We’ve come a long way from the ’60s ad campaign claiming, ‘You meet the nicest people on a Honda.’ Or have we?
Perth County Moto, a new motorcycle lifestyle store on Stratford’s Market Square, is a new locus for the burgeoning vintage and custom motorcycle culture. “Which is generally defined as anything from the ’70s or older,” says co-owner Jeff O’Neill. “But really, it now includes anything from café racers and choppers to high-tech Euro-touring bikes and decked out scooters. We’re appealing to the individuality of people across the spectrum.”
But this certainly isn’t just a guy thing. As a husband and wife team, the O’Neills come by it honestly. Lindsay’s first bike was the rare 1969 Norton Fastback that is the centerpiece of the store. “It was originally my Dad’s,” she explains. “It was a father-daughter hobby we could share.”
She then went on to own a couple of Hondas, a Kawasaki and a Suzuki – all sport bikes, all fast. “It’s just what I love to do in my spare time – now I get to be around this stuff every day,” she says.
Perth County Moto sells into a niche market for hard-to-find, hard-to-get and custom accessories like handmade Heddon helmets from the UK, Dixxon flannels from Arizona, retro-look handgrips and custom panniers, right down to chopped fenders and Kevlar riding pants. “We have exclusive distribution rights to some of these lines,” says Jeff. “So, ironically, we sometimes ship items right back into their own areas because only we have access to them.”
They are also building their own lines of branded items and sourcing local custom services like artistic paint jobs, fabricated mechanical parts and powder and ceramic coatings.
It’s a market that is exploding. Jeff cites Oil & Ale, the Kitchener moto community they joined that grew from 15 riders to 600 in two years. So why would a couple living in Shakespeare open this kind of store in Stratford? “I knew Stratford from when I went to the Stratford Chefs School,” says Jeff, “So I was familiar with the town and the creative way business people think in terms of possibilities here. I mean, just look at the downtown stores.”
So the plan was birthed from a late-night conversation in May 2017 about opening a moto store. “We started looked for a spot, imagined what it could look like, put together some numbers and a business plan,” says Jeff.
Lindsay carries on, “We approached Perth Community Futures for small business financing for stock and startup cashflow, got our mandatory bank rejection letters in June, worked with Libro Credit Union (who were much more helpful), got the space in July and had Williamson Fabrication in Shakespeare build the main desk and fixtures. We had a soft opening in August and a grand opening with a public gathering in Market Square in September.”
“We thought we might get six or seven bikes out,” says Jeff, “but they filled the square. The video is on YouTube.”
Now into their first full season, Perth County Moto is drawing customers into the store from London and Chatham to the west, and Niagara and the Greater Toronto Area to the east. “But online, we’re shipping across Canada and the US. The store is our main showcase and focus for the riding season but we expect most of our off-season sales will be online.”
“This is a great area for this,” says Lindsay. “There are some amazing riding roads around Stratford, lots of tourists who ride and appreciate good restaurants. Riders just want reasons to ride and places to get away.”