Revving up sales

To the untrained eye, State 8 Motorcycle Mall in Cuyahoga Falls looks like any other motorcycle dealership, especially at closing time.

That’s when young, mostly male employees, dressed in jeans and tennis shoes, hurry around gleaming motorcycles displayed at the front of the store, trying to wind up the day’s work. In the back, a ponytailed woman behind the service counter surveys the selection of dirt bikes and four-wheelers stretching out before her as she answers one last phone call.

Nearby, dealership President Kirk Compton chats with a customer who’s watching his grade-school-age son straddle a shiny yellow dirt bike.

But appearances can be deceiving, as Compton points out after sitting down in his cramped, no-frills office. Today, the store, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in April, boasts sales figures roughly five times those on its first year-end report.

“We started with about $250,000 worth of inventory,” he says. “Now we have over $5 million.”

Compton and his partners, brother Paul and father Gar, aren’t exactly surprised by the growth that has forced them to begin construction on a new store twice the size of their current State Road location. In fact, it was almost a sure thing, according to Compton.

“The motorcycle industry as a whole has been growing in leaps and bounds for the last couple of years,” he explains. “What we’ve done is just realize a demand that has been here for quite some time. This part of the country is historically known as being one of the top-selling motorcycle areas, and for quite a while, we haven’t had the dealer representation in this area that the demand required.

“By putting the dealership in here, we pretty much knew from the demographics of the area that it was going to be growing large quickly.”

Compton says the industry’s growth has been driven by two factors that help dispel the notion of a motorcycle as a bad boy’s toy: a strong economy and an aging population with disposable income to spend on everything from computers to pleasure boats.

But the “cruiser segment” — people who hop on their bikes as a Sunday afternoon escape from stresses at home and at work — aren’t the only customers frequenting the Comptons’ store. Some are serious racing enthusiasts, while others are simply looking for a more economical form of recreation and transportation.

“One of our biggest booming businesses is scooters,” Kirk says. “Scooters, for years and years, have been a real typical form of transportation in Europe. Now, with the higher gas prices, we see people who are not interested in motorcycles.”

Many customers, he adds, are putting bags and computer notebook holders on their purchases for commutes to and from work.

Yet another chunk of business is provided by women, most of whom fail to fit the biker babe stereotype.

“We have women who are making very good incomes,” Compton says. “They have taken control of their lives and are doing the things that they want to do.”

State 8 has courted this rapidly expanding segment of the market by educating employees about the special needs of the beginning rider. Compton says that novices — both men and women — generally do better on a lighter machine until they develop the upper body strength to handle something bigger.

Perhaps as surprising as State 8’s customers are the men who own and run the place. Paul Compton was a disenchanted 27-year-old high school teacher working as a crew leader for a Washington, D.C., landscaping company when he received a call from his brother, Kirk, then 31, in 1990. Kirk, who was selling motorcycles for another dealership, offered to share the contacts and expertise necessary to help Paul start his own wholesale used motorcycle operation. Their father, Gar, a retired Huntington Bank executive, bankrolled the venture and kept the books.

Paul suddenly found himself combing classified ads, searching for motorcycles in good condition to buy.

It was trial and error at first,” admits Paul, State 8’s vice president. “I’d go out to see a bike, and I didn’t know what it was supposed to look like. I needed to educate myself on all these different models, which year came in which color, what was stock and what was after-market, whether it had been wrecked or not.”

Soon, however, he was shipping used bikes to countries where a weak dollar made them a good buy.

“We’ve shipped bikes to England, Wales, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Australia, South America, the United Arab Emirates, Poland, Czechoslovakia,” says 66-year-old Gar, State 8’s secretary and treasurer.

Soon Kirk left the dealership to work with his brother and father full time. (Younger brother, John, State 8’s 27-year-old finance manager, joined the business in 1996.) By 1995, the trio had outgrown its rented self-storage spaces and needed a bigger facility. They bought their current site, a former Continental Baking Co. warehouse, and decided to open a retail used-motorcycle shop.

The move turned out to be a good one. Kirk says customers have traveled from as far away as Buffalo, N.Y., and Lexington, Ky., to buy a good used bike, something they can’t find at just any dealership. The Comptons began selling new bikes in 1998, when they added a Suzuki franchise.

Yamaha and Aprilia franchises followed. Kirk says the former is the top-selling Japanese motorcycle maker, the latter, a high-end Italian manufacturer popular with world-class racers.

“We’ve run out of space,” Gar says. “Volume is too big for this store.

Kirk says the new location a mile down the road will have a state-of-the-art service facility. The family is banking on a consistently high level of service to keep the dealership roaring along in the face of an ever-changing economy.

“No matter how big Internet purchasing goes or how many dealers there may be, we know that with customer service, we can keep people happy and coming to this part of Ohio,” he says. How to reach: State 8 Motorcycle Mall, (330) 929-8123