Congratulations to Knuckleheads Saloon on being voted Best Bike Night location in Kansas City for 2003! Where else can you go to shop for motor clothes, buy parts, get your bike serviced, listen to blues, eat, drink, visit with other bikers and party like a rock star? Knuckleheads Saloon and F.O.G. Cycles of course. F.O.G. is no ordinary motorcycle bike shop. It may be out of the way and out of plain sight, but it is never out of your mind once you’ve been there.
It was a Friday night and there was a good crowd congregated inside the Saloon, the full-throttle zydeko tunes of Billy Ebling and His Late for Dinner band was jammin' and we were there stuffing ourselves with tacos. Cycle Connections Editor-in-Chief, Mike Schweder and V.P. of Marketing, Greg Bartley presented Frank Hicks, owner/operator, with a plaque for this special recognition. I draped a pair of motorcycle beads around Frank’s neck and asked him if he was surprised. 'Yes, this is really a surprise, and I really appreciate it.”
Frank is, humble, courteous and a successful businessman who doesn't sit still for very long. He greets his customers by name and takes pride in the customer service he offers.
CC: How did F.O.G. get started?
Frank: I owned a body shop and was working on old bikes out of a garage. It was hard to get parts for custom bikes and it was time to get the eight bikes out of my garage. I opened it as a hobby, for enthusiasts for the sport of riding.
CC: What does F.O.G. stand for?
Frank: F**king Old Guys.
CC: How did you come up with that?
Frank: Myself and some riding friends were into hot rod cars. One of the guys had a really ugly car that he entered in all the car shows. Not only was it ugly, it was a money pit and it never won anything. We got together and bought a trophy and one morning at breakfast we presented it to him, signed from F**king Old Guys.
CC: How long have you been in business?
Frank: Seven years, all at this location.
CC: How many employees do you have?
Frank: Three at F.O.G. and four at Knuckleheads.
CC: How many of them ride?
Frank: All of them.
CC: Who rides the motorcycle in your television commercials? Everyone thinks he looks like Hank Williams, Jr.
Frank: That's Rick McQuinlin, our bartender’s husband.
CC: How is F.O.G. different from other bike shops?
Frank: I think we are more personal with our customers.
CC: What steps do you take to correct problems or issues with dissatisfied customers?
Frank: First of all we talk with them to find out the whole story and then we try to reason with them and correct the problem.
CC: What type of training does your mechanic have?
Frank: He is certified with MMI, and was previously with Blue Springs Harley-Davidson for four years.
CC: Is there a lot of employee turnover in this business?
Frank: Not really, I have only had three employees since starting the business.
CC: Describe your 'perfect employee.'
Frank: There isn't one, but it's important they have a good attitude.
CC: What employee incentives do you offer to keep them motivated?
Frank: They work on salary plus commission and they are included in all the events or rides we sponsor and attend. Sometimes they do have to work the street parties.
CC: Besides bike service, what other services do you offer customers?
Frank: Body work, custom paint, frame stretching, custom build jobs, detailing and re-sale bikes.
CC: Why did you get out of the trailer rental business?
Frank: It was a hassle. They would come back damaged and abused, we would fix them and it would happen again. It just wasn't worth it. We also had customers who wanted to borrow them, versus renting. We sold most of our inventory, still have four left if anyone is looking for one.
CC: Where do you display your re-sale bikes since opening Knuckleheads?
Frank: Across the street, or we may put them next door this spring. They are also on our web site for viewing.
CC: Who does the buying for your motor clothes?
Frank: My wife, Mary and Gwen and I.
CC: What is the biggest change you have seen in the past five years in motorcycling?
Frank: Different types of people who ride. The value of bikes. The used market has become real soft because of the zero down on financing. Harley's are still holding their value, but not like they used to. As long as the supply and demand continues Harley-Davidson will stay on the upswing.
CC: How do you keep customer retention?
Frank: Just being personal and friendly to people. We listen to them and like to visit, sometimes too much!
CC: What do you ride and how often do you get out?
Frank: I have a V-Rod. We go to Sturgis, Daytona, and Las Vegas Bike Week annually. This year we are going to Myrtle Beach too.
CC: Tell me about your Members Only Club.
Frank: It was started to give the customers a sense of belonging. The fee was nominal, $15 and they would get discounts on their purchases. At our peak we had 697 members. I then went to a higher membership fee of $100 for a Gold VIP card. They still received store discounts plus the first Saturday of the month they could purchase any clothing item at regular price and get the second of equal value for 25 percent off. They also received two free admittances to all the street parties and all other events planned for that year. They could park inside the fence VIP parking. However, we are going to discontinue the club. It's been a hard year for motorcycling; part sales are down 60 percent.
CC: That's a huge percentage, what has attributed to the decline?
Frank: A lot of unemployed people selling their bikes. The toys are the first to go. It’s just the economy in general.
CC: Your street parties are packed with riders from all over Kansas and Missouri, what has changed the most since your first one?
Frank: Well, we couldn't serve beer. Then we had to charge for the food in order for anyone to get a drink. It took us a couple of years to finally get a liquor license, it was really hard. We have tried to fine tune the parties every year. We used to keep the street open and the last couple we have blocked it off. A lot of people didn't like that so we are going to open them back up again. They used to get a little crazy with the burnouts and all, but we have not had any fights or arrests. We do hire off-duty security, but all in all it's a fun time.
CC: Being in a residential neighborhood, do any of them complain about the constant roar of bikes or your parties with bands?
Frank: No, they really don't. Some even walk up for the street parties, while others sit on their front porch and watch the parade of bikes coming in. It's entertaining for them I think.
CC: You were the first to offer the lottery/raffle to win a new bike. Was that profitable or more promotional?
Frank: The first year we made a little money, the second year it was more promotional. Not sure if we are going to do it for a third time. Maybe, maybe not.
CC: How has the response been to your television ads?
Frank: It's given us a lot of exposure, but we haven't really seen it come back to us in business yet.
CC: What other avenues of advertising do you use?
Frank: Radio, flyers, e-mail, web site, magazines and mostly word of mouth.
CC: Do you participate in the bike shows?
Frank: Not as a vendor, we put our bikes in to show, but they are not entered for judging or competition.
CC: What types of specials or discounts do you give to bikers?
Frank: We have lots of sales and this year instead of doing the membership club, we are going to rebate you a percentage of cash on your purchases.
CC: What percentage of your business are with women riders?
Frank: I'd say 15 to 20 percent.
CC: Do you sponsor any charity events?
Frank: Yes. The City Union Mission, Newhouse, Biker's for Babies and several others.
CC: Do you think some of the entry fees are getting out of hand?
Frank: I think some are, $35 is high, plus when you have a passenger. I think the fees should be less, then have something at the end of the ride to generate more money. I had an idea that if local people had arts or crafts, they could donate, people could buy them, or have an auction.
CC: It seems like you own the whole block of Rochester. Do you?
Frank: No, it's the right away for the railroad. We still have to get permits from the City when we have our parties or close the street down.
CC: How did Knuckleheads Saloon get started?
Frank: Two years ago we set it up to do the catering for the street parties.
CC: Where did you get the Caboose?
Frank: It came from Victoria Street Station down in the River Quey. I knew the owner so I offered to buy it and he shot me an astronomical price and I thought that was the end to it. A couple weeks later, it closed. I called him again and he said he wouldn't sell it to me, but he would loan it. I asked him for how long and he said, ‘as long as I'm alive.’ So that's how we got it. We named it, The Ronnie Ralston Music Depot, dedicated to my great friend, Ronnie, a musician and fellow riding buddy.
CC: What kind of food do you serve?
Frank: Tacos, appetizers, lucky dogs (jumbo chili dogs) and Texas tators. They are like blooming onions, but are thinly spiraled potatoes.
CC: Are you open for lunch?
Frank: No, but we are open on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.
CC: When did you start having entertainment?
Frank: It started out with Karoke, then went into bands.
CC: How do you select your bands?
Frank: We go to different clubs and listen to them and also see what kind of following they have.
CC: You are quite the washboard player, any plans of running off with a band and giving up the motorcycle life?
Frank: No. But we may try and get some bluegrass jams going in here.
CC: Who comes up with all the ideas? Do you have an event planner?
Frank: I'm it!
CC: What fun events do you have planned for 2004?
Frank: Fat Tuesday, February 24th at 8 p.m. we are on the downtown route for the Kansas City Blues Society Club Crawl. Levee Town and Lee McBee will be the bands.
April 9th will be the kick-off to our Hot Rods and Harley cruise nights. We are going to try and combine the two this year. Everyone in town is offering a bike night regardless if any bikes ever come there. We may also make the cruise nights a two-day event and have a bike show on Saturday. We have a lot of out-of-towners who come in for the street parties and we have a 16-passenger van so we can pick them up at their hotel and bring them down for a fun weekend.
Also we plan on doing a lot more rides this year.
CC: Where do you see F.O.G. in three to five years?
Frank: I want to put a deck on top of the building that looks down over the patio, create more coverage from the sun. I think we will have a bigger service department, smaller motor clothes area and I would like to add an on-line order center for parts where the customer will come in, find the part they need, pay for it and have it delivered to their home. I'd also like to put a museum upstairs about motorcycling. We would also like to start offering Motorcycle Safety classes for beginners and advanced riders.
CC: What is the hardest part to not only running F.O.G, but the three other businesses, Mid City Body Shop, Express Channels Sign Shop, and Knucklhead’s Saloon?
Frank: Being in four places at one time.
CC: Is it hard for you to delegate the work load?
Frank: Yes. Mary helps me a lot and all the employees are great. I just end up doing too much myself.
CC: If you had it to do over again, what would you do different?
Frank: Have more people running the business so I have more time to ride. I would run it more like a business from the start versus a hobby. My New Years Resolution is to make a profit with F.O.G. from now on. No more doing this as a hobby, it's a business and if we can't make it, we won't be here. We may have to raise some prices. Our beer just went to $2.50 and we may charge a cover for the bands.
CC: You are getting more into choppers, what's the latest you have done?
Frank: We designed a chopper trike for one of our customers. It's really something to see. And we are working on a custom bike for a girl in Florida who is part of the National Biker Roundup.
CC: What do you want the biking community to know about F.O.G.?
Frank: It's hard to find, but it's worth it. We want them to be happy they came here, for whatever reason that brought them here, whether its parts, service or Knuckleheads. We want you to know us.
Their television ad says it all, ‘F.O.G. is a destination, where the search begins for adventure.’ So saddle up all you dudes and divas and head on down to the playground for bikers; a truly unique experience in motorcycles. It is also the most diversified bike shop in the Midwest, and be sure and tell them you read their review in Cycle Connections On-Line Motorcycle Magazine!
Here’s what voices from the streets of Rochester are saying about F.O.G. Cycles and Knuckleheads Saloon:
Biker Bud: I've been coming down here for seven years two to three times a week to have a beer and because I love Frank! I like it because it's out of the way.
Ronnie Ralston: I come here because it's fun, totally different crowd all the time, a lot of nice people and because Frank is a great guy. My band has played down here a lot and we also played for Frank's New Years Eve party this year.
Diane Moore: Last week it was wall to wall people, dancing on the tables and then this week it's more of a laid back crowd. Maybe people are still getting over the holidays. It's a fun place and everyone is so nice.
Charlie Atkins: I'm a retired Kansas City, Missouri fireman and we started out cooking barbeque for Frank's street parties. Been coming here since he opened and I buy most of my parts from here.
Story by Goldie Arnold
Photos Mike Schweder