The giant Harley-Davidson sign visible from Interstate 70 will be coming down before June 30.
That’s the end of the road for Hays’ long-standing Harley-Davidson motorcycle franchise, a staple of the community for 45 years, and familiar to everyone as simply “Doerflers.”
In a voluntary buyout by the company, Brian and Deanna Doerfler are getting out of the business, which was started in 1975 by Brian’s dad, Alex, and uncle Don.
“It’s hard after 45 years,” Brian said Friday at the store at 1100 E. 43rd St. “But it just feels like it’s time.”
The Doerflers began working with Harley-Davidson 18 months ago on a succession plan for their successful business. But it became clear that only a well-capitalized new owner could manage the corporation’s substantial franchise investment as it is now, Deanna said.
“We could not actually sell it to anybody, they weren’t going to accept anyone else besides us,” she said. “They really didn’t want us to go, but they would not come off their stiff requirements for the capital.”
The shop has been busier than ever as customers find out the franchise is going away, Deanna said on Friday.
But the end of the franchise doesn’t mean the end of the shop or the business.
The Doerflers’ legacy will live on, with ownership passing to longtime employee B.J. Rupp and his wife, Dena.
“B.J.’ll carry things on pretty good,” Brian said. “He’ll fill the gap. We’ll probably be helping out a year or two.”
Rupp started at Doerflers’ 14 years ago.
“That torch that Brian and Deanna are passing along to us is huge,” Rupp said Friday. “Truthfully, Brian and Deanna are like my parents, I love them like my mother and father, they mean everything to me.”
Rupps are buying most of the tools, equipment, original parts and accessories, and pre-owned inventory, and will offer Harley-Davidson parts, accessories and service.
Instead of just pre-owned Harleys, however, the Rupp’s independent shop will sell other motorcycle brands too.
The business is relocating from Doerflers’ existing newer 23,000-square foot metal building, and going back to its roots: 1007 Vine St., the 5,800-square-foot shop where the founding Doerflers started years ago.
Rupp bought his first Harley in late 2001 at the old shop, a 1200 Custom.
“Everything we’re doing here, we’ll be doing at 1007 Vine, the original shop,” Rupp said. “Just without the Harley-Davidson franchise over the top of us.”
Rupps are leasing the Vine Street location from Doerflers. The 40-year-old Rupp hopes to bring with him other trusted Doerflers’ employees.
“I pray that Dustin Cross, the service manager, he’s been doing this as long as I have, will come with me and kind of be my right-hand man,” Rupp said. “And Josh Heier and Aaron Riedel, who all have experience wrenching, parts, service, so they’re well-versed in the different departments.”
The hope is that Rupps can open their shop in early July.
For now, Deanna is marking down the clothing to sell-off.
“I have found that ever since this announcement came out that our dealer t-shirts that have our name on the back are very valuable,” she said. Other Doerflers’ branded items for sale include collectible poker chips, pins and patches, decals, shot glasses, and hats. “All that will be sold off,” she said.
Brian and Deanna will also spend the next year or two helping B.J. and Dena get started, as well as selling off their shop’s fixtures, and getting their big building leased or sold.
After that, travel is in the picture. Their two daughters live on the East Coast.
“We’re ready to spend more time with them,” Deanna said.
The Doerflers eventually plan to live part-time in Newfoundland, where Deanna’s mother lives.
“We’re feeling better about our decision to pull out of the franchise. It’s very hard though,” Deanna said. “We’re very passionate about motorcycling, but now we’ll get to live it and do what we want to do. We’re excited to ride more.”