Thirty years ago, Jeff Margaritell and partner Charles Pacino filled a void in Monmouth County — they opened a Harley-Davidson dealership. Margaritell, now the sole owner, does brisk business in this distinctly American product.
The dealership, originally located a few doors down Broadway in West Long Branch, moved to its current location in the early 1980s. Business has been so good lately that two years ago Margaritell added a showroom and warehouse, more than doubling the original 10,000 square feet of the original building to a roomy 22,000.
In recent years, Harleys have been so popular that many models sell out before they even arrive at the new showroom, he said.
According to Margaritell, 100 people were waiting in line last June 29 when the 2003 model year became available for sale, up from 35 people the previous year; he had 75 waiting the year before.
"I always sell out months in advance," he said. The manufacturing company, Harley-Davidson Inc., posted a 19.4 percent increase over first quarter profits last year, according to the company’s Web site.
But times weren’t always that good, said Margaritell.
In the 1970s, when Honda bikes were popular, sales were down. The manufacturing company merged with American Machine and Foundry Co, in 1969, leading to what Margaritell called quality control issues, even rumors of product sabotage by unhappy union workers. But when the company was bought back by 13 of the original executives in 1981, things started to look up. A new Softail model introduced in 1984, as well as two new engine innovations, brought the product back to the quality that it represents to motorcycle owners today.
The image of the motorcycle owner has changed over Harley of Long Branch’s 30 years, according to Harley-David-son.com. The median age of a Harley buyer is almost 46, up from the middle 30s in the 1980s. Women now account for 9 percent of Harley purchasers, up from 2 percent in 1987. The median annual household income of a Harley rider is $78,300.
Margaritell attributes the change to people whose families are older and now have free time and money. "I hate it when [younger riders] call my bike an old man’s bike because I drive a touring bike. I usually show them up by out-cornering them," said Margaritell, who used to race motorcycles on a flat track or dirt track, similar to the kind used for horse races.
But you don’t have to earn a king’s ransom to ride a quality bike. The Buell Blast, an entry-level motorcycle, costs around $4,500. Buell Motorcycle Co. is a division of Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Harley of Long Branch also has a supply of used bikes for sale, as well as a complete supply of parts and Harley clothing.
Margaritell plans to hold a sale in August to mark his 30th year in business, along with the company’s 100th anniversary. Harley-Davidson Motor Co. will kick off its yearlong centennial celebration July 20 in Atlanta, launching its Open Road Tour. The tour was originally scheduled to stop at Raceway Park, Old Bridge, but the location has been moved due to local concerns over security following biker gang-related violence in Long Island, N.Y., and Nevada. The new northeastern United States location for the tour has not been announced. Proceeds from the tour will help fund research of muscular dystrophy.