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Motorcycles: Robinsons of Rochdale

Robinsons of Rochdale spans six decades, during which the business has established itself as an enthusiast-led car and motor-cycle dealership now representing 11 brands in a single showroom.

The business opened in 1945 as a multi franchise motorcycle dealer representing all the major British brands.

At the time, the market was heavily consolidated and it was common for dealerships to pick up three or four franchises at a time.

Robinsons branched into three-wheelers in the 1960s, adding Bond and Reliant franchises, then Honda – its first four-wheel brand – in 1968.

For Robinsons this was a perfectly timed addition; rising disposable income was allowing people to buy cars, and as a result motorcycle sales were declining.

The venture proved successful and, as a result, DAF joined the site in the early 1970s.

The dealership is still run by the family of founder Harry Robinson.

His son Tom and business partner David Dearden are managing directors, and grandson Harry is in charge of the car franchises.

It now represents eight motorcycle and scooter franchises, including KTM and Triumph, with new car franchises Subaru, Isuzu and SsangYong on the same site.

Dearden, a keen motorcycle enthusiast, says the brands complement each other: “The Subaru franchise culture always used to fit into motorcycle retailing because they’re both toys, and customers are passionate about the purchase. In the mid to late ’90s and early 2000s it was a similar franchise.”

The combined site allows some working processes to be shared, but both sides of the dealership are run separately with only a small crossover.

The common showroom is split either side of a shared reception area, with motorcycles on the right and cars on the left. Each has its own sales team. All the bike salesmen are enthusiasts.

Workshops are run independently, but the parts department is combined, allowing car specialists to help with the other side of the business at busy times, and vice-versa.

Dearden says the different customer base makes it important to keep the two separate: “I don’t think it will be worth having people selling both – the knowledge is very difficult to pick up.”

Robinsons organises weekly ride-outs during the summer on Wednesday evenings, and open days with a live music and a bar.

Events include trips to watch its racing teams compete, and a forthcoming visit to the legendary Spa and Nürburgring racetracks in Europe.

Organisation is undertaken with the help of the Riders Association of Triumph, and the dealership recruits customers to help lead the events.

However, Dearden says staff make the effort to take part and view it as part of the job as well as their hobby.

Like most bike retailers, the motorcycle business is seasonal but this relationship means customers visit regularly during the busier summer months.

The dealership also sells a wide range of clothing and accessories, adding £250 to each retail purchase of a Triumph, and £500 to £600 to every KTM. Clothing sales are also strong.

But Dearden attributes the success of the business to staff who are passionate about what they sell, and advises dealers considering adding a motorcycle franchise to ensure they have a team of enthusiasts behind it.

“Motorcycle customers expect different standards – they want dealers to have the same passion as they do, and a high level of product knowledge,” he says.

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