2013-08-02 / News

Motorcycle Retailer Finds Success with Clothing Line on Island

Harley-Davidson, Like Island, Offers ‘American Heritage’ Appeal, Says Store Manager Selin
By Noriah Williams


At left: Peter and Debbie Karas of Boston, Massachusetts, visit Mackinac Island’s new Harley-Davidson Motor Company store Tuesday, July 23. The couple rode their 2001 Road King Classic and 2010 Harrison Softail Deluxe Harley-Davidson motorcycles to Mackinaw City to visit the Island, stopping by both motor company stores during their trip. At left: Peter and Debbie Karas of Boston, Massachusetts, visit Mackinac Island’s new Harley-Davidson Motor Company store Tuesday, July 23. The couple rode their 2001 Road King Classic and 2010 Harrison Softail Deluxe Harley-Davidson motorcycles to Mackinaw City to visit the Island, stopping by both motor company stores during their trip. The concept of a motorcycle store on an island where motored vehicles have been prohibited since the end of the 19th century may be puzzling, but Dale Selin, store manager for the Harley-Davidson Motor Company retail store in Mackinaw City and now, Mackinac Island, believes it makes perfect sense.

“A large part of it is American heritage,” said Mr. Selin, who has been with the company for 10 years. “Harley-Davidson was founded 110 years ago, so we do have a pretty ancient history in this country. Bicycles were also an original part of the company.”

Founded in 1901 by William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson in Milwaukee, the motorcycle company got its start with a blueprint of an engine designed for a pedal-bicycle frame. Although that idea fell flat, the company garnered much success shortly after its inception with its heavyweight, speedy motorcycles. Milestones included providing motorcycles for the Detroit police department and the building of a six story headquarters in downtown Milwaukee in its first five years. The company is now known as the most famous American motorcycle brand.

Harley-Davidson now has retail stores in various regions of the world, including North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Pacific Rim and Latin America. Many of these areas, Mr. Selin notes, are not unlike Mackinac Island, in that motorized vehicles are unwelcome or prohibited.

Harley-Davidson’s Mackinac Island store is owned by Mike Zipser of Traverse City and is on the corner of the Arnold Dock, opening for its first summer season in May. The store keeps to the historical appearance of the Island, with white painted wood siding, but stepping inside, customers can see the classic style the Harley-Davidson brand is known for. Walls adorned in the brand’s signature orange, black, and white hold merchandise from novelty key chains and bike stickers to baby clothes, leather jackets, and T-shirts for men and women.

Although motorcycles are the company’s bread and butter, for special locations like Mackinac Island, apparel and other merchandise are front and center. The clothing’s embossed “bar and shield” logo has become one of the most recognized American trademarks.

“If you go to various locales around the world, the apparel has become a large fashion statement,” explains Mr. Selin, adding, “20% to 30% of sales for Harley is apparel, worldwide. It’s like Hard Rock Café or other locales that people seek out. There are hundreds of people who don’t ride, but they buy shirts.”

Peter and Debbie Karas of Boston, Massachusetts, riders of Harley-Davidson motorcycles for 10 years, visited both the Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island locations after traveling 1,100 miles over four days on their vacation.

The couple mapped a motorcycle road trip from their northeastern home, through Canada, and ending in Mackinac Island. After visiting the Mackinaw City location, learning there was another Harley-Davidson store was a welcome treat.

“You can’t beat the style, it’s an American icon,” said Mr. Karas. “It’s a lot of fun. Once you get the bug, you’re addicted to everything. If I was to come here and I had to drive in a car, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But to go on the bike, it’s just an entirely different experience. You can smell more, see more, hear more.”

Although business for the summer season started slowly owing to cool spring weather, Mr. Selin said he is fairly pleased with the progression of the store and attributes the quality of customers for his satisfaction with his job and the company.

“Working here, we just love the people,” said Mr. Selin. “You would not believe where people come from to stop into our store. Not just from the United States, but other countries. Everyone wants to tell you about it. Some people ride across the country to get here.”

Mr. Selin also hopes to make the Mackinac Island Harley- Davidson store a long-term endeavor, to provide a good partnership, and to continue the Mackinac Island tradition of providing quality products.

“We want to respect the traditions on the Island,” Mr. Selin said. “There was early opposition or fears, I think, with what we were going to bring to the Island. I hope people are accepting us on Mackinac Island. We are trying to bring our unique product to a unique place.”

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