The rollout of the famed Indian Motorcycle line wouldn’t be quite right if the bikes weren’t surrounded by the splashiest of showrooms to put their rugged, stylish looks on full display.
Medina-based Polaris Industries Inc., which bought the brand in 2011, announced last week that 140 dealers will sell the bikes by the end of the year, up from just 14 a year ago. The new dealers are pulling out all the stops to boost Indian’s swagger, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to build or expand showrooms.
Last Wednesday, the Mies Outland dealership in Watkins, 25 miles southwest of St. Cloud, put the finishing touches on its $750,000 Indian showroom, only the second in Minnesota to sell the high-performance bikes. Mies Outland already sells Polaris’ Victory motorcycles, ATVs and snowmobiles, but to sell Indian motorcycles, the 97,000-square-foot dealership had to commit to an upgrade.
“The Indian is where a massive amount of growth is positioned. The Indian is going to be huge,” said Steve Mies, who owns the dealership with his brother Jeff.
Last week, contractors installed the last of the steel framing for the 3,000-square-foot addition and bolted a second large Indian sign onto the building. Steve Mies said the showroom addition officially opens Feb. 22, but he’s already hired four new employees just to work on Indian sales and bikes.
It’s a scenario playing out nationwide as a swell in new dealers suddenly need workers to receive, sell and maintain the new Indian inventory. Mies Outland has 47 workers, but needs still more. Mies’ dealership presold 50 Indian bikes soon after Polaris unveiled three 2014 models at the Sturgis motorcycle rally last August, and he sold six more bikes after the International Motorcycle Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center in January. With the spring riding season approaching, he’s determined to be ready.
Last week, a semitrailer truck loaded with Indian bikes pulled into Mies Outland. By Friday, beaming customers were in the store picking up their bikes.
Indian motorcycles were first made in Massachusetts in 1901 and went on to to gain national fame by breaking speed records in the 1920s and 1950s. It’s that story line that inspired the 2005 movie “The World’s Fastest Indian,” with Anthony Hopkins.
The original manufacturer went bankrupt in 1953, and the product then struggled as subsequent owners attempted comebacks with limited success.
But Polaris is determined to put Indian back on the map. The company has a goal to sell $750 million worth of Polaris-made motorcycles in seven years. Total bike sales are now roughly a third of that and growing, thanks to the Indian brand.
There is “excitement surrounding orders in the new Indian motorcycles,” CEO Scott Wine told Wall Street analysts during a conference call Tuesday. Wine noted that even clothing and accessories sporting the Indian name are selling well. “Our customers love this brand.”
President and Chief Operating Officer Bennett Morgan noted that Polaris’ motorcycle sales “accelerated significantly in the fourth quarter.” They rose 94 percent to $69 million, driven entirely by Indian.
“Shipped Indians are selling quickly and early buyer satisfaction and quality rating are outstanding,” Morgan said.
By comparison, sales of Polaris’ traditional line of Victory motorcycles grew less than 8 percent during the fourth quarter.
Determined to maximize awareness and profits, Polaris is also taking Indian overseas. Steve Menneto, senior vice president in charge of motorcycles, said the goal is to have 70 Indian dealerships outside the United States. So far, the company has signed up dealers in Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand.
The bike recently appeared for the first time in a showroom in New Delhi. But because of a 112 percent tax rate on imports, Indian motorcycles — which retail for $19,000 to $23,000 in the United States — will cost $50,000 in India. As a result, Polaris expects to sell only 30 to 50 of the bikes this year in India, Menneto said.
Art Welch still thinks selling in India is smart. “As they expand their market worldwide, India’s not a bad move because there are still rich people in India,” said Welch, who is the first dealer of Indian bikes in Minnesota. “To bring this motorcycle back and to get worldwide attention, they need to expand their markets in the right areas.”
In St. Paul, Welch’s Indian Motorcycles of the Twin Cities is very happy with the bike’s performance. Since the relaunch of the line, he has sold nearly 100 bikes, with a goal this year of “no less than 200.”
Welch credits Polaris with keeping consumer interest high, even after introducing its first redesigned Indian on Aug. 3.
“What has kept the momentum is how Polaris spaced out the timing of how they were going to market this bike and bring it back to the masses,” Welch said. “I was not a fan of it at first, but now I see the big picture. They have a hold on what needs to be done to bring this brand back to life the right way.”
Polaris partnered with U.S. dealers to host customer demo rides last summer. Polaris hauled in loaner bikes, attended scores of bike shows and rallies around the country, and gave tours of its factories in Wyoming, Minn., Wisconsin and Iowa.
“We’re really excited. It’s going to be a great year,” Polaris’ Menneto said.