(Editor’s note: In conjunction with its special exhibition, “A Century of the American Motorcycle,” the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland has provided this story about Pamela Dengler and how she came to own a historic dealership at a young age.)
In the 1920s, Herman Sill was employed as a courier, using an Indian motorcycle for deliveries. Out of necessity, he learned to repair his machine, and other couriers with Indians began seeking his advice regarding repairs of their bikes. After ordering factory parts for several years, the local Indian representative suggested Sill open a dealership of his own, and Sill’s Motor Sales began serving its first customers in 1930.
Fast forward to 1954, when Pamela Dengler’s father, Daniel Glow, began employment at Sill’s as a mechanic. He gradually moved from the shop floor to the sales floor, and then to part ownership in 1968. From age 8, Pam worked summers at Sill’s, answering phones, locating parts, and generally developing a good foundation in the business of motorcycling. In 1978 she took the plunge and became a full-time employee.
She relates that as a business owner, her father played no favorites with her, ensuring that she advance only by her own merit. She also commented that throughout her career, she has encountered no glass ceiling; limitations only occurring through lack of product knowledge or unwillingness to work hard.
Developing customer trust is also key in this business, guaranteeing future sales. In 1991, Pam was offered a 1/3 ownership in Sill’s Motor Sales, and she’s never looked back. Over the ensuing years, she has assumed complete ownership of the business.
Manning the helm of a motorcycle dealership is not an easy proposition, as motorcycling is considered a “non-essential” means of transportation, with business being affected by the economy, season, and the designation ‘recreational vehicle.” If the economy dips, the motorcycle is the first ‘toy’ that is discarded.
On the other hand, inflated gasoline prices and a pandemic (folks looking for outdoor activities) can be beneficial to the bottom line. Longevity in the motorcycle business is due in part to “knowing what you don’t know,” as well as enlisting the help of experts, according to Dengler.
Currently motorcycle dealerships are facing a lack of interest among younger people for the sport, largely due to immersion in smart phones and all things tech. Pam Dengler explains that for the price of a monthly cell phone contract, a beginning rider can afford a new entry level motorcycle. It is clearly an uphill battle for now.
Pam’s personal collection of motorcycles is quite small. One of her favorites is a Honda Metropolitan scooter named “Cupcake” with which she regularly commutes from Independence to Cleveland. The little yellow bike is no garage queen however, with over 13,000 miles on the clock.
When questioned as to how many motorcycles she owns, she looked out at the showroom floor, and with a hint of a smile replied “All of them!” And it’s quite true.
As a Honda and BMW dealer, Pam is afforded a continuously upgraded inventory, allowing her to sample the newest and best from each manufacturer. That’s why she really doesn’t have a personal favorite. Each year, the technological and ergonomic features improve, like a 10.25-inch digital flat screen on a BMW RT that enhances the riding experience, along with anti-lock brakes, traction control, and adjustable suspension.
Pam’s advice to young women seeking a career in motorcycle sales is to “ride, read, and observe,” to determine what segment of the industry is of most interest, and then target a dealership that is closest to those ideals. A college degree is not required to gain entry into the field, but be prepared to work long hours, and expect a dent in your leisure activities as “riding season is selling season.”
Her efforts have paid off handsomely, allowing her to shepherd a 90-year-old motorcycle dealership successfully into the future.
The next time you see a state-of-the-art BMW touring bike hurtling down the interstate, or a little yellow “Cupcake” on a city’s back street, look closer, and you may find the grown-up version of that little girl who loved motorcycles so many years ago.