Kelowna, Jan. 23rd, 2007 – Ambient glow spills out from bellow two massive spot-lit BMW Motorrad banners making the entrance to SouthWest Motorrad more LA scene than Kelowna motorcycle shop. Most grand openings cause only the merest of ripples in the news pool, but this is Canada’s newest and largest BMW motorcycle dealership, and at the moment all Southwest Motorrad lacks is a bouncer with 26-inch biceps with the “A-list” in a ham-sized hand. Slide through the doors and the new dealership’s vastness makes off with your senses, another impression hits, the sheer ambition of opening a shop like this.
Inside is a fusion of cavernous LA nightclub experience and private BMW motorcycle club; bikes are shrouded in white and bathed in blue and red neon-lit glory; people mill, chat, laugh, drink and eat in groups that look small until you get closer; a projected video splashes promotional rips around the Nurburgring and foreign lands across an end wall; servers delve food; industry notables mill and swill. Looking small, alone and out of place a singer-keyboardist struggles to fill the room with ambient sound – dance beats from twin-decks would seem more appropriate as you drink in this “motorcyclist rave panorama”.
Norm Wells, head of BMW Motorrad Canada, has come from Toronto for this Grand Opening and looks on well satisfied by this addition the dealership chain. “This is impressive. It’s exactly what we’ve been talking to our dealers about for years. This is the direction that BMW is going.”
Wells has seen the inside of more motorcycle shops than most and takes a second to survey the enormous, blue, white and black interior, the expansive of grey tile, long checker-plate counter and the polished steel entrance to the shop area complete with a symbolic BMW laser-cut into negative space. For a moment he seems a bit slack jawed. From Wells this is a hard won complement.
Starting from scratch likely has given Southwest Motorrad the advantage of being designed from the ground up as a premiere BMW dealership. Likely the raised bar will be hard for other established retailers to match, if only in terms of the budget required to create something of this scale in Canada’s other major centres. The process of opening Southwest Motorrad is one that Wells makes clear in this evening’s speech has taken some time.
“When Kelly came to me two years ago with the idea of opening a premium BMW dealership in the Okanagan,” says Wells, “I couldn’t think of someone better.” It’s true that Flynn is a veteran of his previous Vancouver Island dealership, SM Cycle, and that he brings valuable experience to the table. Given that Southwest Motorrad is Canada’s biggest BMW motorcycle dealership, one person does not a dealership make.
Kelly Flynn, of course, hasn’t opened the dealership alone. His partners Sonya Vandevyvere and Emilie Flynn (Kelly’s wife) may not have shared the on-stage limelight, but they certainly deserve accolades for the launch of this massive flagship. Also folded into Southwest Motorrad is Paula Goodfellow, former owner of Boutique 360/Riders Apparel, another local industry notable applying her near life-long knowledge of motorcycling to the team.
That team has a lot of space to fill, the phrase “Canada’s Largest” is no idle market speak. The showroom floor alone is nearly 7500 square feet, with an additional spacious 3500 sq-ft shop area which houses three roomy service bays and a dyno room for tuning and testing bikes. Even with approximately 150 revelers in attendance, many who’ve braved a skating-rink Coquihalla highway and -17C conditions to attend, Mr. Flynn still has the space to do a burnout astride a K1200S late in the evening.
Crossing the narrowest section of the sales floor the K1200S has ample room to come to a stop in an aura of blue-neon backlit smoke from the display signage. It’s the type of grandiose alcohol fueled (and were not talking the bike here) inaugural gesture that seems a fitting christening for this dealership. When the smoke cleared however, the tradesman responsible for the floor tiling could clearly be seen wincing.
Throughout the evening there are no doubts that complementary spirits are flowing freely keeping the mood running high in the huge space. Tours of the shop area peter out, the crowd begins to thin, drifting out into the early morning, and those remaining have room to relax, chat and play, setting a vaguely surreal scene. A police dog jumps the K1200S along one wall, a pocket of onlookers watch the K1200LT’s hydraulic center-stand lift the mighty tourer in another corner, and small groups talk under a ceiling painted as a to scale wide section of three lane roadway reminiscent of the Okanagan’s broad highway 97.
That ceiling, intentionally or unintentionally, may be an important visual metaphor for the roads that tie British Columbia together and the wide net Southwest Motorrad may cast over the province’s heart. Wandering around the showroom floor you catch fragments of conversation as people compare notes on their riding home bases and what this shop could mean to them.
The shop may be located in Kelowna but there are riders here from the Kootenays, the Lower Mainland, and the Caribou-Interior as well. It’s location gives Southwest Motorrad the potential to draw in riders who formerly wouldn’t have considered riding a premium brand due to having to travel to the British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, or as the locals know it “the Coast”, for service, at least if conversation at the Grand Opening is any indicator.
More interesting is the likelihood that existing interior riders will undergo a transfer of dealer loyalties when faced with a more convenient option than “heading to the Coast” for new models and service. In the lineup for another glass of wine, a commodity whose supply has required bolstering once already this evening, a R1200RT rider from Kamloops admits to being a conceptual convert.
“I used to trailer my bike to Vancouver. Of course they wanted the bike cold for valve service so that meant brining it down the day before the service. Between the hotel and the trailer it’s an extra $400.00 easy. This [Southwest Motorrad] is close enough my wife can follow me down in the car and we can head home for the night.”
If Southwest Motorrad has a problem it likely will be a perceptual one of keeping the space available seeming “full” to incoming customers. Still, the store’s concept will likely make good use of the floor available.
“We’d like to have enough of each bike available with a variety of options that you could walk in and choose the bike you want and leave that afternoon”, says Sonya Vandevyvere. Around each genre of bike displayed on the floor are suitable gear and accessories, almost a mini-shop within the dealership. This combination of gear, accessories and motorcycles brings with it a level of convenience usually only found in automotive dealerships. So far early indicators are that the philosophy may be paying off sooner than expected.
In a phone call three weeks after the grand opening Vandevyvere admits that Southwest Motorrad has a small problem. It’s not yet spring yet the shop has already sold out its R1200GS allotment, including the Adventure. Even now Vandevyvere is looking to BMW’s R1200RT and the new G650X line as being serious contenders for the area, so one doubts the early success of moving its GSs stings too much. It will be interesting to watch Southwest Motorrad grow and develop, already there are BMW test rides being planned and talk of a potential additional line of bikes from a non-competing brand. All this seems to mark Southwest Motorrad as a shop with no small ambitions.
Location: 3575 Alcan Road, Kelowna BC
Phone: +1 250 807 2697 / +1 877 888 1269