Seattle. New look, new moto economy.

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Seattle. New look, new moto economy.

Seattle… Not the same town we remember 10 years or 20 years ago. Far from it. Goodbye bungalows, hello high density housing. Goodbye Pendleton's and Birkenstocks, hello sheik attire of every style.

Seems like the Seattle Times has an article almost weekly about how fast the city is evolving. But we wanted to get a look at that from the motorcycle side of the culture.

Spend an hour or so watching bikes go up and down Aurora and if anything has remained close to what it was 10 years ago, it's probably the motorcycle culture of the city. We've got it and we have for decades. Commuters, touring enthusiasts, café racer type, scooter owners. The one thing most dealers will agree, it's more vibrant than ever before.

Makes sense. Amazon has planted itself firmly into South Lake Union and it seems a busload of new employees filter into the city almost daily. They'd like to live downtown, but parking is short and rents are high. A little farther out, say Ballard, rents are lower but traffic getting to and from work is a hassle. An increase in motorcycles on the road is evident.

We took a ride up and down Aurora to check in with the local dealers to find out how this evolution is effecting their business.

The first question is, how the city's new minimum wage is affecting shops, from both an employee standpoint and a sales standpoint.

Bud Myers of Seattle Cycle Center noted only one of his employees was below the new minimum wage mark, and though not required to, due to his small employee pool, he went ahead and upped that person's salary to what large businesses are required to go to know.

Garrett Johnson at Triumph of Seattle already has all his employees over the minimum mark. "We like to pay our employees a fair wage so they can make living expenses meet. That means we're seeing less net on the bottom line, but I believe a happy employee does a better job at keeping the customer happy and that's what matters in the end."

Myers and the other dealers we asked don't see the minimum wage requirement affecting their shops much from an employee standpoint. But from a customer standpoint, Myers is seeing something else. "Where I'm seeing a difference is the low income commuter finally has a few more dollars to spend on gear and service and keep their bike in better shape" says Myers.

The economy is up and business is booming.

Dave Richardson of Moto International notes that for the moths January to July, this year he is seeing largest street bike sales ever for the store compared to any past year. "Unemployment is at 3.8% in Seattle. People are working and spending." Richardson was sharp at keeping his business alive through the recession buying new bikes via auction when other dealers folded. "But those auction bikes aren't out there today. We're making thing work now through factory incentives and the new models Piaggo is delivering through Aprila and Moto Guzzi."

Seems that creating a shift in the business model is necessary whatever way the economic scale tilts. Dave Roosevelt is no stranger to changing the model. His Seattle Used Bikes shop was founded on making a profit selling only used bikes which typically can fetch an average 25% margin. New bikes offer more like 10-12% margins. But Roosevelt has found an additional niche in the midst of it all - "Most OEM shops don't work on bikes 12 years or older, so our service department is busy helping those with older bikes to keep them running."

Garrett Johnson isn't really able to compare this year to last year, since he moved the shop in the late fall of last year from Lynnwood to Seattle. "What I can tell you is our sales are remarkably up and we've been able to get closer to our core customer by making the move." The addition of KTM to the shops lineup hasn't hurt either.

So here we are, 2015 - The good times are now. They won't always be around, but each one of these proprietors has survived through the thick and the thin times.

SR/August 2015

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