The Shriver Report – How I Opened a Woman-owned Motorcycle Dealership and Became “Mama ROAR”
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How I Opened a Woman-owned Motorcycle Dealership and Became “Mama ROAR”

Tolleson_Pink Motorcycle Heels

Ten years ago, if you had told me I would be answering to “Mama Roar” at a motorcycle dealership that I owned – while dealing with techs, painters, air brush artists, custom seat designers and a variety of other vendors and staff – I would have thought you had lost your mind.  But here I am, storming one of the last male bastions we have in America, the motorcycle industry.  How did it happen?  Here’s my story.

“I grew up with a dad who empowered me.  He was an equal opportunity father.”

I grew up with a dad who empowered me.  He was an equal opportunity father.  If there was work to be done, I never heard, “You can’t do that, that’s boy’s work.”  And I also never heard, “You’re too small to do that.”  There was just work to be done, and if you were small you had to use your head, leverage, tools, and equipment to get the job done.

I also grew up riding motorcycles and go karts, and racing snow machines and stock cars.  As a teenager I was the one who would take my girlfriends out in the hay fields and teach them how to drive in our old pick-up truck.  When I was in my 20s riding my bike to college or work, I was an anomaly.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “You ride that by yourself?”  Or “You’re so small, how do you ride that big thing?”  I am only 5-feet-tall, so it was always a challenge to find a motorcycle to fit my petite stature that also had enough power and speed to satisfy me.

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I am not the only woman in the motorcycle industry; there are more and more women being trained as technicians, managing dealerships, and enjoying the sport of motorcycling.  What makes my story different is that I am the first woman who opened up a motorcycle dealership specializing in women.

“What makes my story different is that I am the first woman who opened up a motorcycle dealership specializing in women.”

During Bike Week 2008, ROAR Motorcycles opened its doors.  I started small with a 5,000-square-foot test dealership on a back street in Daytona Beach.  After six months, I found myself with a new business in the middle of a recession likened to the Great Depression.  A new business, new concept and a bad economy isn’t exactly a recipe for success, but thanks to girl power, I am still in business.  In 2012 we expanded to a highly visible, 15,000-square-foot facility, and now have motorcycles in 27 states, Canada and France.

“I can truly say the intense and unfailing support of women helped me stay in business. On days when I felt like quitting, I knew I couldn’t because I would let down too many other women.”

My customers provided me with the best rolling billboards you could have, and they are the greatest sales force I could have ever hired.  I can truly say the intense and unfailing support of women helped me stay in business. On days when I felt like quitting, I knew I couldn’t because I would let down too many other women.

Women are actually the fast growing segment in the motorcycle industry, yet the most under served.  I still hear horror stories about how women are treated in other dealerships, at motorcycle training schools, and by the industry in general.  I could tell you a few of my own. I have been harassed, minimized and even laughed at by men in the industry.  But I can also tell you I have had tremendous support from some really great men.  Many have told me that my concept was brilliant and it was about time for women to have a place that really took their needs into consideration. We now sell approximately 30 percent of our motorcycles, service, and custom work to men because they appreciate our service and standards of excellence.  I believe we’ve made an impact on the industry by thinking out of the box.

Related: “Get Out of Your Own Way” – and other Hard Lessons Learned

By providing women with a buying experience and product they can easily connect with, it’s easy to see how a market share of 18 -20 percent of women could easily double.  Our job is to expand the existing market.  ROAR has prototyped a modular motorcycle that can ergonomically fit a woman under 5-feet to over 6-feet tall with no major expense or modifications.  A motorcycle that fits breeds confidence and empowers riders.  Women’s bodies are totally different ergonomically from men.  Men have upper body strength and women have lower body strength.  A motorcycle with a lower center of gravity is safer and more comfortable.  It changes the whole riding experience especially for women.  Women who have bikes that fit ride safer, longer and more often.

When I have some guy say, “What makes these motorcycles for women?”, I love to point to a beautifully bejeweled, magenta motorcycle that has been lowered and fitted for a petite woman, has a custom ostrich skin seat embellished with iridescent studs and saddlebags to match and say, “Would you ride that?”  Usually there’s a quick shudder and a resounding, “No!”  My reply is “That’s what makes it for a woman.”

We are different than men and we shouldn’t have to lose our femininity to participate in a sport we enjoy. We call some of our bikes, “jewelry you can ride.” Some woman might like a matte black, stripped down, “less is more” style, and that’s ok.  Motorcycle style is as individual as the women who ride them. Men in the industry tend to think if you paint it pink, or put you some pink leather on a jacket, that it’s now made for a woman, all the while disregarding the tastes and needs of so many females.  Women are also very social and ROAR has provided the ROAR Sisterhood to help women riders connect to other women.

WildKaT women (2)

Over the years, I have worked with a lot of women who have suffered from abuse, addiction and other personal issues.  Women still have to fight at times not to be dismissed and less valued, even in our society.  When I started ROAR Motorcycles in 2008, I realized that what I was doing wasn’t really new to me; I had been empowering women all my life. At ROAR, our job is to empower women through riding.  More and more women are “behind the bars” of life.  That is an analogy used for the driver’s seat on a motorcycle.  Women are getting behind the bars in government, business, socially and economically. They shouldn’t have to get on the back seat of a motorcycle unless it’s their choice, a choice not born out of fear, lack of education, or products that fit them and appeal to their taste.

“We now sell approximately 30 percent of our motorcycles, service, and custom work to men because they appreciate our service and standards of excellence.  I believe we’ve made an impact on the industry by thinking out of the box.” 

So here I am in what is still very much a man’s world, slipping my size six foot in the door and encouraging a number of other women to follow me into a world of freedom, power, and the open road full of adventure and wonderful camaraderie.  In my wildest dreams I would not have dreamt that while many women are preparing for retirement, I have been engaged in the evolution of becoming “Mama Roar.”  From a little girl empowered by her father, I now have the opportunity to empower women in the business world and through the sport of motorcycling.

 

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Kathy Tolleson is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
I am a sixty-year-old grandmother who started a motorcycle business specializing in women riders in 2008. The name of my business is ROAR Motorcycles, Inc. As Chief Executive Officer, I am responsible for casting corporate vision, company development and performance, business and marketing strategies, and team building while also acting as a company spokesperson. ROAR’s purpose is to empower women.
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