NYCS interviews RetroVespa – Part Two
In our last post we began our interview with Kevin Ochel, the founder and owner of RetroVespa, a New York City based company specializing in importing vintage Vespas from a restoration shop based in India.
The importing of vintage scooters restored oversees has been a hotly debated topic with a lot of detractors, but it’s an arena in which Kevin has worked hard to prove the cynics wrong, working through several generations of improvements to get to the best restoration he can.
Kevin brought a recently restored Vespa VBB to the interview and it made a good impression.
In this post we conclude our interview, first by asking Kevin about his typical customer.
“I think the majority of my customers are newbies, a lot of them, maybe mid-life crisis guys, they want a little style. I sell a lot to Architects, people in the Design industry that appreciate the design.
You know as well as I do, if you’re a real scooter enthusiast, your not going to pay for a shiny restored bike, you’re gonna want to find one on Craigslist, or find one in a barn or, you’re gonna take pride in working hours and hours on weekends keeping it running. So as much as some guys in the scooter community clash with me, they’re really not my target audience. But I would welcome selling them and having them, you know, take a look.”
NYCS: So presumably your buyers are here in the States?
“Most of the scooters I ship are worldwide. I’ve got scooters going right now to Norway, Germany, Spain, and Australia. I just sent one down to South Africa.
Mainly in the States I sell to New York, California and Florida nowadays and Texas.”
NYCS: Are the fees associated with shipping rolled in as part of the overall cost of the scooter?
“What I do is, to my international customers, shipping’s free, and it goes to the Port. Let’s say I’m shipping to this guy in Norway that lives in Oslo; I get it to Oslo, he gets the package with all the documents that he needs, and I put him in touch with a customs agent over there, and they’re responsible for whatever the cost is to get it out of the Port; Because I can’t put a dart on that number.
Here in the States I retrieve it from the Port, and it’s in a crate, an aluminum tray with cardboard wrapped around it, and if it’s someone local I take it out of the crate and I deliver it on my trailer, or I use Forward Air and I just ship it, and I send it to the Forward Air location nearest them.”
NYCS: And then it’s their responsibility to get it from Forward Air?
“Either pick up by pick up truck or they can pay like $100 bucks and have it delivered to their door.”
NYCS: Owning a piece of fifty-year old machinery can be a challenge for any scooter owner, do you think this has been a particular challenge with restored bikes sold to first-time scooter owners?
“The scooters I’m selling are 50 years old, and 50 years ago most people knew–they how to change spark plugs, they knew where the spark plug was, they knew how to un-flood an engine, they knew how to troubleshoot a vehicle, and a scooter. Today, everyone expects to have a Honda Accord, you turn it on, you drive it 100,000 miles, you never do anything. So it is a challenge to educate my customers, and I definitely walk them through it and I give them fact sheets.
NYCS: Do they contact you following purchase?
“Although I’m not a mechanic I’ve been around these things now long enough, I’ve learned how to change cables and how to do enough that, I take my toolbox and I go to my customers’ apartments or houses and I work on the scooter, and if we need to go any further we go to my mechanic.
But you know, I’ve had some customers where it took a long time for them to get it, and embrace it.”
NYCS: You used to offer a warranty with you restorations…
“Yeah but I don’t have it anymore because I was just getting beat up on little maintenance items that were “Is it cover-able or not?” and this and that, and it especially was difficult with people that I didn’t sell to locally. But I stand by my scooters and I really look forward to scooters that I sell to New Yorkers here because I’m local and I get a relationship going, and I can help them a lot with their scooter.”
NYCS: So what’s next for RetroVespa as we get into the 2011 riding season?
“Well back when gas was approaching $4.00 back in 2008 my phone was going a little nuts, but it was warm weather. Now I put like a gallon of gas in here a few blocks away, and I saw $4.20 so I’m anticipating if gas creeps up or stays this price and the weather gets warm, I’m probably gonna have a rush on some scooters, but bring it on…”
NYCS: Is there a particular time a year that you tend to get orders? Or are they pretty steady throughout the year?
“A day like today where it just starts getting warm, people minds start thinking about the summer, they imagine themselves on a scooter; dead of winter, its tough. But I really try to promote as much as possible, “I know you’re not thinking about scooters right now, now’s the time to order it so you’ll have it for the spring.”
We’ll paint it any color; we’ve got any Pantone color you want. Go in an art supply store, grab a Pantone book, there’s thousands of swatches, and just give us the number. My guy in India has got the Pantone book there and does a perfect match to it. Some colors are real popular, you know. The original blue is a popular one. The black one looks great.”
NYCS: Has that been a significant part of the business? Custom colors for business and whatnot?
“Well it’s interesting. One night years ago I just flipped through the Pantone book and I picked about, I don’t know how many colors are on my website, maybe 20, and I just picked them’ and put them on as “suggested Pantone colors.” I’ve never had somebody not choose one of those colors.”
NYCS: With all these scooters moving through your hands, I have to ask, what does the owner of RetroVespa ride?
“Unfortunately I don’t drive one of these because it’s tough to keep them in stock and you know, once you roll em’ off, they get scratches.
I have a 1960’ Vespa GS150/VS5 – a guy from Michigan called me about 3 or so years ago, and he just said “Look I’ve got this Vespa…” and I get those calls a lot. And I said “Well send me a photo” and he said “I don’t know how to do that” so he finally got me the VIN number and instead of saying VS5 he said V55, and I said ‘Woah, okay’ and then he did get me a photo, and before it got out there, I jumped in my car and I drove ten hours and picked it up the next day, and I didn’t pay too much for it.
It’s been fully rebuilt and it’s 100% original. I mean it l looks a little bit beat up, but it’s a daily rider.”
NYCS: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Kevin. I appreciate your openness about the trials and tribulations of the past couple of years. One final question: what do you think when you see somebody riding by on one of your scooters?
It happens, its great. I mean a lot of times I just see em’ parked and I know they’re up at work, or they’re walking around. And I like it, its great. It’s a lot of pride.”
You can learn more about the vintage scooters that RetroVespa restores to order at Kevin’s website or by following RetroVespa on Twitter. Orders take three to six months depending on shipping and your scooter can be painted in pretty much any color with a number of performance upgrades. Prices start at $4650.