The glistening, modern, 28,000-square-foot Harley-Davidson building on Interstate 35 in Faribault is a shining tribute to its former owner, Bob Hofmeister, but the dealership was not always as it appears now.
When Hofmeister purchased Faribault Harley-Davidson in 1977 − 40 years ago − the avid motorcycle racer and rider envisioned a future career for his children, along with a retirement career for himself.
The building where it all began was 13,000 square feet, located near the old Kmart site on the south end of Faribault. It was at the end of a dead-end road because Hofmeister insisted that “the best shop is found behind a rock,” according to current store manager Ben Young.
On Friday morning, Faribault Harley-Davidson’s (FHD) 34 employees gathered for a group photo, each holding one of FHD’s numerous awards. While they did not know it at the time, the business was awarded another honor on Friday afternoon, winning the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism’s 2017 Business of the Year award.
With the awards in hand, the employees posed in front a rock. The rock hardly hides the massive building Hofmeister proudly designed, but it serves as a tribute to the late Hofmeister, who died in 2008.
Before the new building opened in 2002, Hofmeister’s brother in law, Jim Vidmar, took over the business while Hofmeister worked as a machinist in Bloomington, before he sold his plant to the city of Bloomington for its City Hall.
Following Vidmar’s time running the business, Hofmeister fulfilled his dream by passing the dealership on to his daughter, Ann Hofmeister, who now owns it with her husband, Jason Kellis.
Ann Hofmeister said she is “proud” to uphold her father’s legacy and feels “honored” to be there today.
“I have the best job in the world,” she said.
While her husband works in the service department, Ann works in an upstairs office. Just outside her office window is a mural consisting of photos of her father racing motorcycles and spending time with the Davidson family.
The showroom floor is lined with bikes of all kinds, while the relics are placed atop pillars high in the air.
Some of the old bikes are Hofmeister’s and others are owned by area motorcyclists. One of the most notable bikes, an eight-person motorcycle, Hofmeister put together himself. Once, said Young, the eight-man bike was nearly sold, but the people who took it for a test run toppled over, which cost him the sale.
The showroom has an extra thick concrete base, enough space for a semitrailer, radiant heated floors and an intricate pulley system that can lift and maneuver several tons of weight. Hofmeister was reluctant to move to the new location, but when he did, Young said he sought to build the building of his dreams.
The modern Faribault Harley-Davidson
Harley-Davidson’s presence in Faribault is a family affair.
“I just can’t say enough about the things Ann has done to carry on her dad’s legacy and promote the sport,” said Young.
Besides the family roots, Young has seen the store progress to accommodate both the modern rider and the Harley-Davidson loyalists.
“We’ve had great success here as a business,” he said. “Every year we’ve moved forward in our sales. Our dealership has grown and our customers have grown.”
On top of Hofmeister’s commitment, Young attributes much of the dealership’s success to the customer service his sales staff and service employees provide.
“Many people dream of owning a Harley, but a lot of them start on different brands of motorcycles because they think they can’t afford it,” said Young. “But, when they come in and give us the opportunity to work with them, a lot of times we can work with them to achieve that. That’s helped us continue to grow.”
Steve Milner, of Eagan, was at the FHD store on Friday, using the cold weather weekend to put the finishing touches on his new “trike,” or three-wheeled motorcycle, which Young says is a growing trend in the motorcycle community geared toward older bikers.
“I’m extremely happy with my time here,” said Milner, who is a first-time FHD customer. “I stopped at other shops closer to home, but from the moment I walked in, I knew it was the right place to be.”
Milner said he has been a Harley guy for a long time and added that the advent of the trike bikes along with the “understanding” and “knowledgeable” staff at FHD got him back into riding.
The programs offered at the dealership have also helped boost FHD, according to Young.
Each year, FHD participates in events with the Wounded Warrior Project and the Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as hosting the Ride for Hospice. Beyond the charitable elements, FHD offers a Lady Riders program, which was founded by Ann Hofmeister, where women get together and ride.
The dealership also plays host to a Harley-Davidson owners group, which organizes rides throughout the riding season, even getting together in the winter time and doing community service projects like cleaning up ditches on I-35.
Riding Academy, a program that teaches prospective riders how to operate and safely use a motorcycle, has also grown in popularity over the years.
While getting people on Harley-Davidson’s is the goal of the company, getting people involved in the sport of motorcycle riding is paramount.
“We have a group called F2W, or Forever 2 Wheels. You don’t even have to ride a Harley to do that group,” said Young. “Really, we are just trying to continue to promote the sport for anybody who wants to feel the wind in their face and feel the open road in front of them.”
Young said that competitors of Harley-Davidson have always been out there and he senses that competition is growing stronger. However, he believes the uniqueness of Harley-Davidson will keep the customers around.
“People really like the fact that it’s an American-made motorcycle,” he said. “And, for me, the word Harley is freedom.”
Perhaps it was that same freedom that roped Bob Hofmeister into riding – and led to him opening a local store.