Thunder Road Harley-Davidson

Harley Davidson Building Exterior with Orange and Gray Accents

Passion Comes With a Roar

Harley-Davidson dealership plans for growth, enhanced customer experience

  • Focus On The Interior

    The right look and feel in the store was crucial.

  • 33 Percent Lower Heat Costs

    Operation costs dropped even after adding 50 percent more space in the new Butler® building.

  • Harley Experience

    Butler had existing knowledge of Harley Davidson design preferences.

A Building To Match The Brand

Expanding For Growth

Harley-Davidson is more than a motorcycle. It symbolizes freedom. Passion for the open road. The American dream. Over the last century, that passion has spread across North America and around the world.

The iconic motorcycle manufacturer is known worldwide as not just a brand but also a lifestyle. Thunder Road Harley-Davidson has been helping its customers in Windsor, Ontario, fulfill their passion for motorcycling for 20 years.

Echoing Harley-Davidson’s humble beginnings in 1903, Thunder Road, owned by Chris O’Neil and his wife, Carol, was born in a 7,200-square-foot building that tripled as a showroom, service shop and warehouse.

As Thunder Road expanded, the business outgrew its small space. When a building located just 85 feet away came up for sale at a good price, the O’Neils jumped at the purchase. At the time, it was less expensive to buy than to build. They renovated the 6,200-square-foot space, which served as the service department and warehouse for the next several years.

“With Butler’s technical expertise, we were able to accommodate Harley-Davidson and design parameters, and some great input we received from the O’Neils.”

Denis Gauthier, Rosati Construction, Inc. 

Thunder Road Harley-Davidson

More Growing Pains

By early 2013, the thriving dealership once again needed to expand. The existing showroom was too small, and the low ceilings didn’t offer a positive retail experience. There was no warehousing space to store inventory. Harley-Davidson riders and dealer owners are known for being charitable, and the O’Neils could not host as many events as they would have liked in Thunder Road’s tight quarters.

The O’Neils wanted to enhance the Thunder Road customer experience and expand their customer base. Two buildings weren’t conducive to customers visiting the retail area while their motorcycles were being serviced. They felt the best remedy would be to combine the showroom and the service department into one efficient building. Renovating the service department would make better use of space and allow for increased service efficiency and warehousing capability. They also anticipated increased sales from expanding and enhancing the showroom to feature more product and to improve traffic flow into the service department.

The O’Neils enlisted the help of Rosati Construction Inc., a design-build firm and Butler Builder® in Windsor, Ontario, to construct the addition. The couple also requested that Rosati use Butler® building systems. During travels with his wife throughout North America, Chris O’Neil noticed the quality of the Harley-Davidson dealerships that were housed in Butler® buildings.

“Dealers I talked to with Butler buildings were very proud of their stores and talked highly of Butler,” O’Neil said. “I wanted to work with Butler because they seemed to know what a Harley-Davidson dealership should look like, inside and out.”

O’Neil liked the structural integrity of Butler buildings, yet also looked at them from a slightly different perspective than the average owner.

“Most people look at the quality from the outside in, but I think about it from the inside out,” O’Neil added. “With the constant influx of new merchandise, the interior user friendliness of a building is as important as the outside.”

Thunder Road Harley-Davidson

Marking A Connection

The O’Neils and Rosati agreed that the existing structure housing the service department would remain intact so Thunder Road could still perform motorcycle maintenance for customers during the construction. The sales building was demolished and converted to additional customer parking. The new showroom would connect to the back of the service building.

Rosati worked closely with the O’Neils and the interior design firm to adhere to Harley-Davidson’s corporate aesthetic guidelines and the owner’s goals for the interior and exterior of the structure. Throughout the process, Butler offered technical expertise and numerous options by value engineering the structure with the design team. Butler also sent a representative to check on the construction in progress.

“With Butler’s technical expertise, we were able to accommodate Harley-Davidson and design parameters, and some great input we received from the O’Neils,” said Denis Gauthier, vice president of project development for Rosati.

The biggest challenge was the height requirement for the warehouse area. The space included four-bay concrete block offices topped with  prestressed concrete for loading inventory. The plan called for three motorcycles to be stacked on top of each A Butler® building system solution won out because of the flexibility it offers. other for storage. Rosati and the design team calculated how much weight the concrete would hold and worked through various height options to assure the O’Neils there was enough height in the warehouse to accommodate virtually any storage needs.

“Rosati and Butler took all the stress out of the process,” Chris O’Neil said. “They gave us time to think about any changes and gave us recommendations of what they thought would work well.”

The showroom features high ceilings with a mix of hard and soft design elements. Steel is tempered by warm colors, including the signature Harley-Davidson orange. The walls incorporate wood planks made from trees that O’Neil cut down on his property.

“They did a great job of helping us show off our product,” O’Neil said.

Unexpected Savings

Rosati recommended the MR-24® roof system for its expandability and weathertight seam, which offered additional protection for the  dealership’s high-value inventory.

The roof began paying for itself right away. Despite having 50 percent more space, Thunder Road’s heating costs have dropped by one-third in the new space compared with the cost of heating the separate structures.

“That’s a testament to how well-built the structure is,” O’Neil said. “We just came through the coldest winter in 65 years, and the building is always nice and warm.”

In addition to reduced heating costs, the high R-value of the MR-24 roof system netted the O’Neils a one-time $1,500 rebate from Union Gas Limited, the area’s natural gas supplier.

“Dealers I talked to with Butler buildings were very proud of their stores and talked highly of Butler. I wanted to work with Butler because they seemed to know what a Harley-Davidson dealership should look like, inside and out.”
Chris O’Neil, Thunder Road Harley-Davidson

Thunder Road Harley-Davidson

Raising Its Profile

Connecting the sales and service areas has been, as hoped, great for business.

“Before, customers wouldn’t come into the showroom if they dropped their bikes off for service, and vice versa,” O’Neil said. “Now, they walk through like it’s nothing.”

O’Neil thinks the new structure will provide Thunder Road with at least 15 years of growth before they need to think about expanding again. The open-concept showroom makes it easy to display product and reconfigure it quickly and effortlessly.

“We can have new showroom displays every few months,” O’Neil said. “People come in and may think we’ve got a lot of new bikes, but it’s just that we’ve moved them around the showroom.”

The expansion also enables Thunder Road to become more active in the riding community by hosting charity rides and other fundraising events. The dealership recently hosted an event in memory of Bob Probert, a Windsor native and National Hockey League player who died in 2010. Each year, a motorcycle ride held in his honor raises money for charity, and NHL players participate. Thunder Road accommodated 700 to 1,000 riders, something O’Neil said the business couldn’t have done in the old space.

Thunder Road is looking forward to hosting more — and larger — events.

“We’re happy to be participating in larger events like this now that we have a bigger building,” O’Neil said. “People are starting to take notice.”

Photo credit: Dan Reaume Photography