Dealer Fo­cus: 60 years on, and still go­ing strong

Ron Da­ley is one of a hand­ful of 1950s deal­ers who’s still ac­tive. In his di­a­mond an­niver­sary year, he gave Scooter­ing an in­sight into the past, present and fu­ture of his fam­ily busi­ness.

Scootering - - Contents -

One in a hand­ful of 1950s deal­ers still ac­tive, Ron Da­ley gave us an in­sight into his fam­ily busi­ness.

Now in his 80s, Ron still keeps a sharp eye on the busi­ness that’s taken six decades to build. On most days he can be found in the shop and as a trained joiner he was ‘hands on’ dur­ing the show­room’s re­cent re­fur­bish­ment. To­day, Ron Da­ley’s is one of the coun­try’s lead­ing sup­pli­ers of Vespa, Sco­madi, Royal Al­loy and Peu­geot scoot­ers, a high street show­room and multi-brand fran­chises were the stuff of dreams when he be­gan trad­ing, though it was in con­fec­tionery not mo­tor­cy­cles that he honed his sales tech­niques.

Early days

“I’ve never had a sweet tooth,” he be­gan,”but al­ways loved shoot­ing. I’d spend my sweet ra­tion on aniseed balls as they were easy to sell and with the profit I’d buy air ri­fle pel­lets. From main­tain­ing air weapons I moved on to re­pair­ing mo­tor­cy­cles.” It’s not an un­com­mon pro­gres­sion but Ron’s story is all the more re­mark­able when you re­alised that all this hap­pened be­fore he was 12. By the age of 14, Ron was com­pet­ing in tri­als events and quickly built a rep­u­ta­tion as a fast and ag­gres­sive rider. In or­der to fund this, Ron built ma­chines for other riders,

reg­is­ter­ing them as ‘RDS’, Ron Da­ley Spe­cials, the first of many to come. Ob­sessed with mo­tor­cy­cles he had lit­tle time for the fairer sex but it was a match made in heaven when he was in­tro­duced to Mar­ian, the daugh­ter of an­other mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­ast and one of the few woman in Barns­ley to hold a full mo­tor­cy­cle li­cence. “We were so poor that one of our wed­ding presents was a chair; it was the only fur­ni­ture we had and we took turns to sit down,” laughed Ron.

For the first few years of mar­riage Ron would sur­vive on four or five hours’ sleep. After com­plet­ing his shift at the col­liery he’d turn his hand to mo­tor­cy­cles. “The first work­shop was up­stairs, that’s all we could af­ford,” ex­plained Ron. “I used a block and tackle to winch bikes up through a hole in the floor.” He was also trad­ing in used ma­chines but could only pro­vide fi­nance on a ‘re­course’ ba­sis. This meant that not only did he pay com­mis­sion for ar­rang­ing fi­nance he was also re­spon­si­ble for re­pos­ses­sion. “We had a de­fault rate of around 90% and some re­pos­ses­sions were very awk­ward, it’s a good job I could han­dle my­self!”

On Au­gust 16, 1958, Ron went into busi­ness full time. These were hard years and the turn­ing point came in the un­likely form of a two-speed moped, the Kerry Cap­i­tano. This was built in Italy and mar­keted by the Kerry Mo­tor­cy­cle Com­pany as its own prod­uct. “It was a rev­e­la­tion,” said Ron. “Not only was I paid com­mis­sion for ar­rang­ing fi­nance but the bank dealt with de­fault­ers. It changed ev­ery­thing.”

En­ter the Wasp

Shortly af­ter­wards Ron be­gan his re­la­tion­ship with Vespa. As Martin, Ron’s old­est son, ex­plained this was at a time when Lam­bretta dom­i­nated the north’s ‘blue col­lar’ mar­ket. “It’s well doc­u­mented that Dou­glas was build­ing mod­els that were ob­so­lete in Italy. Dad’s shop was close to Barns­ley’s Lam­bretta dealer who al­ways stocked the lat­est mod­els. They were prob­a­bly sell­ing about 50 a month at that time and de­liv­er­ies would be lined up out­side their show­room. They’d stand out­side and laugh while my dad un­loaded the dated Ves­pas which Dou­glas had supplied. That was the worst thing they could have done. It just made him more de­ter­mined to suc­ceed.”

One thing that makes Ron Da­ley’s stand out is the deal­er­ship’s con­stant will­ing­ness to in­no­vate. As Martin ex­plained they were one of the first deal­ers to see the po­ten­tial of Ja­panese mo­tor­cy­cles. “We adopted Yamaha at a very early stage. There’s no doubt it was a gam­ble, Bri­tish bikes were seen as all-con­quer­ing, but we soon re­alised that they were well built, re­li­able ma­chines.

“His­tory shows what hap­pened to the Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ers. The qual­ity of Vespa prod­ucts also im­proved when we started to get ma­chines from Italy, it was an ex­cit­ing time.”

Hard times

Noth­ing lasts for­ever but even the most pes­simistic of deal­ers couldn’t pre­dict the storm that was brew­ing in the early 80s. “The min­ers’ strike hit us hard,” said Martin, “Al­most overnight Barns­ley be­came poor. There was no need for cheap com­mut­ing trans­port, and if peo­ple had a job there was no cash for hobby motorcycling. At the same time profit mar­gins were squeezed. On a Yamaha cost­ing £5000, we’d be lucky to make £25. What seemed like the fi­nal straw came when con­trol of the UK Vespa fran­chise went to Heron Suzuki. They weren’t in­ter­ested in work­ing with a Yamaha deal­er­ship and we lost Vespa.”

Over the years Ron held var­i­ous fran­chises in­clud­ing MZ, KTM, Du­cati and Gil­era but to keep things afloat he turned to­wards four-wheels. “We’d had ex­pe­ri­ence with Re­liant for sev­eral years,” said Martin. “They were pop­u­lar be­cause they only needed a mo­tor­cy­cle li­cence. We thought that there was a mar­ket for af­ford­able four wheeled trans­port and be­gan to sell Lada.” After sev­eral years of strug­gling, Ron ap­proached Pi­ag­gio and pointed out, not in­ac­cu­rately, that the lo­cal Suzuki dealer was pay­ing lip ser­vice to the Vespa brand. After a con­vinc­ing pitch he se­cured the fran­chise and sales of the mar­que in­creased ten­fold within a year.

A fam­ily af­fair

Three gen­er­a­tions of the fam­ily are now work­ing at the shop and Michael, Ron’s grand­son, is part of the next gen­er­a­tion look­ing to the fu­ture. “We’re all very proud of what grandad built and are de­ter­mined to keep grow­ing the busi­ness,” he said. “The in­ter­net’s an im­por­tant part of what we do and we’re de­vel­op­ing our use of so­cial me­dia to high­light the great prod­ucts and ser­vices we of­fer. Some­thing I’d re­ally like to make peo­ple aware of is our spares hold­ing. We prob­a­bly have the coun­try’s largest range of orig­i­nal Pi­ag­gio parts, par­tic­u­larly for the PX and can use our buy­ing power to of­fer these at prices equal to, or less than, the price of in­fe­rior copies. When the PX ceased pro­duc­tion we bought up as many as we could find and con­tinue to se­cure the best ex­am­ples that come to mar­ket. Although our se­lec­tion of new PXs is now lim­ited I’m con­fi­dent we can of­fer our spe­cials for quite some time to come.

“We’ve al­ways of­fered great sales and ser­vice for ma­chines and are very pleased to have re­cently ac­quired Scooter Crazy’s cloth­ing stock and ex­per­tise. This has made us a gen­uine ‘one stop shop’ for riders of all abil­i­ties”.

Ron Da­ley Mo­tor­cy­cles is a busi­ness founded on the con­cept of fam­ily and one that places cus­tomer ser­vice at the heart of ev­ery­thing it does. While look­ing to the fu­ture, the fam­ily hasn’t for­got­ten its roots. When Barns­ley’s air ri­fle store re­cently closed down, Ron bought its stock and added it to the range of prod­ucts on of­fer. All he needs now is a sweet shop and the cir­cle’s com­plete!

Words: Stan Pho­to­graphs: Gary Chap­man

Three gen­er­a­tions, one pas­sion. Michael, Ron and Martin.

Ron Da­ley,anen­thu­si­ast first and fore­most.

As­e­lec­tion of the used, low-mileage PXs await­ing trans­for­ma­tion. Show­room is atrea­sure trove of mem­o­ra­bilia.

in-house. All ser­vic­ing and re­pairs are con­ducted

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