By Nick Hoppner former editor Wing World magazine
On a recent ski vacation to New England, Ginny & I stopped by one of GWRRA’s newest Diamond Partners, Venco Wings. What we saw there renewed our hope that Gold Wing-supportive businesses can not merely exist, they can thrive. Jim & Sue Venne (see photo) have been Wingers for years. They’ve served in a variety of roles in their local Chapter, District and Region, eventually representing their Region as Couple of the Year. Jim quickly gained a reputation as a pretty knowledgeable and capable wrench, and a lot of folks brought their Wings to him for service and repairs. What Jim couldn’t fix, his brother Pete usually could.
It took a nasty fall on some ice to keep Jim homebound from his “real job” as a plant manager for a local electronics company. While at home he had a lot of time to think, and with Sue’s support, he decided to make his part time business his fulltime avocation. Needing more room for bike work, the couple relocated to an off-the-beaten-path rural house with a large separate garage. Wingers quickly found their way to their door. Eventually Sue joined Jim full time. I suspect she’s the one who shepherds all the business details like payables, receivables, schedules, payroll, etc., while Jim’s focus is quite literally on the nuts and bolts of the business.
They’ve built quite a successful Web-based business at www.vencowings.com, attested to by twice-daily arrivals of UPS trucks in their driveway. Like most, their success has been ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. Both have put in many 18 to 20-hour days. For years they’ve spent their weekends at local rallies, then turned around and spent all week long on their feet on their garage’s concrete floors. They’ve hosted garage days and barbecues. They’ve donated a lot of door prizes and corrected their share of service come-backs without complaint or dispute. Anybody who thinks Wing business is a gravy train needs only to watch them for an hour or two.
Jim & Sue Venne joined our hosts, Mike & Dawn Vaillancourt, at a local restaurant later that evening. Although clearly weary from another long day, they both looked supremely happy with their life. They seem to have achieved a manageable balance between business and personal life. Several times, they’ve added on to the original garage, and their showroom of chrome and electrically heated clothing is spotless and orderly. I sense they’re carefully monitoring the balance between income and expenses, business growth versus investment costs.
It’s a tightrope walk with no safety net. Some family-owned Wing businesses have been with us for almost as long as GWRRA’s existence, benefiting synergistically from the relationship with the Association. Flip through this issue—many of our best-known advertisers began small and had the guts and luck to grow with us. Some family businesses are now being run by second generations of the same family. Some are motorcycle aftermarket industry leaders. But whether your local Wing business is large or small, do what you can to support it. In this age of big-box stores and franchised dealerships, there’s enormous competitive pressure to squash out little independent businesses. Maybe their prices aren’t always the lowest, but when their doors are closed forever, we all lose something intimately connected with motorcycling—and that’s a real shame.