which is three quarters of an acre; bought a motorcycle wrecking business and just progressed from there.
I went to America in 1979, brought motorcycles from Los Angles Police Department; brought them back to Tasmania and sold them.
Ozbike: Apparently you started with a tin shed?
Merilyn: I’ll tell you about the tin shed. Harley and Davidson, the two families, lived next door to each other. They started working on a bike downstairs in the cellar of their parent’s houses. Simon also started underneath his father’s house. The Davidson and the Harley boys got kicked out ’cause they were making too much noise. Simon also got kicked out ’cause he was making too much noise. The Davidson and the Harley boys bought a horrible shed and redid it. Simon bought a horrible shed and redid it.
The Davidson and the Harley boys are Scottish background who believed in giving back to the community. Simon also raises money for the community. If one of the workers wanted to build a house, the Davidson and the Harley boys and all the workers would get together and they would pull the resources and build the house for them. Simon has also done the same thing for every single worker here.
That’s why it’s called Harley Parade; we all live here.
Ozbike: The whole place is very family orientated.
Simon: We run our business like the original founder did. We have families working with us to give them experience within the industry. Between Marlyn and I, we have seven kids. They have all worked in the store from time to time. Four of them are working here in the store now. Not sure whether they will be taking over the shop but they can basically have their own way; I mean I’m going to support them which ever way. Although I must admit, I would love one of them to take the bloody job off me to give me some fuckin’ slack.
Ozbike: When you started there were bugger all Harleys in Tasmania.
Simon: We currently have about 4500 Harley-Davidson owners in Tasmania. I can say that I’ve been responsible for putting all of them here but I’ve helped a lot of good friends and associates and clients and people.
Ozbike: Are you building custom bikes in the workshop? Is that a big part of the business?
Simon: We only work on Harley-Davidsons, but I totally believe, as a Harley-Davidson dealer, we should work on all ages of Harleys. If you have a 1942 model we will work on it for you; if you have a 1980 model we’ll work on it; if you have a current model we’ll work on it.
We still transform people’s visions into reality. We still do custom bikes and we’ll always do that even though it’s not a big part of our business; we believe in being a complete Harley dealership.
Ozbike: It’s unusual to see a Harley dealership with second-hand parts. It just doesn’t normally happen.
Simon: I bought a lot of parts from dealers and chopper shops in the USA in the early ’80s. It was a good market because there was nothing in Australia. As time progressed I continued buying and dealing in second-hand parts basically because not everybody has money. My parents—mum’s German and dad’s Ukrainian—had nothing when we came to this country; we had no family here; we know what it’s like to have no money. I believe that having second-hand parts, or pre-owned parts as I like to call them, is a good thing because we can still service people who can’t afford to buy new items.
Ozbike: How does Harley-Davidson feel about that? The fact that you’re working on older models and dealing in pre-loved parts?
Simon: I believe Harley-Davidson should insist that their dealers work on all ages of Harleys. You won’t make as much money working on a Panhead or a Shovelhead as you would on a late model but it’s not always about the money. You can never quote on an old bike, which is fair enough, because there’s usually a lot of parts that are fucked on it; chances are it’s going to cost you three times as much as to work on as a new bike.
We have a full blown machine shop and can do almost everything in-house.
Ozbike: Upstairs in the main section above the showroom, you have a huge collection of old bikes.
Simon: The bikes upstairs in the museum have all been collected from Tasmania. Tasmania really is a very strong state for motorcycling. We have a lot of people with motorcycle licenses.
Ozbike: Isn’t it too cold in Tasmania to ride a motorcycle?
Simon: No, not really, Tasmanians have thick skins.
Ozbike: The Tassie Devils Restaurant is interesting. It’s not only open during the day but also at night when the dealership is closed.
Simon: We’re the only Harley-Davidson dealer in Tasmania and we have a lot of customers who come from all different parts of Tasmania. Initially it started as a café so people could have a coffee while they waited to collect their bikes but it has since expanded into a restaurant.
While the restaurant and dealership share the same building, at night we can close the games room from the customer lounge, and the servery from the restaurant into the actual store, so that the restaurant can operate independently.
The restaurant is run by Stuart and Mark at whatever hours they want. Most bikers know of Stuart from the band The Giants. As an added bonus, The Giants play Friday and Saturday nights in the restaurant.
Ozbike: The dealership has a great ambiance with all the timber. Is this something you designed yourself?
Simon: Everything in the building has been built by me—and I do mean everything. Even the pouring of the original concrete slabs in the first store was done with six cement mixers and buddies and friends from the Satin Riders. Most of the store has been built from recycled timber from old libraries and schools. The blackwood panel doors, you can’t buy them any more, are from a bank. My desk-top is just a standard 820 door, stained, shaped, with a couple of filling cabinets under each end. I believe in recycling.
I’ve always loved timber. I bought seven semi’s from a closed down timber yard to build the restaurant. It was raw timber. I racked it, air-dried it, pressed it myself, turned it into patterns. All of the designs on the walls—nothing is just up and down or straight in the restaurant—have been made as a feature.
Simon: Our next development is to deliver the full Harley-Davidson experience to the tourists who visit Tasmania.
Merilyn: We are building 20 units for overseas travellers. It will be the complete Harley-Davidson experience too. Everything in the units will be Harley-Davidson from the clock on the wall to the blankets on the beds; cups, mugs, bar stools, curtains, everything.
Every room is going to have a different theme like Softail, Dyna, etc. When you go into the Softail room it’ll be done up like a Softail bike.
When you put on the DVD, you’ll be able to watch Harley videos; or listed to Harley rock ‘n’ roll music.
We’re also building a Harley Wedding Chapel and we’ll have a Harley trike available for the bride.
Simon: I believe this Harley-Davidson dealership is one of the most unique stores in the world. This humble Tasmanian store, in humble Australia that doesn’t manufacture any motorcycles itself, was featured in the centre-page spread in the Harley-Davidson’s Shareholders Report for ’08. I believe that we have set the goal post fairly high.
We believe in making our own destiny because we believe in what we do. It’s not about the money; it’s about the passion we have for what we do.
Richardson’s Harley-Davidson, 468 Westbury Road, Launceston, Tas 7250; 03-6344-4524.
Tassie Devils Restaurant & Bar: 03-6340-1500.
pics by Freelance Phil