Welcome to #HOMETOWNHUSTLE – a SweetwaterNOW exclusive series where we highlight hardworking individuals at local businesses in our community.
Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Dennis Laughlin Co-Owner of Flaming Gorge Harley Davidson (FGHD), the long-standing family-owned and operated full-service dealership where they sell and service new and used Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
In 1986 Dennis’s parents Dave and Lynda Laughlin started Flaming Gorge Harley Davidson in a small facility. During their first year of operation, they had only sold a couple of bikes. With hard-work and perseverance, 35-years later, Flaming Gorge Harley Davidson is now Sweetwater County’s go-to motorcycle shop.
“After several expansions, we moved the dealership to the huge facility in the White Mountain Mall from 2003 to 2013, which was awesome until it wasn’t,” explained Dennis.
Following the housing market collapse and the bust of the oil and gas industry, FGHD decided to come back to its roots in Green River.
“We’ve acquired the ‘just right’ size building,” said Dennis. “We had to scale back our staff to get to our tiny-but-mighty level of today.”
For Dennis, the family business has always been something he’s been thankful for. He was raised in the shop and on a motorcycle.
He truly is the definition of working his way up the ladder. Dennis started by sweeping the floors and washing the bike. He eventually made his way through every department and every position until he learned every facet of the business well enough to take over as General Manager and eventually, Co-Owner. The best part? He loves it!
“I love to ride! We have an awesome customer base and the Harley-Davidson brand is second to none. I love what I do.”
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There have certainly been challenges along the way, but Dennis and the team at FGHD have been able to work through each of them.
“Running a motorcycle shop in a fairly low population area, coupled with our slow winter season is a constant battle. Fighting to remain the #1 selling motorcycle brand in our area in the face of a declining riding population nationally, coupled with the boom/bust economy, is tough. The COVID shutdowns certainly haven’t helped either.”
Despite the challenges they have faced throughout the years, this year especially, they are still standing and working hard each day to serve Sweetwater County.
Being able to help people purchase the motorcycle of their dreams makes each of the challenges worth it.
I had to ask if Dennis had a favorite memory/moment of his journey so far. With 35 years of memories to choose from, he understandably couldn’t choose just one, not wanting to devalue any picking one above the rest. But there is one thing that will never get old…
I can say that even after selling hundreds or thousands of motorcycles, I still love watching someone ride off on their new Harley. I still get goosebumps when I hand them their keys to their bike and tell them congratulations.– Dennis Laughlin
Growing up around the business he now runs, I had to ask Dennis if there was one person (or more) who has influenced and helped him the most throughout his journey.
“Hands down, my parents (Dave and Lynda Laughlin). I credit them for instilling in me just about everything I know about this business – honesty and integrity, always staying on the right side of the line, and trying to see things from someone else’s perspective. They’ve taught me to keep smiling, stay positive and optimistic in the face of adversity and ensuring that our employees and customers know how much we appreciate them. The list goes on…”
For Dennis his favorite part of being a business owner is the friendships he’s created along the way. Many of the people in his life are his friends and his customers or employees. Some of which, he’s known his entire life. But it can be a difficult balancing game.
“It’s a delicate balancing act doing what is in the best interest of my shop and what is best for a friend. My cell phone number is on my business card and has been for years. It’s not uncommon for someone to call me very late at night with a problem. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Dennis also mentioned how thankful he is for the riders in our area. Through the lens of the shop he’s watched groups of riders grow and make a difference in the community.
“The riders in our area are the biggest group of charitable and fun-loving people you could ever hope to meet. If we could ever add it all up, it would blow your mind the money and the help local riders put back into our community.”
Throughout the years, Dennis has gained some insight on what it takes to keep a business running and he has a few wise words of advice he’d like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Swallow your pride now! Owning your own business is tough, it is even more tough to try and deal with unforeseen issues and your own shortcomings. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Inevitably, you are going to make a bad call. Acknowledge it, own it, and then do your best to fix it. Also, when there is no one else to do some crappy work, guess who does it?”
Staying in business for 35 years is quite the accomplishment, but Dennis recognizes that it wouldn’t have been possible without the great community we live in. He’d like to thank everyone who has had a hand in helping grow Flaming Gorge Harley Davidson.
“Words cannot express the gratitude I have for everyone who has helped keep the shop operating for the last 35 years. My customer base kicks ass! I have great employees that consistently go above and beyond,” explained Dennis.
“I am in the business of fulfilling dreams of personal freedom and individuality. Every day, I get to come to work and do what I love, for that – I am eternally grateful.”
And finally, I had to ask Dennis if he had a favorite motorcycle which to him is like picking a favorite child. But he did narrow it down to two for me.
“I have 2 favorites (again, it is like picking a kid!) I still have the 2nd Harley I ever owned, a 1998 Dyna Wideglide (pictured.) It has been so heavily modified that it is now strictly an around town / short trip bike. I also have a 2017 Road Glide Ultra that is so comfortable, it is like riding around a Barcalounger! It also handles better than any other touring bike I have ever ridden.”