Alter Ego Cycle is not a new name in Kansas City for motorcycle parts, accessories and motorclothes. They have been in business since 1973, and in 1999 they expanded to Shawnee Mission, Kansas. Brothers, Steven (ďBuddhaĒ) and Duane (ďDranoĒ) Heiman, are the owners of this successful biker friendly motorcycle shop.
When asked how they got started in the business, Buddha said he always liked motorcycles, so he started working on friends' bikes out of his dadís shed until the city put a stop to it. He was in high school at the time, so he found a building to rent in Smithville, MO and started his own business. They built custom bikes and did routine maintenance on all types of bikes.
Two years later he moved his shop to Liberty, MO until they opened the Vivion Road store where they remained for over 15 years. Bulging at the seams, they built a new store in 1992 on North Brighton where they are located today. And, they are bulging at the seams once again, 11 years later. Plans are in the works to expand to make room for more inventory. The Shawnee store is also growing quickly and they are looking for another location to build a larger store.
I have been a customer of Alter Ego Cycle for the past five years and every time I go in, the service has been great and their staff is very helpful and knowledgeable. The evening of this interview was no different when Mike and I walked in to meet Buddha. He is the example of why his stores have such a remarkable loyal customer base. He genuinely cares about customer service and employee training for his staff. They have a total of 16 employees, 9 male and 7 female, and 90% of them ride motorcycles.
CC: First off, how did you get the nickname, Buddha?
Buddha: When I was younger, I would sit on the floor working on bikes with my belly hanging over and someone came in and said, ďYou look like a Buddha sitting there.Ē The name stuck and the belly got a little bigger over the years.
CC: And here, I thought everyone in the motorcycle business worshiped you for all your knowledge.
CC: How did you pick your store locations?
Buddha: I was tired of paying rent and wanted to own my own building, and both stores are in high traffic areas.
CC: What was your biggest obstacle in starting your business?
Buddha: Money. I have other shop owners who come to me for advice and itís all about money. Most start out under-capitalized and really struggle to make it, and some donít.
CC: Who do you turn to for advice?
Buddha: I try to learn from my mistakes, itís all trial and error.
CC: Where do you see your business in five years?
Buddha: Expanding both stores and hopefully opening a new store in Blue Springs, Missouri.
CC: Where do the majority of your customers come from?
Buddha: Word of mouth and drive bys. We used to have vendor booths at all the bike shows, but we have quit doing them because of the time and labor involved.
CC: I have seen your television ads on the Discovery and ESPN channels, has that paid off for you?
Buddha: Yes, itís been great exposure for us.
CC: Do you offer any specials or promotions for bikers?
Buddha: All the time. We also have an advantage card/loyalty card/gift card we offer to select customers. It gives them 10% off their purchases and when we have our annual Fatherís Day promotion they get an additional 5% off for a total of 15%.
Mike and I immediately asked, ďHow can we get one of those cards?' Buddha said they have 300 printed per store and when they are gone, thatís it. He thought there might be a few left at the north store, but Shawnee was sold out. They are expensive to make because they come with a memory chip so they donít normally advertise them to the general public.
CC: Do the customers who get cards have to buy them?
Buddha: They are $25, and the next year they are only $20.
CC: Tell me about your annual Fatherís Day event.
Buddha: Itís a free annual party. We set up a big tent, the Bob Harvey band plays and we smoke some BBQ for our customers. Itís an appreciation for all their support. Local motorcycle group, The Weasles, have a bike show and I donate the trophies. Itís a good time and this place is packed all day.
Get it on your calendar now folks! Itís Sunday, June 20, 2004.
CC: What is the biggest change you have seen in the past five years in regards to motorcycling?
Buddha: The type of people that are riding. There are more professionals and more women riders now.
CC: What percent of your business are with women riders?
Buddha: Probably around 20-25 %.
CC: Who is your biggest competition?
Buddha: J&P Cycles, a mail order company. Most of their items are higher in their catalog than what we sell them for. We buy from a distributor and can still sell cheaper.
CC: Do you do distribution here?
Buddha: Yes, Iíll take you upstairs and give you a tour. We sell to after market shops and we ship everything from here. Also, if customers order on-line from our website, itís shipped from here.
CC: Will you ever expand to selling new or used bikes?
Buddha: NO! It sucks. I was the first Big Dog dealer in Kansas City and it was a real hassle. I was doing a lot of work on the bikes myself because the company didnít want to fix anything, they always said the customer was at fault, which wasnít the case.
CC: What is your number one priority to your customers?
Buddha: Customer service and providing a staff that is knowledgeable to all aspects of the business.
CC: How do you train your staff?
Buddha: We have monthly training meetings, go over any customer complaints and do hands on tech training. New employees are given a handful of catalogs to take home and study. We feel this helps them become more familiar with the products and with bikes in general.
CC: I see Alter Ego Cycle as a sponsor on lots of charity flyers. Do you have a special one?
Buddha: Yes, the City Union Mission. We are a corporate sponsor; the people who run it are good friends of my brother so thatís how we got involved. We also do the other rides like Toys for Tots, Bikers for Babies and Club poker runs.
CC: What clubs or organizations do you belong to?
Buddha: None. And we donít allow our employees to join any, so we are not biased, however, they can participate in any of the rides or events they want.
CC: What kind of bike do you ride, and how often do you ride?
Buddha: I have a 1994 Ultra Classic. Thereís not much time to do a lot of riding, we used to go to Sturgis every year, but with the stores weíre too busy.
CC: What do you want people to know about Alter Ego Cycle?
Buddha: When you want it, we have it. We carry OEM stuff (original equipment manufacturer) that even Harley-Davidson dealers donít have. And, if we order something for you we can usually get it in 2-3 business days. We are also open on Mondays.
What started out as a dream for a young boy has turned into a reality for Buddha and his family. He is a respected businessman and he stays on top of all the newest and latest technology in the industry. Says a long-time customer, ďHe is a heck of a nice guy who treats people the way he wants to be treated and he provides great service, usually cheaper than catalogs, has a better inventory selection and doesnít charge for shipping.Ē
If its motorcycle related, Alter Ego Cycle can get it for you. Personally, I keep going back because itís a comfortable place to shop, and they recognize when someone needs help. They donít let you wander around aimlessly for certain items, and they donít completely ignore you like other stores. Mark Rousch, the sales tech has helped me several times, and has even steered me out so I didnít spend more money!
If there is something you donít like or canít find, tell Buddha or any one of his employees. They are good listeners, and if there are things you like about the store, tell them that also. Everyone enjoys a compliment and from what I have seen and heard, Alter Ego Cycle deserves a big pat on the back for working hard to meet their customers needs. Stop by and check them out, tell them you read their review in Cycle Connections Online Motorcycle Magazine.
Story by Goldie Arnold
Photos by Mike Schweder