Memories of My Career in Motorsports – Part V
An impression created by Parts I-IV might be that my adventures in motorsports were all great fun and that nothing ever went wrong. Far from the truth. There were many challenges and challenging people along the way, but opportunity to slam individuals or the companies I worked for would be unfair. However, in general terms…
One of the first challenges for my new career looked like a slam dunk; the Cycle Barn Sport Club. (CBSC) As a sport bike rider I jumped at the chance to get involved with their activities. Alas, the more I got involved the less impressed I was, and large and potentially disastrous issues began to emerge. The first ride I went on involved a bunch of people on sport bikes screaming through small towns at about 85mph – squid behavior for sure and a representation the company would not be happy with. At a dinner meeting I was appalled to hear several references to the sponsoring dealer that were dismissive, snide, and obnoxious. I found this really troubling. The club had dies of $25 a year, and Cycle Barn paid the first year’s dues. As I got more involved, I could find no records that anyone was paying dies after the first year. There was supposed to be a newsletter, and the dues money would pay for production and postage, but the editor had quit more than a year previously. I was told that the club was registered as a C3 charity, but nobody could tell me where the paperwork was, and there did not seem to be a checking account. I found a random stack of club registration forms that had been tossed into a drawer in and I could not find any records that any customer who had purchased a sport bike in the previous year had ever been contacted in any way, or received any information on club rides, and yet the club had spent the money received. The president of the club talked the owner into purchasing a set of Dunlop slicks for his race bike, telling the owner he was winning every race in his class. In fact, I’d seen him race and he was usually lapped by several people (in a 30 minute race) and was the target of many jokes. The final straw was with the Seattle motorcycle show, where the officers of the club took themselves out to an expensive dinner on the club. Their reasoning was that as a charity. They could not show a profit for the year so they had to spend the money. That is not true, nor was pretty much anything else they told me. What we had, in essence, were multiple instances of fraud.
I went to the owner and told him he was sitting on a multi-million dollar lawsuit he would lose as soon as these cowboys were caught in any of their nefarious escapades using his company name. I went over all of my findings, and we agreed to form a new club.
The new club was the Cycle Barn Sport Bike Club. Unlike the other, this one did have a checking account, the filed paperwork to be a charity, and a registration document. I announced the new organization and name to the club, and the reasons for it, and told the members they would be granted free membership for the first year. The result was not too surprising. I was vilified as the spawn of Satan. Everything was my fault, and things had been just peachy keen before I came along. If you put side concerns for legality and honesty, and including everyone you were accepting dues money for in club activities, that part was true.
The club officers demanded that the money being held for them by Cycle Barn be turned over to them, as it was “their money.” Uh – no. At a later meeting the club president delivered a lengthy rant that filleted my person and character into small slices. However, by then it had dawned on me that this was the speediest and most efficient route to get to a better place, so when one of the members turned to me in horror and said “You can’t let him do this to you!” I was able to smile and say “Yes, I can.”
Only two of the original members joined the new CBSBC, which was fine by me. The original officers demanded their registration documents back so they could form a new independent club. When I had discovered those documents they were in a disorderly mess, crumpled up and crammed together into a drawer. I had taken then out, flattened them, and arranged them neatly and in alphabetical order. Before returning them I was careful to return them to the disorderly mess they had been. Of course the “new” club never formed and within a few years most of the characters that’d been in charge were totally out of the motorcycle picture.
I started to offer rides for t he new Cycle Barn Sport Bike club on Saturdays. They became popular quickly, and I also offered “echo” rides on Monday for people who had that day off, as I did. Before long the club had grown far past the previous one, and actually communicated with all the members by e-mail. Lots of e-mails. One problem in those days was that many of the customers of the Smokey Point store did not have e-mail, or a computer, but over the next few years as the computer age reached fruition that problem melted away.
As CBSC activities grew, the Sales Manager came to think it was a good thing for promoting the store, which of course was the whole point. Since it was a sport bike club, my definition of a sport bike was “If you ride your motorcycle in a manner you find to be sporting, then it is a sport bike club.” I wanted to accept pretty much anyone. However, he began to add anyone who purchased anything. The day I received a membership form for CBSBC for someone who had purchased a 50cc Scooter – I knew something had to be done. Before long we had CBSBC, CBCC (Cycle Barn Cruiser Club), CBWMC (Cycle Barn Women’s Motorcycle Club) a dirt bike club, and a club for Triumphs called RAT. Each of these clubs had an event calendar and a separate monthly newsletter. There were also activities galore with the Great Northwest chapter of HOG, the Harley group based group. I was busy…
Meanwhile, at the store, many of the employees were taken aback when I first arrived. Here was the “new guy” who appeared to have very few responsibilities, and came and went at all hours on any sort of motorcycle. What’s up with that? My first office space was on the top floor of the lower building, hidden behind a wall in a long room shared by one of the General Managers. I would disappear for hours into my computer, and appear at random intervals to do what ever it was I was supposed to be doing. To a large extent nobody actually knew what I was supposed to be doing, but the owner had a lot of faith in my energy and judgment (that was not supported by any data) so in general I did anything and went anywhere I thought my efforts might be beneficial to the company. I had the great advantage of not having anyone to tell me what I could and could not do, because virtually everything I did was not being done by anyone else anywhere in the industry.
Part of my job was to create a company newsletter, as Cycle Barn was rapidly evolving into the Cycle Barn Motorsports Group, with multiple locations and businesses. In addition, I was creating a lot of e-mailed newsletters to let the customers know what was going on, and yet many of the managers seemed oddly reluctant to tell me – pretty much anything.
Cycle Barn in those days was set up so that managers were paid based on the profitability of their own departments. That sounds great in principal, but the effects were not so benign. The service and sales departments did not work hand in hand at all times, and often tried to slip expenses to the other department.
Worse, in such a system your worth if often determined by what you know, and what others do not know. Even though my efforts were meant to benefit each department, some of the managers did not want to tell me anything, lest I become a threat to their fiefdom. This was hard to understand, as I was 53 years old at the time, and it was obvious (at least to me), that I was not on the fast track to management power, nor did I want to be.
At times I got so frustrated by things I did not understand that Susan made me agree to a solemn plan – I was not allowed to quit without going home to talk to her about it first and sleeping on it overnight. I invoked that promissory clause a few times.
It took much longer to figure this out than it should have, but eventually I began lobbying the owner for the managers to have a lunch meeting once a week. The idea was that it is harder to stab someone in the back if you have just shared a meal. Eventually these became weekly morning meetings at the two main stores – one in Lynnwood and the other in Smokey Point, and they were very successful. Ironically, since I was one of the few who attended both of them, I was now flooded with more information than I could use!
When I was in faculty meetings for all those years I had an unfortunate quirk of speaking – too often and too much. Some of my “witty” comments were resented by the various principals, and should have been. I could grade papers during the meetings, but that was frowned upon as well. Since I get bored easily, and there was rarely anything at a faculty meeting that was not glaringly obvious to anyone who had taught more than about 12 days, I eventually found a way to keep myself occupied and my mouth shut. I would “keep score” for myself at each meeting. I gave myself a minus 2 if I spoke without being asked to, a plus 1 if someone mentioned something I’d done, a plus 5 if I were asked to speak, and a plus 3 if I made people laugh. The intent was to end the day with a positive score – and sometimes I did.
At Cycle Barn I needed to keep my mouth shut even more, since I knew less than anyone else in the room. I began to keep detailed notes for distribution later. Thanks to a junior high teacher who had taught outlining skills very well, I could do this easily, even in a meeting where the topics could appear random. Then I began adding my own score card to my duties, and eventually others asked what in the world I was doing. As a result, I ended up keeping score for everyone in the meeting! If something was said that was deemed to be stupid, someone would look at me and say “That should be a minus 2.” At times debates broke out over the correct score for a funny joke. In this subtle and totally unintentional way, the meetings became very productive and quite fun – the only ones of my working career I really looked forward to.
At the time the “Orange County Choppers” franchise was all the rafve on TV as a motorcycle reality show, but I knew that cameras mounted in the dealership and in the corners of the conference room would make a much better show if I could figure out a way to get someone to film it.
All of that slid away beginning half way through about 2008, as the motorcycle market, along with the national economy, began diving into a black hole of recession. Cycle Barn was caught in a perfect storm of ill-timing. They’d just opened a $10,000,000 and more ‘glass palace’ of a new dealership that was gorgeous and extremely functional. It was also too big and glossy to “feel” like a motorcycle dealership. There was a warehouse underneath it that held several hundred new motorcycles, and it was an awesome sight afforded to very few. Then the market tanked, and Cycle Barn was saddled with grotesquely excessive inventory, a payroll that totaled over 250 at all the locations, and a very expensive albatross of a new building that was not able to support itself and could not be sold.
Next chapter: How I came own a superbike, ludicrous ideas, and riding with the HOGs.
Copyright 2013 David Preston