Henig's rise sort of a magical motorcycle tour

From basement pastime to $6 million business

Howard Business

April 10, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

On his way to work, Bob Henig sometimes takes an 85-mile detour for breakfast at a roadside restaurant in Pennsylvania -- and it isn't just for the French toast.

"I'll arrive at work with a big smile on my face," said Henig, 45.

For Henig, long motorcycle rides have become a ritual, but they have also become his livelihood. The Howard County businessman has taken what started as a pastime in his basement and revved it into a $6 million business.

"I guess hobby run amok is where it started," said Henig, who will be honored next month by the U.S. Small Business Administration's Baltimore District Office as first runner-up in the state's entrepreneur success award program for 2000.

But where Bob's BMW Motorcycles really started was in the basement of his Montgomery County home.

In 1982, Henig began selling used BMW motorcycle parts from his basement and from the back of his van at flea markets and motorcycle events around the country. "We've come a long way since running around flea markets and stuff like that," Henig said.

As his business began to zoom, Henig moved from the basement to a garage office and mini-warehouses, to a Jessup warehouse condominium and to his current Jessup location, where some 30 employees, including his wife, sell and service BMW motorcycles, parts, accessories and riding gear.

Today, Bob's is the largest BMW motorcycle dealer east of California and the 10th-largest BMW motorcycle dealer in the world when it comes to sales, according to officials at the BMW of North America headquarters in New Jersey.

The Howard business, which sold 212 motorcycles last year, is ranked third in sales out of 160 BMW motorcycle dealers in the country, Henig said.

"Bob's [is] certainly one of our top motorcycle dealers, nobody would argue with that," said Ed Robinson, vice president of BMW North America, Motorcycles.

Robinson said the company uses Bob's business as an example to other BMW motorcycle dealers. What do they say when they see Bob's fancy showroom and orderly repair shop and parts department?

"Their first statement is, `How much does it cost?' " Robinson said. "Their next statement is, `This is beautiful.' "

In the showroom of the Howard County business, about 50 shiny motorcycles stand ready to ride off into the sunset. About 10,000 different motorcycle parts are piled on shelves and in drawers in the parts department. Outside Henig's office is a museum with vintage speedometers, old tool kits and a motorcycle dating to 1925.

Henig also organizes group vacations for customers who, like himself, want to spend a week or two tooling around Spain or Ireland on a motorcycle.

"Part of what we do is try to get people enthusiastic about the whole BMW thing," he said.

For Henig, that enthusiasm comes naturally. He loves motorcycles so much that when he was 17 and his parents said he would have to move out if he wanted a motorcycle, Henig chose the bike.

"I graduated high school, moved out of the house, got my first dog, got my first motorcycle -- all in one fell swoop," Henig said.

Henig still uses motorcycles as a way to relax, sometimes riding 85 miles each way to Pennsylvania's Hilltop Restaurant for breakfast and on many Sundays riding around the region while his wife and son go to church.

"That's their church," he said, "and this is my church."

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