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Ever dreamed of opening your own motorcycle repair shop? If you have a passion for the industry and are eager to share it with others, this could be the perfect career path.
As with any business, starting a motorcycle shop of your own takes time, commitment and determination to get things off the ground. Success requires a strategic plan, and it can be helpful to learn from those who have paved the road before you.
MMI grad Jim Drew is a perfect example of someone who’s created their own path in the motorcycle industry. After graduating from Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in 2011, Jim opened up a shop of his own called Hingham Cycle, which he still runs today.
Keep reading to learn all about Jim’s story, as well as his tips for aspiring motorcycle techs and shop owners.
Jim’s passion for motorcycles started when he was very young. He grew up riding dirt bikes around his house and spending time with his dad and his friends, who were also motorcycle enthusiasts. As soon as Jim got his permit, he began riding on the
street and has been riding ever since.
While Jim had always loved motorcycles, he didn’t pursue it as his career in the beginning. He spent time working on vehicles and equipment for various industries, including construction and property management.
In 2009, however, Jim decided it was time for a career change. He wanted to break into the motorcycle industry, and knew he needed formal training if he wanted to turn it into his full-time career.
Having spent time around the motorcycle scene, Jim was familiar with Motorcycle Mechanics Institute and knew several people who had attended the school. He started researching different schools and eventually decided that MMI was the right place for him.
“What drew me to MMI was the fact that the programs had manufacturer backing,” he shares.
Jim didn’t know exactly where he wanted to take his career at the time, but he decided that becoming a factory-trained technician would be the best option for him, as it could open the door to a career at a dealership or give him the credibility
he needed to open his own shop later down the road.
In the fall of 2009, Jim packed his bags and headed to Florida to start his training at MMI Orlando!
His prior experience was mostly in working on Harley-Davidson bikes, but MMI gave him the opportunity to connect with people from all kinds of backgrounds. “I made a lot of great connections that I still keep in touch with today,” he says.
According to Jim, the relationships he formed while at MMI are one of his most valuable takeaways. If he ever comes across something he’s unfamiliar with, he has people he can call on who will point him in the right direction. “You can’t
put a price tag on that,” he shares.
As far as his training goes, Jim loved spending time in the classroom and lab. According to him, the classrooms were laid out nicely, the bikes were in good condition and there were plenty of tools to go around for all of the students. His only complaint
was that he wishes the days were longer!
Jim also enjoyed learning from his instructors. “The staff was extremely knowledgeable
and willing to help you with what you were doing in class or that project you had going on at home,” he says.
After graduating from MMI in 2011, Jim headed back home to Massachusetts and immediately began working on the layout and build of his first shop. He graduated in September, and in November, Hingham Cycle was born!1
“It was all a learning process in the beginning,” he shares. Jim had to learn how to arrange his shop in a way that optimized efficiency as well as all of the things that come with being a business owner, such as developing work orders, understanding
the legal wording of service authorizations and finding the best suppliers for parts.
Jim enjoyed the process and seeing his dream come to life. When he first opened, he worked on any and everything—no matter the manufacturer or type of work it was. For a period of time, he had a handful of employees who helped him with the growing
amount of work coming in.
Eventually, Jim decided to scale back and make the transition from a public to a private shop so he could focus more on his true passion—working on bikes. Now, he works with a select group of clients, many of whom he has had from the very beginning.
Transitioning to a private business model has allowed Jim to provide the best care for each one of his clients. Whenever they have a problem, they can call him and within 24 hours, he has their bike on the lift.
“I wanted to take care of the people who were taking care of me,” Jim shares. While he never turns a blind eye to anyone who comes through his door, his clients are his number one priority.
From oil changes, brakes, and tires to detailing and installing accessories like stereos and speakers, Jim does it all. He has even expanded into automotive work, as many of his clients have vintage cars, classic cars and hot rods they need serviced.
Jim handles all of the shop’s paperwork with the help of his wife, who also assists with meeting with customers and discussing the types of work they need done.
Any motorcycle enthusiast knows that this industry is seasonal, which has the potential to create challenges for shop owners.
According to Jim, March through July tend to be busier months as they coincide with riding season, and things start to slow down around the end of August. Work tends to pick up around October, but slows back down during the winter months.
So how can shop owners effectively manage the busy season while maintaining a steady flow of work through the winter?
Jim has found that the best way to manage seasonality is to keep detailed records of each one of his customers throughout the year. Typically, he reaches out to his customers in September and encourages them to bring their bikes in for repairs they may
have put off during riding season.
By following this method, Jim is able to work on projects during the winter and lighten his workload during the spring (which is typically very busy). This also makes it so that his clients’ bikes are ready to go when riding season rolls around.
Many technicians are passionate about the motorcycle industry, but don’t necessarily see themselves working in a traditional dealership. Fortunately, there are plenty of other opportunities out there—it just requires creativity and drive.
Jim encourages technicians to “think outside the box” when it comes to building your career in the motorcycle industry.
If you don’t want to take the dealership route, consider working for a small independent shop. Another option is to talk to your local police department and find out who services their bikes, which is exactly what Jim did for a period of time.
Motorcycle technicians may also find success working with a local riding club, or even buying a trailer and offering mobile services for clients. For those who have an entrepreneurial spirit like Jim, opening a brick and mortar repair shop may be the
“No matter what you want to do, there’s a way to make it work,” Jim shares. “You’re only limited by your imagination and willingness to prove that your idea can work.
When it comes to succeeding in the motorcycle industry, passion is key. “You have to eat, breathe and sleep motorcycles,” Jim says.
Another important aspect of building a career in this field is reputation. “Whatever work you put your name on, make sure it’s something you’re proud of,” Jim shares. It takes time and hard work to build a good reputation, but
the end result is worth it—especially if you’re looking to start your own business.
Lastly, Jim encourages aspiring shop owners to not be afraid to network with the other shops in your area. While they may be competition, it will only benefit you to have a good relationship with them. Always treat people with respect—you never
know when you’ll need their help or vice versa.
In the future, Jim hopes to continue growing his business and serving his clients. He eventually would like to reach the point where people recognize him by his logo alone! Jim also hopes that his three children take an interest in motorcycles and continue
his legacy through his shop.
Overall, Jim’s story is an amazing example of where passion and hard work can take you in the motorcycle industry. If you have the drive, there’s no telling where you can go!
After graduating from MMI, Marcus Ellis opened his own shop and became a Born Free custom builder. This is his story.
John Maxwell graduated from Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Florida, but he's better known as, "The Harley Tech" on YouTube. This is his story.
Lance Smeal is a graduate of the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. He's also an entrepreneur and the owner of L-N-C Cycle Repair in Cottonwood, Arizona. This is his story.
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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
2) For important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rates of students who attended this program, and to review the applicable Gainful Employment disclosure, visit www.uti.edu/disclosures.
6) UTI graduates' achievements may vary. Individual circumstances and wages depend on personal credentials and economic factors. Work experience, industry certifications, the location of the employer and their compensation programs affect wages. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
7) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.
10) Financial aid and scholarships are available to those who qualify. Awards vary due to specific conditions, criteria and state.
12) Based on data compiled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections (2016-2026), www.bls.gov, viewed October 24, 2017. The projected number of annual job openings, by job classification is: Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics, 75,900; Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists, 28,300; Automotive Body and Related Repairers, 17,200. Job openings include openings due to growth and net replacements.
15) Manufacturer-paid advanced training programs are conducted by UTI’s Custom Training Group on behalf of manufacturers who determine acceptance criteria and conditions. These programs are not part of UTI’s accreditation.
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