John Harris Motorcycles in Crowborough is closing and the property is to be converted into four flats.
The dealership, set up by John Harris 43 years ago and now owned and run by his brother Stephen, held a Honda franchise until 2008, since when it has traded in used machines, clothing and accessories.
“The market isn’t what it used to be,” said Stephen, who joined his brother (now semi-retired) after leaving school at the age of 16. “I don’t want to be negative about it but I can’t see much of a future for the industry.”
Harris, who is selling the showroom to fund his pension, also plans to find suitable premises and carry on servicing and repairing bikes for his loyal customers, 75 of whom have expressed regret on Facebook at the closure announcement.
“At our height we employed eight or nine people, including four selling clothing, but then the internet took hold and it has just cooked everything,” said Harris. “You are competing against people who don’t have to pay business rates or VAT.
“The used bike market used to be good for us until PCP came in about two or three years ago. Now people just take back their bikes to these big dealerships, pay the monthly fee and take a new bike. It’s also becoming more difficult to source good used stock, and all this has hit the servicing side.”
Another factor in the decision to close, on 22 December, was the reduction in motorcycle commuting, with business cash flow being hit as riders stored their bikes for the winter. Being 35 miles from London, there was also the prospect of the ultra-low emissions zone charge leading to bikers deciding to travel by train.
“”I’m 59 next month. It’s a shame about the business. I have been soul-searching for a long time and it has been the hardest decision, but my customers have been great and that is why I want to carry on and take them forward with me.
“I haven’t regretted being in the motorcycle trade but you know what it’s like when you have been doing something all your life. I can now see light at the end of the tunnel, however, and I have been cheered by the comments from customers who have all stayed loyal and that’s one thing that these big dealer groups can’t get these days.”