Enjoying the ride
Gainesville Harley-Davidson celebrates 20 years
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 7:04 p.m.
Gainesville Harley-Davidson opened more than 20 years ago in a 5,000-square-foot building with three employees, including its founders, the late Ray Lytle and his wife, Gail.
Occupation: Owner/general manager, Gainesville Harley-Davidson
Personal: In a relationship
Pets: Charlie, 11, a mutt lab mix; Biscuit, 3, a stray cat
Dream partner for lunch: His father
Favorite movie: "Top Gun" — "Just saw it in 3D IMAX. Amazing!"
Favorite TV viewing: Most HBO original series, "Spartacus," History Channel, Discovery Channel, ESPN
Favorite listening: Hip hop, rock, country
Passions: "I really like any type of outdoor activity. If I'm not on the bike, I like to be near the water."
Education: Associate's degree, Santa Fe College; Certification, Motorcycle Mechanics Institute; Continued training through Harley-Davidson University
Ray, who had worked as a corporate pilot for Crain Communications in Detroit, would often travel to sunny Florida. Gail said that prompted him to ask her why they lived up north where it was cold and bleak.
Gail said she told him she had no idea.
So the couple moved to Gainesville with their two sons, Kevin and Paul, after Ray got the go-ahead to open a Harley-Davidson dealership.
"Our goal was to take control of our destiny, have fun and make a little money. And we more than accomplished that," Gail said.
Now, with son Kevin Lytle as owner and general manager, Gainesville Harley-Davidson recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary. The dealership employs more than 30 people in a 20,000-square-foot facility on Northwest 97th Avenue, near the site of the original building.
"It is a fun business selling people bikes … it changes so many people's lives for the better. Also, I really enjoy my employees. We always try to make the work environment fun," Kevin said.
After Ray passed away unexpectedly in 2001, Gail and the general manager at the time took over running the business.
Gail is currently majority owner, while Kevin's brother, Paul, is assistant general manager.
Throughout the years, Kevin worked in practically every aspect of the business, from technician and service writer to marketing and sales.
"I started washing bikes to, you know, all the way where I am today," Kevin said.
Since becoming general manager four years ago, Kevin said business has steadily increased, with the dealership seeing a 35 percent increase in net sales in 2012 compared to 2009.
During the recession, 2008 was the worst year for the Gainesville dealership and that spilled over into 2009, Kevin said.
"But I saw the opportunity. I knew we could do better," Kevin said.
Kevin increased the inventory of pre-owned bikes and became more aggressive about selling bikes and treating people well, with customer service being paramount, he said.
"It costs so much just to get somebody to walk through that door, so if they walk through that door, you need to make sure you take care of them," Kevin said.
Sales Manager Patrick O'Hara said the staff views customers as friends.
"We try to know everybody who walks through the door — like this is their clubhouse and they belong to a big club," he said.
There is a strong social component among many Harley-Davidson owners, with riding clubs worldwide.
Harley-Davidson Inc. considers its core customers to be caucasian men 35 and older, according to its website.
"We get customers from all over North Central Florida who come to us," Kevin said. "We do have a vast territory because we're in more of a rural area."
In Gainesville, "as much as we've tried to tap into the college market, it's just not there."
But because of the university and the jobs it creates, it is beneficial to the business, Kevin said.
In 1995, Gainesville Harley-Davidson moved from its original site to its current building. The facility, which includes parts and services departments, underwent extensive remodeling in 2003.
"It's been quite a journey," Gail said.