by Jeremy Wilker
About a year ago, a plan was set in motion to establish an authorized Vespa dealership here in the Twin Cities. This plan should be finished sometime around May 1st 2002 when Vespa of Minneapolis opens for business. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Gary Kieves, co-owner of the Vespa boutique and also of MotoPrimo, which sells and services motorcycle marques such as Triumph, MotoGuzzi and Ducati.
The Vespa Minneapolis dealership, or “boutique” as they are officially called, was still under construction at the time of this writing, but I could see how the store was shaping up. Sleek lighting, clean lines, open space and big glass windows overlooking the intersection of 7th and Marquette in downtown Minneapolis. “We’ll have platforms at window-height, covered in stainless, to show off the scooters,” Kieves boasted. With a location in downtown, this will be a necessity. The high levels of foot and auto traffic going past (pure potential) will need to be enticed in to check out the great scooters and accessories. A drawback I foresee is that test rides will be a difficulty, if not almost impossible, with the congestion and one-way streets. Far too frantic and dangerous for beginning riders.
Vespa USA (Vespa is owned by Piaggio, by the way) attempts to run a tight ship with their dealers, requiring potential applicants to have financial assets of a hefty amount (a net-worth of $350,000 according to their website) and to have a space devoted solely to the Vespa “lifestyle” products of scooters and accessories. Vespa USA has to inspect and approve the site before they approve a dealer and they reserve the right to final inspection before the dealer opens. “We had to send two techs to Vespa service training before we completed the deal,” Kieves informed me. Vespa USA is planning to establish dealers in all U.S. states and so far has 51 boutiques open or ready to open, mostly in the Eastern part of the country.
I’ve talked about the approach Vespa USA is taking with their chain of dealerships in a past article. I wasn’t all that keen on their angle as they focus on creating a very “upscale” experience and seem to almost ignore their past and the legions of vintage Vespa enthusiasts. Not to mention that their stiff financial requirements effectively shut out most small Vespa shops and enthusiasts who have kept the Vespa brand alive and well since 1982. Upon reflection though, I have gone from deriding the boutique idea to just being ambivalent about it. A brand such as Vespa deserves a carefully thought out delivery and environment and this is their method. I’ll just have to live with it. Gary explained to me how Vespa USA supplies all the fixtures and signage so all boutiques look and feel the same. Call this “The Gap approach” if you will. It might make you bristle a bit, but it just might work well in selling to new customers &emdash; I’m sure none of us want to see Vespas otherwise relegated to a closet-sized corner of a big bike retailer.
Even though the boutique has yet to open, the new Vespas are already being sold locally through a link on the Vespa USA website. “The scooters are selling well already and we haven’t even done any advertising yet,” Gary proclaims a bit excitedly. “There is a nationwide enthusiasm for the brand… look how it is used in advertising.” He’s right. There certainly is enthusiasm for the brand, perhaps most especially among advertising and marketing types. Watch any amount of television and you’ll see new and vintage scooters used in commercials for cars, clothing, haircuts, technology, and financial services. They pop up in music videos and even on website ads. Kieves goes on to claim that the ET4 150cc model is outselling the ET2 50cc model about three-to-one (logical in my mind based on the tendency for big cars and bigger trucks on the American road) and he says that many pre-opening customers are opting to flat-out buy the vehicle rather than finance them.
“When we open we’ll have the full Vespa line and both models in all colors. Even a coffee bar. We want the boutique to be a comfortable atmosphere and we’ll have a very low-pressure sales approach,” Kieves says. The downtown location will even do light service on-site with more involved needs being taken care of at the better-equipped MotoPrimo shop. Kieves, however, is hoping not much service will be required: “Vespas have a metal body, not plastic, and are a well-made low-maintenance scooter.”
What is the big appeal of the Vespa scooter? Why do people rubber-neck when a vintage scooter goes cruising past? Gary thinks he knows the answer: “It has appeal due to the great style. It is just a classic. People encounter a Vespa and they just stop and admire the scooter.” Once again, he’s right. Certain products capture the imagination because of fabulous style and design. They transcend being just a product and become a cultural icon. Recent examples include the original and New Beetle from Volkswagen, the old and new Mini from BMW, and even the PT Cruiser from Chrysler. Recall the original Apple Macintosh, the new iMacs and the wildly successful iPod portable music player. These are products that have captured style, form and function, unlike all the other products littering our consumeristic landscape. They are unique, well-designed, and perhaps most importantly, fun. Vespa USA doesn’t guarantee results, but the Vespa will plaster a grin on your face as you zip past the smiling, admiring people on the street.
TRANS-USA VESPA TOUR
Anybody crazy enough to attempt a 10,000 mile trans-USA tour on a 1953 British-built Douglas Vespa deserves support and attention just for their sheer pluck to set off on such an endeavor. When the tour is actually a charity fund-raiser, then we should all pay attention and get involved, especially when it is a guy from England on his first trip to the USA!
Greg Kinge’s plan to ride his rare Vespa across the USA came about from a tragedy in his life &emdash; the death of his 28-year-old son from heart problems. Greg and his son Glenn were both heavily into vintage scooters and Glenn got started riding Vespas at an early age. Glenn would often sneak into the garage when Greg was away and take out his father’s restored Vespa SS180 to show-off to his buddies. He was a pretty good sneak, as Greg didn’t discover these clandestine outings until Glenn dented and scuffed up the right side.
Greg was deeply affected by the loss of his first-born son and was suffering from long depression when he saw a sign advertising the non-running vintage scooter. His initial inquiry didn’t go too far, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He pursued it and after helping the owner dig it out of a junk heap at the edge of a backyard garden, he had a very classic scooter and a new mission: to restore the scooter completely and then tour the USA to raise money for The British Heart Foundation.
You have got to give the guy some credit for having the balls to attempt this feat. The 125cc Douglas Vespa will probably only go about 35-40 mph and this model doesn’t even have cables &emdash; it uses steel rod linkages!
He arrived here in the States on April 1st (no kidding) and plans to set off on a southern route, heading clockwise around the country, as soon as his scooter arrives through customs. A major event during the tour will be his attendance at the national Amerivespa Rally in Portland, Oregon from May 30th to June 2nd, 2002. According to published details, Greg will lead the Amerivespa scooter contingent in the Rose Festival Parade in front of 300,000 cheering people.
All along his route, Greg will be met and supported by local scooter clubs and other interested parties. We look forward to meeting him sometime around early July! Keep on eye on the Minnescoota website for developing details. If you want to help with a charity donation, contact us or contact Greg via the Scooterist UKwebsite.http://www.scooterist. freeserve. co.uk/sc00013.htm. Until the next time, Ride Safe, Ride Often.
The Twin Cities’ Vintage Scooter Club, The Regulars, meets on the first and third Sundays of each month at Pizza Luce in Uptown Minneapolis (32nd and Lyndale Ave) at 2:00 pm for socializing and riding — as long as weather permits. Join us! The website is located at http://www.minnescoota.com or send me a message – firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com