MERRILLVILLE | Jeff Bryner is optimistic that Lake Cycle will continue to survive and even prosper during its next half century in business.
Bryner bought the Honda sales and service shop in January 1988 from James Merkner, who had opened the business in Cedar Lake in 1962 and then moved it to Merrillville in 1967.
"He was retiring," said Bryner, 53, who had worked in every of department of the business before buying it. "He gave me a lot of help."
The business grew at such a pace during the early 1990s that Bryner took out a $500,000 Small Business Administration loan in 1994 and doubled its footprint to 10,000 square feet. By 2007 Lake Cycle had 26 employees and its sales had skyrocketed.
Then came the recession.
"The industry lost 60 percent of its market from '07 to '09, " Bryner said. "It's been a difficult four years. My business is reflective of the industry. So it' been a difficult adjustment to say the least."
So difficult than Bryner had to remortgage the business to stay afloat. But unlike other Honda motorcycle stores in the area, Lake Cycle remains open and is beginning to see the market for cycles rebound.
"We were on fairly stable ground," Bryner said. "We dramatically cut our costs, cut employees to 10 from 26 and we really take care of and engage the customers we still have. ... If unit sales come back strong and the market grows, the guys who are left will get a bigger slice of it and it will be a bigger upside for us."
Motorcycle sales increased 2 percent in 2012, Bryner said. It may not seem like much, but compared to the previous four years, it's big, he said. And sales are being aided by Honda.
"Honda has taken an aggressive approach," Bryner said. "It's introduced a whole new line of 'value for the money' bikes. They're very competitively priced and inexpensive for what they are."
Although Bryner contends it's too early in the year to make any valid predictions, there are indications that the industry will continue its rebound. Attendance at its trade shows has increased and product interest has been strong, he said.
"I feel there's pent-up demand," said Bryner, of Crown Point. "It's unreasonable to expect sales to return to those levels (pre-recession) in the near future, but a little bit of growth will strengthen our bottom line."
Despite the recent setback, Bryner said he's never been sorry he bought the dealership.
"I don't know what else I'd do," he said. "And as someone said, 'failure is not an option.' It's going to get better."
The dealership received the Council of Excellence award from Honda American Finance Co. last month. It was the first time it received the award.
"It means you're one of the top six Honda dealers in the state," Bryner said.