Roaring Reinvention: What sort of Grandmother Started a Motorcycle Shop

A Florida woman is sharing her passion with other adventure-seekers.

For Kathy Tolleson, motorcycles are an empowering symbol of freedom and adventure.

"I’ve always loved motorcycles, from enough time I was just a little girl," says Tolleson, a quick-talking and agile woman who was raised riding in rural northern Minnesota, where she was created and raised. Her father, who always had various kinds vehicles around — pickups, snowmobiles, go karts — brought home a Honda 50 motorcycle when she was a decade old. She was hooked following the first ride.

Little did she learn than four decades later she’d turn her passion right into a roaring business that could help spread her independent spirit to a fresh crop of women riders.

(Pictured L-R), Tolleson’s grandson Jacob, Kathy Tolleson, granddaughter Abigail Romeo, daughter Tara Romeo, granddaughter Lydia Romeo.

Photography by Vivian Wagner

In 2008, the grandmother of 13 founded Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Roar Motorcycles for Women, that provides customization services and sells motorcycles designed exclusively for women. The state business launch occurred through the beach town’s annual Bike Week, a favorite event that draws a large number of bikers from around the united states. Tolleson, now 57, have been getting involved in Bike Week festivities since moving to Daytona Beach about 23 years back.

Roar was started with a $500,000 credit line from Tolleson’s bank, which leveraged the non-public equity in property she owned with Rodney Tolleson, her husband of 26 years. The business enterprise was predicated on a leap of faith, along with some sparse statistics that seemed to indicate a possible client base.

The Motorcycle Industry Council, for example, within a 2008 owner survey that women accounted for approximately 12 percent of motorcycle ownership in the U.S. that year, up from 9.6 percent in 2003. Yet, few businesses were catering to the growing band of adventure-seeking women. Tolleson and her husband attempt to change that.

"I saw so a lot of women riders fighting their bikes," says Tolleson, who raised five children and played a supporting role in her husband’s previous businesses, which ranged from consulting for chiropractors to running a closed-circuit TV network. Now it had been her turn.

Kathy Tolleson with husband Rodney.

"I am a business consultant and entrepreneur all my entire life," says Rodney Tolleson, who serves as a consultant to Roar. "When she found me with this notion, I thought, ‘This could it be. This is successful.’"

The seven-employee company customizes bikes that women already own and creates one-of-a-kind designs by motorcycle builder and designer Gary Lyons and airbrush artist Fern Gadd. A number of the colorful custom conversions have whimsical names like Deep Purple Ice and Root Beer Float.

"Our bikes all have personalities," Tolleson says. "Our job is to market a bike to a female who may do not have considered it. We present motorcycles regarding fit, style, and beauty to create them more appealing to women."

To achieve that, for example, Tolleson will need her sales staff to shops searching for inspiration. They’ll examine how shoes, clothing, and jewelry are displayed so as to attract women — then return to Roar’s showroom and make an effort to replicate the allure.

"I needed bikes put out with regards to symmetry and colors," Tolleson explains. "Women’s eyes notice when [colors] go together."

This attraction to color and design is apparent in the purchases of clients like Maria Avallone, 63, of Ormond Beach, Fla., who bought her bike, Wild Rose, a deep pink Yamaha V-Star decked out with painted roses, from Roar in ’09 2009.

"I loved it," Avallone says. "It had been just so beautiful."

That sentiment were reflected in Roar’s sales aswell. The first year revenues totaled $700,000, according to Tolleson. Through the dark days of the recession in ’09 2009, revenues held steady, and this year 2010 these were up ten percent. Since its opening, the business has fitted and customized a lot more than 300 motorcycles and sold a lot more than 200 theme bikes, with customers from California to New England. When women bring their own bikes directly into be customized, the purchase price can range between $3,000 to $10,000. They are able to also buy custom conversions and one-of-a-kind bikes, which retail from $10,000 to $25,000.

Tolleson, though, imagined manufacturing her own bikes designed exclusively for women. Therefore, during 2009’s Bike Week, she launched a whole new motorcycle she helped design: the WildKaT, retailing around $25,000, having a Harley-Davidson engine and a minimal center of gravity, therefore the weight of the bike is low to the bottom and easily maneuverable with the hips and legs, which in women are usually stronger than the chest muscles. It is also a modular-fitting bike, and therefore its seat height, foot controls, and handlebars adapt to fit anyone from 4-feet, 11-inches to 6-feet tall.

"When I could visit a woman on a bike that she are designed for, it’s all worthwhile," says Tolleson, noting that the energy and control a female finds on a motorcycle can result in greater self-confidence for the areas of her life. "It empowers her. She’s not likely to involve some guy laughing at her because she can’t back up her bike."

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