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Business Profile: Cycle City has built on experience and adjusted for demand

R. R. Branstrom | Daily Press Technician Tim Schultz works on an ATV that has been brought in for service at Cycle City, located at 6751 426 M.5 Rd. in Escanaba.

ESCANABA — A local family business that sells and services ATVs, motorcycles and power equipment has adapted to its environment and market throughout the years, building on experience and adjusting for demand.

According to a retelling by Eric Malmsten, two generations ago, Marvin Malmsten — Eric’s grandfather — ran a used car dealership in Menominee. When his son, Robert, wanted a Honda motorcycle, Marvin told the boy that he would find one while he was in Lower Michigan on a car-buying trip.

As a savvy car salesman, Marvin had been operating under the assumption that he’d be able to negotiate with a Honda dealer to get a good price on a motorcycle for his son. Seeing that no one was willing to haggle with him because the dealerships had no trouble selling bikes at sticker price, Marvin came to the conclusion that motorcycle dealing was a good business — and decided to get into it himself.

In short order, the Menominee used car dealership began selling new Honda motorcycles, too. That was in the mid-60s.

“The motorcycles were selling faster than the cars were, and it really was forcing them to expand, so they built a facility in Menominee,” Eric said.

Robert worked at the dealership under his father until a minor disagreement one summer led to Marvin uttering something along the lines of, “Well, if you think you’re so smart, go run your own store!”

— And Robert thought that was a swell idea.

In 1968, Robert bought what had been an ice cream stand on Lincoln Road in Escanaba. In the early ’70s, a showroom was added, and further additions followed. The center — the former ice cream stand — became the parts department, with a service department and showroom built around it. The location served as a suitable motorcycle shop — Cycle City — for 40 years.

That building now hosts UP and Running Powersports, unaffiliated with Cycle City, which vacated the premises after a fire in 2008.

Following the fire, Robert moved Cycle City into the old Anderson Tire building. The motorcycle dealer rented that location for a year — but during that time, also purchased a new place on the north end of town and worked to renovate it to more or less its current state.

In 2009, 6751 County 426 M.5 Rd. opened as the new home of Cycle City, complete with selection of motorcycles, dirtbikes, side-by-sides, ATVS, parts, supplies, apparel, and service garage.

Robert’s younger son, Brian, managed the parts department until moving into online sales of tires and other parts and accessories, ultimately outgrowing the space at Cycle City and moving into his own building and running a business down the road as Cycle City Outdoors.

Eric had worked at the family business when he was younger but was selling cars in Marquette when his father asked him to come back and take over. Eric has now been the general manager at Cycle City since 2018; Robert and his wife Lucetta still own the business.

Though the greatest demand in the area is for off-road vehicles — four-wheelers, side-by-sides, enduro and motocross bikes — Cycle City remains cognizant of market fluctuations and has adapted their strategies over the years to balance supply and demand and work with available resources.

Everything got flipped on its head during COVID. The demand for off-road vehicles — already the majority of Cycle City’s business — increased dramatically, but since manufacturers weren’t creating enough new products, there was no supply to fill the need.

“So all of a sudden, I’ve got a bunch of employees, but I don’t have any product to sell,” Eric said of those early COVID days. “So we had to pivot.”

What they found was “a step that we could do while I was waiting for the manufacturers to catch up,” Eric said.

The staff scoured Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, seeking used products that they could work on and resell at a higher price — doable since demand was so high.

“We did pretty well with it at first, but then we had kind of tapped out on all of the used products that were for sale locally,” Eric said. Initially, they’d just been seeking and reselling items in their core (off-road) market.

But then, “we found that we could buy used street bikes — you know, the on-road motorcycles — cheaper than they could buy them in other parts of the country. So I could drive around buying unique Harleys or Ducatis or Moto Guzzis,” Eric explained. Buyers who couldn’t find those bikes in other parts of the country would pay Cycle City’s price and also the shipping to other regions.

“We went from selling knobby-tired products locally to street bikes nationally,” Eric said, “and now with the manufacturers coming back online, we’ve pivoted back. But we certainly did change our business model for a while.”

Cycle City continues to be a major vendor for primarily Honda, Yamaha, and Beta, the latter being a less-common but still well-established and well-liked Italian brand, improving their off-road models continually. Eric said that Beta enduros — specialized for technical or long-distance off-road riding — fill a niche for hardcore back-country riders where other manufacturers fell short.

He said that Beta has been a great addition to the store; they not only make high-quality bikes but are a good company to work with.

While the enduro motorcycles have always been hot sellers at Cycle City, Beta has also recently released a new model for motocross racing — which is still on dirt, but on closed tracks with jumps, rather than trails in the woods.

The enduros from the Italian brand sell well because “Beta has been into that market enough now that customers know it’s a really good bike. Nobody knows about this one yet,” Eric said, gesturing to the gleaming 2024 450 RX on a stand in Cycle City’s showroom.

Time will tell how the new bike is received.

Cycle City is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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