Zen, Motorcycle Maintenance and Beyond
How Scott Fischer has built a successful commercial enterprise on the back of the beloved Harley-Davidson.
courtesy of Six Bends
THE MOMENT has a movie-scene feeling. Scott Fischer stands a few inches from the bank of windows on the second floor and looks out over the 54,000-square-foot showroom and service floor at Sex Bends Harley-Davidson. Chrome gleams.
The CEO smiles. “Look at that out there.”
But if the sight has a cinematic quality, don’t mistake Fischer for a greedy Gordon Gekko of Wall Street, surveying his kingdom on the trading floor, gloating both about his own success and the failures of others.
Not even close. As he embarks on an expansion at the sprawling way-more-than-a-dealership, Fischer knows that this is not a solo ride. By adding an entertainment district to Six Bends and hosting a variety of meetings and events, he draws a much wider circle than motorcycle riders. The result is a business, social and philanthropic operation and perhaps the last thing one might expect from a Harley-Davidson dealership.
Fischer (pictured above, photo by Alex Stafford) understood early that this group journey depended on the success of others as much as his own. He anteed up on that belief when he started on this poker run some 25 years ago, moving from a small, paid-off store space on Colonial Boulevard to the 16.5- acre property at Daniels Parkway and Interstate 75 last November.
SIX BENDS is part dealership, part entertainment destination, part retail mall, and a place for rider and non-rider alike. Fischer is now playing another card toward that vision: construction of four, two-story buildings comprising 37,000 square feet of mixed-used space for restaurants, a brewery, retail and service businesses. After eight to nine months’ construction, he anticipates a grand opening in summer 2016 on the estimated $7 million development.
Already, though, Six Bends draws crowds for more than bike buying or service on a bent side stand or dinged rim. Concerts at its 2.5-acre Top Rocker Field have brought out thousands for Brett Michaels and Eddie Money. Stars of the TV series Sons of Anarchy were a hit in early December for a series finale viewing party. Occasions like blood drives, green market food fests and fundraisers for the Golisano Children’s Museum and other causes are on the schedule just about every day.
This earns praise from Assistant to the County Manager and Acting Economic Development Director Glen V. Salyer: “Six Bends Harley-Davidson contributes to the character of our community as a ‘placemaking’ attraction.
Companies like that are essential to Lee County’s economic development infrastructure, as they enhance the quality of life for the workforce as well as help attract and retain qualified workers.”
All of which is possible, Fischer says, only when a business puts a premium on organizational health, a model he learned from the Table Group—just one of the coaches and consultants he has trusted over the years. The legs on which that health stands are: building a cohesive team; creating clarity; over-communicating for clarity; and creating just enough structure to reinforce that clarity going forward. Fischer translates that from business-speak.
Cohesiveness? Although the exact hiring process depends on the nature of the job, there’s one “doorway” every potential Six Bends employee must past through, he says. Its sentry is one woman who has interviewed every hire for the past seven or eight years and has the business culture and mix of people foremost in mind. Over communicate? Company leaders consider themselves “chief reminding officers,” he says.
Fischer also believes firmly in grooming and promoting from within the six dealerships he owns in Fort Myers, Naples, North Carolina, Alabama and New Mexico, where there are two.
Six Bends’ Chief Operating Officer Glo Cuiffi is living proof. She began 14 years ago working part time in the café at the Colonial Boulevard shops, peddling coffee and hot dogs on weekends.
She moved up to the Motorclothes department, “and then I really fell in love with the business,” she says. She had a degree in health policy and business administration from Penn State University and was eager to use it. So she had a talk with Fischer, who began placing her in jobs with increasing responsibility. Cuiffi was named one of Gulfshore Business’ 40-under-40 honorees last year.
Current Motorclothes manager at Six Bends Nancy Hamilton has been with the company for nearly 22 years. “I hired her off the back of her husband’s motorcycle,” Fischer says. At an earlier location, he was pitching in to help fold T-shirts in the clothing department when the couple came in. Nancy started to help, and before long he had offered her a job. Parts Manager Ryan Schell started out washing bikes.
The Six Bends complex includes a 54,000-square-foot showroom and entertainment space. Photo by Jim Sharpe Photography
FISCHER IS JUST as empowering to others in his nonprofit life. He is a founding member of the Community Cooperative’s Blessings in a Backpack, which combats local food insecurity by filling backpacks for schoolchildren and their families on weekends.
“That’s initially how we met, in the hunger arena,” says Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and former Community Cooperative CEO. “We really reconnected a number of years ago when he was looking at becoming strategic with his philanthropy. He was at the point where donors get, where ‘I really want to know that my efforts and my financial support are making a difference.’ He wanted to combine his business world and his philanthropic world. He wanted to create a culture (at Six Bends).
Philanthropy is not an afterthought with him. It’s part of the culture and also a value statement of Scott Fischer the man. And when you get that combination, you can see real change happen.”
He is active in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the March of Dimes and Junior Achievement, and Fischer is an annual attendee at the America Cancer Society’s Cattle Baron’s Ball.
Foremost to Fischer is that charity events boost the community’s health. They also provide business-networking opportunities, and Six Bends is an avenue for merging those purposes. Its meeting spaces have been host to the most profitable businesses in the area as well as charity events and recently, to members of the local chapter of Young Professionals. With each group, Fischer spends a few minutes explaining his vision, strategy and business culture.
FISCHER GREW UP in Columbus, Ohio, where his need for speed—and devotion to the Ohio State Buckeyes—took hold. His father was a mechanic and owned a garage, where Fischer spent plenty of weekends when he wasn’t racing go-karts or dirt bikes or competing in Motocross through the sponsorship of a local Honda dealer. He graduated to motorcycles and before long he worked in the business, eventually pledging allegiance to Harley-Davidson, where his star continued to rise.
“He’s become a kind of iconic figure in the Harley-Davidson brand,” says Parr Moto CEO David Grant, who has known Fischer as a business associate and then friend for more than 10 years. “I’ve never seen the guy have a bad day. He’s just got life right where most of us wish we had it. And you can’t fake that. He’s a self-made man. And one of the most genuine, and the most empowering, people I’ve ever come across.“
Plenty of young people seek him out as a mentor. “I tell young guys to go out and network,” Fischer says. “You should be branding yourself as the hair guy, or the chair guy, or the paint guy.”
ADMIRATION IS clear at Harley-specific events as well, says Fischer’s administrative assistant, Lucia Sherman. His reputation precedes him at annual dealer meetings. “It is literally like walking behind a rock star,” Sherman says.
His encouragement and the company culture, along with her own competitive nature, she says, brought her the national Innovator Award from the Administrative Professionals Association in 2013, for the Pipeline, a newsletter for employees she instituted and distributes monthly.
Sherman recalls her first interview with Fischer and how quickly her initial intimidation disappeared. “It was like sitting down with my dad or my brother,” she says. That this man was the engine behind $150 million in annual sales from his six dealerships just wasn’t obvious. And still isn’t, she’d say.
But Fischer’s business roadmap of communication and clarity, promotions from within, philanthropy, coaching and mentoring have earned plenty of industry attention. His dealerships are consistently honored among company elite in sales, customer satisfaction and general operation. He’s a member of the local Junior Achievement Hall of Fame and has earned accolades from the Florida Gulf Coast University Small Business Development Center, Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau and The News-Press.
The only reference he makes to any of these distinctions happens when he hands over a business card. It’s engraved, with the shiny metallic bar and shield insignia indicating Six Bends’ high standing in the organization.
He says his goal is to have all six of his dealerships annually ranking as high as possible on the roster of the elite, from honorable mention through bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Four of his shops are somewhere on it now.
With our interview concluded, Fischer throws out the Diet Pepsi can he has drained and gathers the paperwork he will take home—after he appears at a bike night in Cape Coral.
It’s after 6 p.m. on a weekday and Six Bends isn’t very busy. But someone could ask for a tour at any time, he explains. So he restarts the music videos and turns up the volume on the flat-screen before leaving the room.
The rest of his team can take it from there. GB
Six Bends is undergoing expansion with a 37,000-square-foot mixed-use project that will feature space for restaurants, a brewery and retail. Courtesy of Six Bends
SIX BENDS HARLEY-DAVIDSON PHASE TWO
PROJECT SIZE: Four two-story buildings, 37,000 square feet of mixed-use space on 16.5 acres
ESTIMATED COST: $7 million
LOCATION: Interstate 75 and Daniels Parkway, Fort Myers
PROSPECTIVE GRAND OPENING: Summer 2016
DESIGN ELEMENTS: Lighted terraces, covered walkways, outdoor dining and numerous entertaining spaces
LEASING: Available for lease ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 square feet. Information: visit leasesixbends.com.
WHY: Owner and CEO Scott Fischer explains: Just 2 percent of the population rides motorcycles. Creating an entertainment destination brings non-riders closer to the product and potentially increases that percentage.
Completed fall 2014; includes the 54,000-square-foot Six Bends Harley-Davidson retail location, an on-site two-acre Riding Academy and test ride track, and the entertainment venue, Top Rocker Field. Plus a 20,000-square-foot gathering space called The Plaza and separate fire pit area called The Pit.
One is planned, Fischer says, expanding on the destination theme of the first two efforts. It involves more unique retail operations and perhaps a boutique hotel.
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