Industry Profile: The Shop's Ron Kanerva

A haven for HOG fans in Ontario

The history of Harley-Davidson motorcycles is a fascinating tale, rich with triumphs and tragedies as fascinating as the characters who ride them. Economically, socially, culturally; regardless of how one chooses to measure the significance of such an iconic company, it has transcended merely that of a corporation that builds motorcycles to become one of the planet’s most recognizable brands. Such an overwhelming feat could not have been achieved without the contribution of many passionate individuals who believed in the vision originally conceived by William Harley and a few of his friends and business partners, William, Walter and Arthur Davidson. In order for a company to expand and survive two world wars, recessions, depressions and 105 years, there needs to be a dedicated group of individuals willing to stand behind it.

Ron Kanerva is no stranger to the motorcycle industry, but he is relatively new to the Harley brand. While Kanerva didn’t start out riding Harleys, once he joined the many converted, he certainly began to make his mark on the brand north of the border. Now in the recreational powersports industry for over 34 years, Kanerva started out selling CZs and Jawas, before taking on Polaris and Honda products. Regardless of the fact that he has years of experience running a successful dealership, the popularity of the Harley franchise never ceases to amaze him. “On any given Saturday, we’ll have people show up wearing a shirt from another dealership half way around the world.” For HOG fans logging serious cross-country miles, these dealerships become essential stopping points where like-minded people cross paths and congregate.

Kanerva didn’t merely build The Shop (Sudbury, Ontario) to sell bikes, he wanted to create a central point for enthusiasts to show off their rides and share a common passion. Many of his initiatives aren’t simply about marketing the business, but giving back to the community that has given so much to him.

“We support numerous charities including breast cancer, Heart and Stroke, Ride for Dad (prostate cancer) but the majority of the work and money goes to palliative care,” says Kanerva.

Prior to the grand opening of The Shop in 2007, Kanerva asked his guests to make a financial contribution in lieu of flowers or gifts, resulting in the local HOG chapter being present to accept donations of over $6,000. Each Christmas since its inception, The Shop has raised over $1,000 for the local Palliative Care Centre. Kanerva not only sponsors the Northeastern, Sault. Ste. Marie and Nipissing HOG chapters, but he even opens his doors to allow the Sudbury chapter to host its meetings within his facility.

Touring around his massive store, Kanerva points out how passionate people are about the company and how they flock to buy branded merchandise that covers the spectrum from cufflinks and cowboy hats to poker chips and jukeboxes. He is quick to point out that the mystique of the brand carries far beyond mere consumer products.

Ron Kanerva on The Shop showroom floor.

“When my wife and I would be at a party and I would mention our Polaris dealership, the conversation quickly and inevitably passed on to something else. Nowadays when I tell people that I own The Shop, they are fascinated and have a million questions,” says Kanerva

Kanerva has done a great deal to market his business so the popularity of his shop should be no surprise.

“Our region covers a vast and relatively sparsely populated area compared to most dealerships, so we have to work extra hard at gaining attention,” says Kanerva.

Kanerva’s passion for machines of all kinds and technical know-how has served him well over the years. He personally designed and oversaw the construction of the facility, ensuring that it would be entirely self-sufficient. Specific areas were designated for sales, parts and service, fabrication, merchandise, customer lounges, swanky office space and even storage for local bikes. Running into a small glitch when he wanted to build a two tier storage area for bikes and sleds, Karnerva actually designed and built his own elevator system. 

Among all the bikes, you’ll even find Harley-inspired golf carts at The Shop.

If there isn’t an existing solution for a problem he is experiencing, he simply creates one from scratch, as proven by his three patents, including an amphibious vehicle. While most people who approach his age tend to slow down, Kanerva is still as busy as ever. Never being one to sit still, he has started building his own Harley-Davidson-themed ‘Unique’ golf carts.

Kanerva acknowledges that his business is surrounded by some of the most beautiful roads for riding anywhere and hopes to attract more riders to the area with a new rental initiative. Motorcycle enthusiasts visiting the area who want to experience the Lake Nipissing Circle Tour, or the many roads that make up what is known as the Near North, can now do so from the seat of a 2010 Harley-Davidson.

With a massive inventory of bikes at his disposal, I was eager to hear about Kanerva’s favorite. “I currently ride a ‘03 Deuce Anniversary Edition. I like the slim look of this bike and the wide bar of chrome on the tank. They do not make this bike anymore, so it just might be a keeper.” Also displayed with pride within his shop is a 1951 XR1000 which there were only 31 brought into Canada and just over 1000 built total. A customer favorite is a glossy orange and black factory-built V ROD dragster, which Kanerva is quick to add, “It has zero miles on it, and I know that because it has never even been started,” he said with a grin.

The Shop exists today as a monument to Ron Kanerva’s vision; the belief that a dealership should not only provide access to motorcycles, but offer a positive experience where like-minded riders can congregate. Truly a family affair, Ron shares the daily duties with his son Eric and wife, Melanie. Over the years, there have been many famous ambassadors to the motorcycle industry, who have fought for the rights and recognition of bikers, improved safety regulations or simply increased exposure for the hobby. Kanerva’s story is anything but ordinary, and proves that this industry is riddled with unsung heroes. While he has been fortunate to receive many awards over the years for sales volume, the accolade that he is most proud of was the Diamond Award, given at the Winter Dealer meeting for Harley-Davidson. “This award is for business excellence in all categories and not simply for sales volume,” boasts Kanerva, “That is the difference.”