Published on October 13th, 2016 | by Boris
WAY OUT WEST – POLARIS OPENS GREATEST INDIAN & VICTORY SHOWROOM YET
Perth is a big ol’ state. You can fit 176 Frances in there and a maybe a few dozen Englands on top. It has lots of valuable minerals under its dirt, vast swathes of emptiness, a small population and not a lot of corners. Which is why you don’t see a lot of sportsbikes on the roads. And the ones you do see all have chicken-strips grander than a Kalgoorlie sunset.
Fair enough. Western Australia is cruiser country. At one stage, one of the mining towns up north boasted the highest per capita ownership of Harley-Davidsons on earth.
It therefore stands to reason that Polaris, the parent company of Indian and Victory, would see Western Australia as just the kind of place it would build what can only be described as the finest motorcycle showroom I have ever seen – and I have seen quite a few.
It also stands to reason that having built such a glorious temple to its twin metallic gods, the muscle-focused Victory range and the heritage-swathed Indian line, Polaris would do the right thing and invite me to come and worship at their respective altars. I am, after all, a bit of a drooling supplicant when it comes to motorcycles.
And so I came and what I saw was a paradigm shift in motorcycle dealerships.
Polaris has only built four flagship stores on earth – one in Brisbane, one in Melbourne, one in Sydney and now this one in Perth. Which is quite a demonstration of how seriously it takes the Australian market, and how it sees its place in that market.
Most pointedly, it has built its Perth showroom directly beside the biggest Harley dealership in Western Australia. And you can kinda still see that dealership, recessed over to the side of and totally overshadowed by its imposing new neighbour. But you do have to look.
I asked Peter Harvey, Country Manager – Motorcycles, if this was a calculated manoeuvre.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We were looking for a suitable site for two years, and when this building came up we knew it just had to be.”
Architects were engaged, cheques were signed, and a few months later, Perth had a brand new motorcycle temple the faithful could worship in, just out of the city, in the suburb of Cannington.
It is a vast temple too. At 1750 square-metres, it is bigger than the other Victory and Indian showrooms, which are not exactly pokey little phone booths. During the grand opening, more than 2000 people were wandering around inside this one, and while it was busy, it wasn’t chokingly crowded. I suppose that’s what happens when you get an architect to design a specific space for the display of motorcycles and riding gear and not just move into an existing building and make compromises.
This showroom is not about compromise. It’s about creating a unique customer experience. Showrooms like this go a long way to instill consumer confidence in a brand. And it is, of course, about wow factor. The top-end car brands have long worked this out. People who are expected to shell out tens of thousands of bucks for a heart purchase (and let’s be honest, they are all purchases of the heart rather than the head), want to feel good in the feelz. They want to walk into a ‘showroom’, in every sense of the word. A grand space where the bikes are displayed in a way that reflects the aspirational aspect of the customer’s desires.
And they want to feel confident that showroom will be there tomorrow and next month and next year and for the next decade.
Polaris gets this. And because its flagship stores are actually owned by the factory, it is in a unique position in the world of motorcycle dealers. When you buy a Victory or an Indian, you are not buying from a dealer, an importer or a franchisee. You’re buying from the people who make the actual bikes. Thus every Indian or Victory in every one of the flagship shops is available for sale anywhere in Australia. You are dealing with the place where the buck actually stops.
So how was the opening received by the good people of Perth?
No-one was more astonished than me. A bike shop opening, I thought. How many people would actually show up for that? Especially since it was raining. And especially since the place had already been open and trading for a month.
By noon there were more than 2000 people milling about. I spoke later with Aaron Robeson, the dealer principal, who was also amazed by the show of support, and quietly grateful that it was raining. Had it been sunny, it was likely another 1000 or so people would have arrived and that would have been quite overwhelming.
Vintage Indians, a bike show, food vans (including a South African caravan that churned out beaut pepper steak meals that superbly complimented my hangover), and a scattering of stalls, padded out the carpark in front of the showroom. Inside, Indian ambassador Shane Jacobsen (the bloke who made that Aussie toilet film) ran a competition which saw an amazed bloke called Mark win an Indian Scout.
Mark had initially come to the adjoining Harley dealership that morning with a view to maybe buying a Road Glide. He could hardly not wonder what all the commotion next door was, so he came in, and entered his name into the comp.
An hour later he was one of the four blokes who had won a snazzy leather jacket, and thus went into the draw to win the Scout.
At 1pm, four keys were put into a helmet and the four jacket-winners were brought up on stage by Shane. Each pulled a key out of the helmet. One by one they had a crack at starting the Scout. Mark was number three. His key went in, the Scout’s light came on and Mark was being clapped and cheered by everyone in the dealership. He was literally in tears. Which only made everyone clap louder.
He also got to hug Ian Moss, another long-time Indian ambassador, who had come along to play a bit of a gig that evening at the VIP party.
So after the opening crowd had left, the apparently tireless shop staff rebuilt the entire interior of the showroom, and set it all up for an evening of beer, snacks and Mossy smashing out tunes on a stage.
It was a wondrous déjà vu thing for me. Not long ago had Mossy serenading me to sleep on my Back To Alice ride (which you can read about HERE), and here he was again. He was feeling it that night, too. It was a bravura performance to an intimate and enthusiastic crowd.
Polaris had hosted the evening as a gesture of thanks to the customers who had bought its bikes (many of whom had done so sight unseen when the Indian marque was resurrected three years ago), and it did not stint on the sherry and canapes. Ten years ago, I would have been staggering along the Albany Highway singing Cold Chisel songs and trying to hitchhike my way to the Perth casino where I would have further debased myself at the feet of cruel long-legged women in high heels. That night, and in stark contrast to my degenerate behaviour a decade ago at a bike launch that shall remain nameless, I just folded myself into the courtesy bus and went back to my hotel. But I was humming Tucker’s Daughter.
Old age rarely brings wisdom, but it does provide perspective.
BONUS INSIDER GOSSIP
The day after the launch, I went for a bit of a ride on a baby-blue Roadmaster. It was a great way to decompress. I did maybe three-hundred kays, saw some interesting stuff, revelled in the gentle, mile-eating embrace of the Roadmaster, and even bopped along to some Robbie Williams rubbish on the radio.
That night, I sat at a dinner table with Polaris’s Ross Clifford, the International Vice President (of) Motorcycles, and because he was viciously jet-lagged, but smiling, I figured he might be alright about a little gentle grilling.
“Ross,” I said. “That 750 flat-tracker Indian built to race in the States sure is a pretty thing. Give me a world scoop and tell me you’re gonna make a production version.”
“No,” Ross laughed. “We’re not going to put a 750 flat-tracker racebike into production.”
My crestfallen face must have moved something in him.
“But,” he grinned and went on, “it would be criminal of us not to look at building something along those lines down the track.”
“Criminal, you say?” I said.
“Criminal,” he confirmed.
“So that’s sorted then,” I grinned, shoveling more gelato into my face, and trying to gauge when Ross would faint from spending 36 recent hours of his life in various airplanes and airports. “Let’s chat about Victory. Give me a scoop on Victory.”
“I think you should expect us to push harder on the American Muscle aspect. The Octane is a strong platform for us.”
“Helluva an engine on that bike,” I nodded. “But I’m sure you noticed that.”
I ate more gelato.
As Peter Harvey said, Victory turned 18 this year. And like all 18-year-olds, it’s gonna work out what’s what, stretch its legs a bit, maybe get a tattoo, and possibly start a fight.
Sounds like an excellent plan, huh?