My Talk With Garry:
An Interview with Garry Kieves, Owner of Motoprimo
MMM had the opportunity to sit down with Garry Kieves, owner of Motoprimo Minneapolis and Motoprimo South (Lakeville) to see what made one of the newest dealers in the area tick. After Garry walked me through the new Lakeville shop, showing off their new ride up service counter, wash station and huge service bay we sat down and had a little chat.
MMM: Garry, I guess the first thing I would like to ask you is to introduce yourself. You’re a new player in the dealership sense even though it has been 4 years. You’re the mysterious fellow who came up and bought a defunct dealership in Minneapolis and a Honda dealership in Burnsville. It has been 4 years where everyone has pretty much forgotten about what was, but we don’t know who the man behind the curtain is. So if you could tell us just a little about who you are and where you came from I’d appreciate it.
Garry: Ok, I actually grew up in Canada on a wheat farm in Saskatchewan. I have had a love affair with motorcycles my whole life. Next season will be my 43rd summer of riding a motorcycle. I owned a motorcycle before I owned a car and I remember when I went to buy it, this must have been ’66 roughly, and I had a choice. I was going to buy a brand new 125cc Hondamatic or this scruffy old 1000cc Arial square four with chopped pipes, 17 in risers, no front fender and once I rode the Arial I was just hooked for life.
MMM: So you are a rider. That takes care of one of my other questions; Are you just a businessman or are you a rider?
Garry: No, I ride. My wife rides, and my daughters are both fanatic riders.
MMM: Do you still have your original square four?
Garry: At the moment I have 2 square fours that I am going to be moving down here (Lakeville) to put on display at some point. I have a 1951 2-pipe square and I have a 1956 four-pipe square. Both of them, I put about 4 or 5 winters into each one. Tore them right down to the frame, tore the engines down and every wear part has been replaced.
MMM: We are in your new shop in Lakeville and it is beautiful. Is Lakeville going to drive any changes in Minneapolis. Does the Minneapolis shop stay? What are your plans for expanding in the Metro area?
Garry: Well, let me put this into perspective. I had the vision for this store approximately 4 years ago but it takes a long time to put projects together; you know, to acquire land and get the city zoning and all of that. What this store has shown me is that our Minneapolis store; the downtown store is too small. So we are looking for a larger facility, somewhere on I-94, not more than a couple miles from where we currently are.
MMM: Well, you’re one of the last if not the last remaining, multi brand bike shops in the core, Minneapolis / Saint Paul proper.
Garry: We’re going to stay there to service the urban market because that is a huge market.
(Later on, Garry would expand on this. He is looking for a facility that would offer not only more space for retail, but for a rider training course as well.)
MMM: Do you have any plans on trying a motorcycle themed coffee shop like the one that existed in the Trackstar days?
Garry: I would love to, but it’s space, space, space. It is not our expertise. To do it well we would have to contract it out or hire someone to run it. So, therefore, I have 3 different coffee machines here (Lakeville) along with a soda machine. We may have a sandwich cart in the summer or possibly cook something…we do, every Saturday, we are cooking burgers…in fact we just got a new grill actually.
MMM: How is your off road store doing?
Garry: As you can see here (Lakeville) we set up a whole off road section and the important part is to have all the accessories and the parts because that is what people are looking for. At Motorprimo, every one of us rides something. It may be an ATV, it may be a bike, it may be a sled, but it is part of our business.
MMM: One of the things I wanted to ask was the Minneapolis store used to have a couple of MV Agusta’s, do you still have the ability to bring in some of the more exotic brands.
Garry: We just, 2 days ago (in November), brought in the 2006 Brutales.
Garry: Yes, tell me about it. My daughter sat on it this morning and said, hey I’m flat footed. We are also going to bring MV to Lakeville and we expect, hopefully in the next couple of weeks, a new shipment of Guzzi’s so we will bring Guzzi to both stores.
MMM: With that, what marques are you missing? Can you tell me if you would like to have another manufacturer or store with a marque that is missing out of your quiver?
Garry: You know, probably my all time favorite is BMW, but here (Lakeville)…that is covered with the business down the street.
MMM: Well, you have a heck of a location with what seems to be turning into bike alley here in Lakeville, so at least you will receive a lot of traffic.
Garry: Well, and here, as a consumer you can literally walk down that alley in one afternoon and you can see almost every brand in the world available in the US.
MMM: Which is really kind of exciting.
Garry: Yeah, and you don’t have to ride 30 miles here and 20 miles there and forget what you saw. The big thing that we are focused on here at Lakeville and in Minneapolis, I came into this after 38 years as a consumer, I’ve run a lot of businesses, some are pretty good sized. Before this I had 500 employees, this is so much simpler to oversee. If you love what you are doing, on a stress level of 1 to 10, for me this is point five. What we are trying to establish and how we are training all of our staff, is to treat people the way we want to be treated. We’ve all had stores where we go because we have to. We want people to feel good to come here because it’s a wonderful experience. What we are very focused on; not only training our staff, but our service department. As you saw, it is all modern new equipment. Clean, but more importantly, all of our techs during the off season, winter season, go back to school and that we have been doing every single year. We are, in the entire metro area, the only motorcycle store (both Lakeville and Minneapolis) that is five star certified with Yamaha. We have the highest training certification with Honda and we are also certified on Triumph, Ducati, Vespa and Suzuki. It gives me such joy when I look out that window on a day like today and see all those Goldwings. We really specialize in Goldwing service. Adam Miller, our service manager, has taken apart and put together more Goldwing engines than anybody in the state.
MMM: Sometimes dealers don’t want to get into service, they have a hard time with anything that is 7 years or older. Do you have a primary service that you want to be involved with, such as tires and minor tune-ups? What kind of service do you want to be involved with?
Garry: We are a full service dealer. We tear engines down and put them back together and we will work on anything. What I tell people is if it is an old old bike, it is probably going to cost you more money to fix the bike than it is worth. But if you have an emotional attachment, and we tell people up front what it will cost then fine. But if it is just a beater to get you from A to B, then get rid of it and for $500-$1000 get another beater that runs. The thing about the older bikes, I know because I have restored probably 10 bikes myself, the costs run away, so that bike has to mean something.
MMM: What else would you like to bring up?
Garry: Customer satisfaction, that is what it is all about. When I interview perspective employees I show them that big sign out front with rule numbers 1 and 2. We all know, “The customer is always right”. And point to 2 on that sign, which is possibly the most important. It says “In the unfortunate event that the customer has made a tragic mistake please refer to number one”. I have been like that my whole business career in that all I focus on is customer satisfaction. If you do that, all the rest comes by itself. I am not that kind of guy that says did we squeeze the last nickel out of that motorcycle. That’s not what is important. It is did we get somebody on the road and are they happy and that they’re going to come back here for years and trade in that bike, they’ll bring their brother, they’ll bring their cousin and bring their friends. When I started this new sales philosophy 4 years ago, people thought I was nuts. I train my employees with the soft sell. We help people to find the bike that they want but it is not one of those “What is stopping you from not buying the bike right now?” Maybe it’s not the bike maybe I haven’t made up my mind but I think that people are appreciating that they can wander, that they can think and we are here to help them once they have had that chance
MMM: Is this your retirement? I know a couple of people who are close to you and from them I have come to understand, you are a business man at heart, that you like growing businesses, you like running businesses, you like seeing you businesses flourish. Is this your retirement toy?
Garry: When I sold my balloon company, I retired for about 4 months and I went bananas. So that is how I came about coming into the motorcycle business. I enjoy coming to work every day, I like talking with our customers, and we have a wonderful staff. At this point in life I cannot envision doing anything else.
MMM: I do like this part of your story, I like that a balloon guy has come into the motorcycle business. You founded a metallic balloon business company, correct?
Garry: When I started in metallic balloons in the ‘70’s, it was a cottage industry; there were just one horse shops. Some days we made more bad ones than good ones. I took the same philosophy there as I did with Motoprimo, which was invest in the business. That is where I learned about machine tools like mills and lathes. We actually built production equipment but all that experience carries over here. I can look inside an engine and know what is going on.
MMM: I have to think that this is one of those rare businesses that the people who are working with you enjoy their jobs. You are working with fun. You are working with customers who are excited to come in. Yes, you get a customer with a problem, but for the most part you are sitting around a show room of fun. It has to be rewarding.
Garry: It is
MMM: Do you do any tuning at this store?
Garry: We have provisions for a Dyno bench, but with all that is going on in setting up a new store I want to make sure that when we are ready, that we do it right the first time. To open it now and run the risk of disappointing a customer, it wouldn’t be right. As a businessman, I want to open it right now but you have to develop a discipline to start things in a sequence.
MMM: With the amount of used bikes you have right now, are you looking to be a location for used bike? There is always new, but it seems you are trying to be a place for used bikes also.
Garry: With the economy right now, and people being unsure of the future, people look at a new bike and then a used bike and there are a few thousand dollars difference. With the bikes now it does not matter if they are a year or 2 old. There is a huge demand for that and we are building our inventories up because right now everyone wants to sell used bikes but no one is buying. So we are just putting them in warehouses right now. Cause here (Lakeville) we don’t have the room for all the used bikes. In Minneapolis, the third bay is full of bikes.
MMM: Is there anything else?
Garry: This is really important; we try to set a standard that is 100% excellent every day. I tell my people that you can’t have good days and bad days; you have to have every day as a good day. But if ever we have let somebody down, I would appreciate it if they call me or Jim Maslyn and we will get on it right away. By the same token, if there is something you want to see in the store and we don’t have it yet let us know and we will get it.
Motoprimo is a dealer of many. Included on their sales floors are Honda, Yamaha, Triumph, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta, Vespa and Schwin. They can be found in Minneapolis (612-729-7200) at 2610 East 32nd Street just off of Hiawatha and in Lakeville (952-465-0500) at 16640 Kenrick Ave just north of Fleet Farm. Their website is located at http://www.motoprimo.com.