110th Anniversary Look Back

110th Anniversary Look Back - Day 151

110th Anniversary Look Back - Day 151

Progressive Dealer


Carole Egler of Kegel Motorcycle Company

Joseph Kegel founded the shop in 1911 in Freeport, Illinois. In the '20s, Kegel then relocated to Rockford, Illinois, and continued to sell Harley-Davidsons and bicycles until the 1950s. It was during this decade that Kegel passed away and his tow sons, Robert and Harold, became the heirs of the business.

Soon thereafter, inventory began outgrowing space so the two brothers decided to split the company - Robert continued selling Harleys, while Harold set out to a different location with the bicycle side of the business. Robert, along with son Karl acting as General Manager, son Mark as Service Manager, and daughter Carole as Parts and Accessories Manager, continue to run the dealership to this day. Carole's daughter has a position in sales, making her the fourth generation to have participated in the operation of Kegel Motorcycle Company.

Carole attests that Kegel Motorcycle Company is the "world's oldest Harley dealer." Only an hour and a half from both the motorcycle manufacturer in Milwaukee and the thriving metropolis of Chicago, Grandfather Kegel did have insight on a good location.

Carole discloses, "We were exclusively Harley-Davidson until 1979, then we took on BMW, and recently became a Buell dealer as well. The Buells are selling extremely well, and we can't wait to get the S1 Lightning." Another thing they're currently taking on is a new facility. Their new store will be located near a mall and off the interstate which, as Carole describes it, "is on of the major arteries which comes out of Chicago and down from Wisconsin. It's the road that people from both directions go to on their way to Sturgis." Carole adds, "Our location is perfect - it'll be a major stop for Sturgis-bound riders."

This is precisely the locale they had hoped for since the concept for the new store is to be what Carole terms a "destination" dealership. It will consist of 23,000 square feet and include a sit-down diner. "There'll be a counter area as well as booths, and above the counter will be a display of an antique motorcycle... which will probably change every month or so. We had a photo shoot with our customers and their motorcycles - they really turned out great - and we're going to display these around the diner as well." The diner will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner - burgers, eggs, etc. "The idea we want to portray is that it's a destination and when you get there you can really enjoy yourself," Carole imparted.

In the new store, every area will be considered "sales area", including the service department. "The service department will be an 'open' area with the concept that the mechanics are part of our sales force, to offer suggestions and good ideas of what would work well on the customer's bike," Carole stated. She also says they'll have to find the "fine balance where we don't lose too much production time" of mechanics interacting with customers, and actually getting the work done. But what a good idea to have the expert technicians discussing one-on-one with the public, suggestions to troubleshoot specific problems the customer may be having, or making recommendations of what parts would work best to make upgrades, etc.

She's also looking at really focusing on creating good displays for the new store. She says she'd like them to be very "dynamic" and will be expanding the clothing line. "If you don't show it, you can't sell it," she enthusiastically states.

They do expect some growing pains. "When you're a small family group like we are, everybody you hire is a relative, a friend, married to somebody you know, or you've developed a relationship with one of your customers and you ask them to work for you. So when we looked at expanding in a big way, all of a sudden we were asking ourselves, 'how do you hire people?!' It's going to be a whole different feeling." They currently have 15 employees, but expect to double once they new store opens in February '96. "We'd like to see if become wildly successful and hope to get everyone as excited as we are," she continued.

One way they'll attempt to instill some enthusiasm is increase advertising. They've run a few radio spots in the past, but plan on coming on even stronger with the opening of the new store. Aside from radio advertising, Carole explains that they do a lot of direct mail and have a mailing list of about 2,000. "We've also noted that displaying brochures at local hotels brings in out-of-towners who may have time to spare between meetings, etc."

For the past 15 years, Kegel has put on a yearly poker run to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy. This past summer, 400 to 450 riders participated and together raised around $15,000. After the run they have a picnic/party, occasionally a band, and offer prizes to those who raise the most money. The event "allows our customers to relate to us as people more than just us serving them... whenever you're high-profile and doing something for the community, it breeds a lot of good, positive feelings - so you can't lose."

Carole learned to ride on a Hummer when she was 14 and currently has '90 Sportster 1200, which she lowered and added a belt drive. She was born an enthusiast. For Carole, making the decision to ride was never an option, it was just a part of life. "Growing up in this environment, riding is just a natural part of it. I sometimes wonder how others came to the decision that they want to ride, in our family, you just did."

Since Kegel's humble beginnings 84 years ago, each Kegel generation's philosophy has remained the same: to build customer relationship and maintain high levels of customer service. Now with the onset of their new "destination" establishment, Carole has little doubt of its future success, "My sister-in-law's nephew lives on the East Coast, and somebody out there was already asking him about our diner here. So the word's out all over the country; there's a big interest in it. It's not just our own quiet little dream, it's everybody's."

As a closing thought, Carole would like to remind every dealer, "Bring your enthusiasm to work, keep in mind the importance of your customer - without your customer, there's no reason to be there. You want to make them feel special, and you want to make them want to come back.

There's little question why their dealership continues to progress.

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