Bob Althoff: ‘We will survive and thrive together’

The following is a transcript of Robert Althoff’s acceptance speech after receiving the Powersports Industries, Don. J. Brown Lifetime Achievement Award during the Top 100 Dealer awards gala on Friday night.


I WANT TO THANK Dealernews, the nominating committee, and judges – I am grateful beyond words to receive this honor. So…I’m sitting in an airport a couple of weeks ago with my beautiful wife of almost forty years, Valerie, and she leans over and whispers to me, “I want a lifetime achievement award, too…for putting up with you!”

You dealers know the hours, the nights, the middle of the nights when someone breaks into the shop (as happened in one of our stores last night); the weekends, the holidays we invest in serving our customers and sustaining our businesses. You know we couldn’t do it without the love and support of our families. So, Valerie, this one’s for you and with you!

Some of you know the story of my business card.  It says “Bob Althoff, WLM”, not owner or president or dealer principal. Just WLM.  It stands for World’s Luckiest Man. When I finally got to the point I could put anything I damn well wanted on my business card, I figured I’d start with the truth.  And if I ever needed proof that I am the luckiest man in the world – it would be this very moment.

We are all very lucky, aren’t we?  Lucky to be dealers.  Lucky to serve these people we call customers, then riders, then friends.   Lucky to do work we love; work that makes a difference. We change lives. In small and subtle ways, and in profound ways. And through these fun-loving and big-hearted and extraordinarily generous people we call riders, we change our communities – in small ways and in profound ways.  Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow; but always, we are the glue of this community that always leaves a mark.

As dealers, all of us are doing incredible work to grow and serve motorcycling under unbelievably difficult circumstances these past five years. Our economy suffered a once-in-a-75-year break.  We sell a discretionary product; it is big ticket, and many times it requires bank financing. As a result, we have seen our revenues down 50 percent, our unit counts down perhaps 60 percent, and we have lost 3,000 of our brother and sister dealers.

If all of American industry had suffered what we have, we would not be here this evening – we would be sitting on our porches with our shotguns defending our refrigerators!

And this is lucky?! Yes, it is!  Because we will persevere and continue our good and important work.

I’m reminded of this each morning when I come in and sit at the desk of Lilly Farrow.  Lilly was the young widow of our founder, A.D. Farrow.  She bought that desk from the Globe Desk Co. of Boston in 1918.  She sat at that desk and got our business through World War and Depression. If she could do it, so, too, can we! But we must do it together.

I want to thank Stan Simpson, chairman of the American Motorcylist Association, for introducing me tonight and for his leadership of the AMA these last number of years. I want to thank all of you for being card-carrying members of the AMA, and for your efforts to urge our riders of their responsibilities to do the same!

There are those who don’t care if we are able to sustain our businesses and our lifestyle. They would, with the stroke of a pen and an Executive Order, ban us from the millions of acres and thousands of miles of trails--trails we built 50 years ago and have helped maintain.  Now, only to have them say we don’t belong there. Next, it’s the homeowners association that would prefer we not be able to park our bikes in their subdivision. 

The AMA is there to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen! They deserve us to be shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

I saw where two days ago the Motorcycle Industry Council is now allowing dealers to join their ranks.  Good for them.  It’s about time.  We need a voice and a place at that table.  And it was great to see on that first day, 25 dealers from 18 states (I’m sure many of us in this room) joined up. We need to work with our OEMs and suppliers and consultants and industry press to support them in the issues they champion. And they need to support us in achieving sustainable profits as Dealers.

Those 3,000 lost brother and sister dealers were not sustainably profitable.  And why do we deserve those profits?  Not for girlfriends or boats, but because we need to replenish our inventories, fix the shop truck, buy a new tire changer, replace the trailer, pay our people fairly and train them; put on a great event and, yes, support a charity.

Don J. Brown was an observer of our work.  And a dealer advocate.  He said these things and would do so again today! Together we will sustain.

It is an honor of a lifetime to be mentioned in the same breath as this man.  I am so deeply appreciative. I would be remiss if I left this stage before saluting my team – they are a hard working and hard riding (a quarter million miles last season!) group!  They share their passion and knowledge of our sport freely. They trust one another and they trust me.  And for that I am eternally grateful.

We will survive and thrive.  Together. Keep it up.  Keep it up.  Keep it up.