GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Harley-Davidson motorcycles are nothing if not distinctive — from their iconic orange-and-black brand to their throaty air-cooled-motor rumblings.
So when consumer spending plummeted amid the recession and Harley-Davidson reduced its number of New Jersey dealerships, the decline in business was noticeable.
“We lost over 50 percent of stores in New Jersey after the economy (fell). We had over 20 dealerships and stores and we’re down to nine dealerships,” said Ben Petrovic, 60, owner of Atlantic County Harley Davidson on the White Horse Pike in Galloway Township.
Those down days are slowly disappearing into the side-view mirror.
The Motorcycle Industry Council, a California-based trade group, said retail motorcycle sales among 19 leading manufacturers grew about 3 percent in 2012. And Harley-Davidson, a publicly traded company, reported sales of new Harleys increased about 6 percent last year.
“It’s not a necessity. It’s a toy, like a boat or a motor home. With the economy stabilizing a little bit, ever year it has gotten better a little by a little,” said Petrovic, a Mays Landing resident who runs the store with his wife, Brenda, and sons Bryan, 34, the service manager, and Dean, 32, the sales manager.
Petrovic has been in the motorcycle industry for nearly 40 years and involved with Harley-Davidsons for three decades.
He joked that while the Harley-Davidson brand strength may trail Coca-Cola, who gets a Coke Zero tattoo on his bicep?
A new Harley Sportster can cost less than $8,000, whereas other Harleys can cost as much as $30,000 and $40,000.
Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson takes efforts to not over-saturate its motorcycles in the market and keep demand strong, Petrovic said.
“Seven, eight years ago, you came into a store and most bikes on the floor were already sold. You put your name on a bike that was coming in. In some places, some people had to wait over a year,” he said.
Now, those sorts of waiting lists are gone, but dealerships still are not flooded with Harleys.
“They don’t want to see 200 to 300 bikes on the dealership’s floor — number one, that costs a lot of money, and number two, they don’t want to see a lot of dealers discounting motorcycles. They want to see MSRP. Harley wants to see demand,” he said.
In this business for most of his life, Petrovic said it takes a passion. The business hosts a series of special events — offering free cookouts and ice cream, bands, music and get-togethers throughout the year — to keep customers involved.
The store is clean and brightly lit. And one of the decorations outside is a 50-ton, circa 1918 locomotive that Petrovic bought (he actually bartered a Harley for it) that gets decorated with Christmas lights.
The Harley-Davidson train is even on his business cards.
“You’ve got to make this place fun,” he said. “If you can’t make it fun, you’ve got to get out and find another business. This is fun. If you walk into a store and everyone’s miserable, how would you feel? We want people walking out of here with a smile on their face.”
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