Polaris makes Spirit Lake home of Indian Motorcycles
Spirit Lake has been the home of Indian athletics for generations. Now, a local manufacturing plant aims to make Spirit Lake the home of Indian Motorcycles. Amid the noise of outside construction and factory production, the newly opened Experience Center on the eastern side of the Spirit Lake Polaris plant is a calm showcase for the Indian Motorcycle brand.
Spirit Lake became the main assembly operation for Indian Motorcycles, after the company was purchased by Polaris in 2011. Polaris announced plans in January to stop production of the Victory line of motorcycles. The company is shifting its focus to the Indian line and intends to emphasize Spirit Lake as the hub of the brand via the new Experience Center.
“What we’re seeing a lot from our consumer is, ‘I want to come and visit where my bike was born — where my bike was made,’” Indian Motorcycle President Steve Menneto said. “And we wanted to have the appropriate experience for those customers when they put their hard earned money into a bike that the community of Spirit Lake built for them.”
The ribbon was officially cut in front of the combination showroom, lobby and retail space Thursday afternoon, just ahead of the Iowa Great Lakes Chamber of Commerce’s Third Annual Boji Bike Rally. Rally riders were able to visit the Experience Center Friday and Saturday. Blain Andera, who serves as mayor of Spirit Lake, director of the Spirit Lake Chamber of Commerce and director of the Iowa Great Lakes Chamber, was enthusiastic about the addition to the plant — in each of his official capacities.
“We’re so excited they’re going to be open for the Boji Bike Rally,” Andera said. “It’s one more thing that’s going to make the experience unique for our residents and visitors alike…From the area’s stand-point, we’re excited Polaris and Indian Motorcycles are still investing in our community,”
Menneto said plans are being made to use some of the open spaces on the factory floor for more assembly lines. John Dansby, the plant’s director of motorcycle operations, said the improvements will help the facility keep pace with the Indian line’s future expansion.
“We’ve made a lot of improvements over the last few years, from a production perspective,” Dansby said. “Our brand is growing. There’s a lot of momentum behind Indian Motorcycles and we’re trying to match that with our facility. Our people work with a lot of pride. They do great work and build quality product and we wanted to have a facility to do that in.”
Menneto said additional items and memorabilia have been donated for the center and more items are being purchased. He hopes the displayed items will expose the public to the history of Polaris and highlight the Spirit Lake community as an ideal riding area. More over, he and Dansby said the Experience Center is a place for customers to connect with the people behind their favorite motorcycle brand.
“We added onto this lobby because we have a lot of loyal customers who come every year for tours and we wanted to make sure they had a destination point for Indian Motorcycles,” Dansby said. “We’ve got our bikes on display here. We’ll have our new models on display here. We’ll have souvenirs from Spirit Lake for our customers to take back home with them. Certainly, this is going to be something that our team members here can enjoy with their families as well.”
Menneto said the company and its employees had learned a great deal about creating quality motorcycles over the life of the Victory line. However, he said the Victory line had 18 years of financial losses and projections for the next 10 years showed financial viability of preserving the line to be borderline at best.
“If you think about all the dollars we would have had to spend in building the brand and building the bikes, that would have been money that would not have been paid back to our shareholders and back to our employees and so forth with growth,” Menneto said.
Menneto said the employees poured their hearts and souls into the Victory line and the decision was difficult. Victory was the highest ranked motorcycle line by Net Promoter Score when the decision was made to stop production, according to Menneto. The Indian line was one point behind Victory. Both Menneto and Dansby recalled production difficulties in 2015 and once again credited the employees with the company’s current success.
“The team stuck together, we put our heads together and came up with some great ideas and now we’re leading the pack,” Dansby said.
Moving forward, Menneto said the lessons learned from Victory’s production will help improve Indian’s brand. The company plans to pursue additional dealerships in other countries to capitalize on a high demand for American-made motorcycles abroad.
“We have to be prepared not only in just raw units you can move down the line but also our capability of paints and finishes and different types of motorcycles,” Menneto said. “We have a lot more coming in different segments that we want to continue to prepare for the growth and invest that growth in Spirit Lake.”
But as the changes roll in, and the Indian brand continues to spread across the globe, the company wants to keep Spirit Lake at the center of it all.
“We want the public to know that Spirit Lake is the home of Indian Motorcycles,” Dansby said. “They’re built here, we ship them from here and this is where our customers will come and enjoy the customer experience as they help us to continue to live and breath the brand.”
The Experience Center will be open for complementary tours Mondays and Fridays until Nov. 3 and will re-open in 2018. Appointments must be made for tours by calling 336-6955.