Royal Enfield opens Milwaukee dealership, North American HQ

Third Ward location targets younger, urban riders [PHOTO GALLERY]

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The newest motorcycle brand in North America opened its first flagship dealership this weekend in the heart of Milwaukee’s Third Ward.

Royal Enfield, a division of India-based Eicher Motors Ltd., opened the dealership at 226 N. Water St. The 7,000-square-foot location serves as both dealership and Royal Enfield’s North American corporate headquarters.

Former Harley-Davidson executive Rod Copes started work on launching the Royal Enfield brand in North America two years ago.

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Copes, Royal Enfield president for North America, said it was really just him working with the Eicher Motors executive team for the first six months, making sure the North American operations would match the company’s direction globally. From there he began building his core team and took over distribution in the U.S. market at the start of 2016.

Since then the goal has been to establish a strong dealer network by identifying the best potential partners in the top 100 metro areas. Royal Enfield currently has about 30 dealers in the U.S. and Canada, Copes said.

The Milwaukee location, however, is the first flagship location for Royal Enfield. Copes said he hopes to be able to gain a lot of feedback by having it tied to the company headquarters while also testing new ideas before sending them out to the dealer network.

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Royal Enfield has 20 employees currently, with half based outside of Milwaukee. The company has the opportunity to earn $100,000 in tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. by creating 23 jobs by 2018.

Copes said building the brand in such close proximity to Harley comes with advantages. For starters, the pool of available talent is boosted by former Harley employees and those connected to the industry. But Copes said Harley’s long history in the area means public officials are already well versed in motorcycling.

“That really helps,” he said. “They understand motorcycling, they understand the industry, they’re not afraid of it.”

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The motorcycle industry saw its volumes fall dramatically during the Great Recession and sales have only slowly rebounded since. Copes said the longer-term trend towards heavyweight motorcycles, largely driven by Harley, creates an opening for Royal Enfield.

“Everyone else has chased them up,” Copes said. “But that leaves very few products down in the lightweight and the middleweight for a whole new pool of motorcyclists to get into the sport.”

The three models Royal Enfield offers in the U.S. sell for $5,000 to $6,000.

“We think we kind of compliment Harley and the rest of them and we can help grow the pool of motorcyclists coming into the sport now,” Copes said.

While the Royal Enfield brand is targeted toward younger riders and those riding in an urban environment, Copes said it can also appeal toward a wide spectrum of riders.

“We’re trying to be very inclusive,” he said. “We think there’s a lot of demographic targets.”

Still, the decision to locate in the Third Ward was very intentional. The company hopes the high-traffic location on Water Street will give the brand visibility as it works to establish itself in the U.S. It is also meant to make the shopping experience convenient for younger potential customers who live, work and shop in the downtown area.

As Royal Enfield establishes its North American presence, Copes said he doesn’t see the potential for manufacturing work to be done in the United States. Eicher Motors produced 675,000 motorcycles in India last year. The company has a strong supply chain and recently broke ground on its third manufacturing facility.

“India is quickly learning how to do world-class manufacturing,” Copes said.

For now, Royal Enfield’s motorcycles arrive at a warehouse operation in Dallas, receive an extensive inspection and are then sent on to dealerships around the country.

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