Profile: Scott Fischer’s Wild Ride

Scott Fischer has given his Harley-Davidson brand here a nice spin beyond just selling motorcycles.

BY May 4, 2015

Lucia Sherman didn’t know Harley-Davidson from Hot Wheels when she answered an ad for a job as executive assistant to Scott Fischer seven years ago. But she knew he was CEO of Scott Fischer Enterprises and that’s why she showed up shaken, despite being dressed in a “red power suit.”

Then she met Fischer. “And it was like sitting down with my dad or my brother,” she says. That this man was the engine behind $150 million in annual sales from his six motorcycle dealerships (Fort Myers; Naples; Albuquerque, New Mexico (2); Madison, Alabama; and Hickory, North Carolina) just wasn’t obvious. And still isn’t, she’d say, except at dealer meetings.

His reputation precedes him at the annual events. “It is literally like walking behind a rock star,” Sherman says.

He could pass for Billy Idol, but is equally revered as Scott Fischer, and everyone wants to talk to him. But there will be no Rebel Yell. Fischer grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where his need for speed—and devotion to the Ohio State Buckeyes—took hold. His father was a mechanic and owned a garage, where Scott spent plenty of weekends when he wasn’t racing go-karts or dirt bikes or competing in Motocross through a sponsorship of a local Honda dealer. He graduated to motorcycles and before long he worked in the business, eventually pledging allegiance to Harley-Davidson, where his star continued to rise.

“But he doesn’t brush anyone off or act pious,” Sherman says. Not at the annual meeting and not in Fort Myers.

“He’s become a kind of iconic figure in the Harley-Davidson brand,” says Paar Moto CEO David Grant, who has known Fischer as a business associate and then friend for more than 10 years. “I’ve never seen the guy have a bad day. He’s just got life right where most of us wish we had it. And you can’t fake that. He’s a self-made man. And one of the most genuine, and the most empowering, people I’ve ever come across.“

Scott Fischer Enterprises Chief Operating Officer Glorita Cuiffi is living proof. Named one of Gulfshore Business’ “40 Under 40” in September, Cuiffi began years ago working part time in the café at Fischer’s Colonial Boulevard shop, peddling coffee and hot dogs on weekends. She moved up to the Motorclothes department, “and then I really fell in love with the business,” she says. She had earned a degree in health policy and business administration from Penn State University and was eager to use it. So she had a talk with Fischer, who began placing her in jobs with increasing responsibility.

He is just as empowering in his nonprofit life. Fischer is a founding member and chairman of Blessings in a Backpack, which supplies food to schoolchildren and their families on weekends, and active in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the March of Dimes and Junior Achievement. And a funny thing happened one year when, as usual, he attended the Cattle Barons’ Ball, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. You could say the event hit him right where he lives. He really, really liked the house in which it was held. It was furnished, and for sale, but that was at the height of the market. The real estate agent was patient and paying attention, though. The asking price kept going down until Fischer finally bought it, and he and his wife, Mary, moved from their former residence in Gateway last year.

Outside that house just north of Gulf Harbour in south Fort Myers are two understated clues to its purchase power: a black iron bench with the Harley-Davidson insignia, and a black Ford F-series Harley Davidson limited-edition truck. Not-so-understated would be High on the Hog, the 64-foot Hattaras yacht that usually eclipses the view from the windows flanking the side of the house. But it’s out of the canal and in for repairs the day we visit, and Fischer clearly misses it. He likes looking out and seeing it and the “little boat,” the 30-some-footer he tows behind it on trips to his favorite place, the Bahamian islands of Exuma. One of his favorite things to do is introduce new people to the transparent blue water and world-class snorkeling. He’ll take several trips there over the next year with his wife, his managers and friends, he says.

His journey with Harley-Davidson Fort Myers has been a chess game, involving six moves. He began with a 5,000-square-foot shop on Fowler Street, an opportunity he was offered while in Ohio. Once in Florida, he began building a business, but found it hard to move forward a few years ago when the economy tanked.

In 2010, he reorganized, sold some stores and bailed out of selling any bikes other than Harleys. He laid off hundreds of employees: “The hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life,” he says.

It was also time for a change in strategy in Fort Myers. Then operating on Colonial Boulevard at U.S. 41, “We were doing a great job selling Harley-Davidsons,” Fischer says. “We were at maximum market share. So our goal became how to grow the potential and get more customers from farther away, and give them a reason to stay.”

The result is more a destination than a dealership. Six Bends Harley-Davidson, named for the number of bends in the cycle’s handlebars, includes a 55,000-square-foot showroom, shop and service building on 16 acres near the Daniels Boulevard exit off Interstate 75. Today, about 100 customers are being trained to ride at the outdoor Rider Education Center. As many as 4,000 people can see a concert at Top Rocker Field, and did so in November when Brett Michaels of Poison played for the March of Dimes Bikers for Babies kickoff.

 Fischer has a Phase 2 planned for Six Bends, mainly retail: “I’m going to hand-pick the businesses,” he says. “I want to have a brewery, a restaurant, and multiple small businesses, including a barber shop and a tattoo parlor.”

About the latter, he will ink a personal deal: The first tattoo will be his, he says. He’s not sure what the design will be, but he’ll have help. Katie Fischer, 21, is Scott and Mary’s daughter and she has a full sleeve. “I was 100 percent completely against (her tattoos),” Scott says. At first.

But now the story her parents tell seems more important than the principle. Katie’s armful of tattoos illustrates her struggles with addiction in her late teens and her path to recovery, Scott says. As he explains this he is seated at the kitchen table, where he had been writing individual notes to employees celebrating work anniversaries.

Just then Mary returns from walking the couple’s two Jack Russell terriers—one a recent rescue—and Scott draws her into the conversation. She sits down and they begin a kind of conversational volleyball, telling where they sent Katie for help, and when, and in what order.

She’s in college in Orlando now, but they hear from her every day.

Scott and Mary Fischer met when they were both 20 years old and working for Honda. He says he bossed her around. She smiles at that. Scott explains that he doesn’t ride much anymore, although he has “a whole showroom” of motorcycles. “I get asked about that a lot,” he says. “I feel guilty sometimes about it. But today my passion is about running a company.” It’s about making the dealerships he owns elsewhere the top-sellers, the way his Fort Myers location is. It’s about getting away once in a while to the cabin he and Mary own in North Carolina. And playing golf, boating and giving back to the community.

He explains all this while throwing a spiky purple toy now and then for the newest Jack Russell, Oliver, to retrieve, while the older, Lacie, is content to chill out under the kitchen table.

Scott is wearing a Harley-Davidson jacket; Mary a Harley sweatshirt. And it’s clear that the whole thing has been quite a ride.


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