Ron Daley is one of a handful of 1950s dealers who’s still active. In his diamond anniversary year, he gave Scootering an insight into the past, present and future of his family business.
Now in his 80s, Ron still keeps a sharp eye on the business that’s taken six decades to build. On most days he can be found in the shop and as a trained joiner he was ‘hands on’ during the showroom’s recent refurbishment. Today, Ron Daley’s is one of the country’s leading suppliers of Vespa, Scomadi, Royal Alloy and Peugeot scooters, a high street showroom and multi-brand franchises were the stuff of dreams when he began trading, though it was in confectionery not motorcycles that he honed his sales techniques.
“I’ve never had a sweet tooth,” he began,”but always loved shooting. I’d spend my sweet ration on aniseed balls as they were easy to sell and with the profit I’d buy air rifle pellets. From maintaining air weapons I moved on to repairing motorcycles.” It’s not an uncommon progression but Ron’s story is all the more remarkable when you realised that all this happened before he was 12. By the age of 14, Ron was competing in trials events and quickly built a reputation as a fast and aggressive rider. In order to fund this, Ron built machines for other riders, registering them as ‘RDS’, Ron Daley Specials, the first of many to come. Obsessed with motorcycles he had little time for the fairer sex but it was a match made in heaven when he was introduced to Marian, the daughter of another motorcycle enthusiast and one of the few woman in Barnsley to hold a full motorcycle licence. “We were so poor that one of our wedding presents was a chair; it was the only furniture we had and we took turns to sit down,” laughed Ron.
For the first few years of marriage Ron would survive on four or five hours’ sleep. After completing his shift at the colliery he’d turn his hand to motorcycles. “The first workshop was upstairs, that’s all we could afford,” explained Ron. “I used a block and tackle to winch bikes up through a hole in the floor.” He was also trading in used machines but could only provide finance on a ‘recourse’ basis. This meant that not only did he pay commission for arranging finance he was also responsible for repossession. “We had a default rate of around 90% and some repossessions were very awkward, it’s a good job I could handle myself!”
On August 16, 1958, Ron went into business full time. These were hard years and the turning point came in the unlikely form of a two-speed moped, the Kerry Capitano. This was built in Italy and marketed by the Kerry Motorcycle Company as its own product. “It was a revelation,” said Ron. “Not only was I paid commission for arranging finance but the bank dealt with defaulters. It changed everything.”
Enter the Wasp
Shortly afterwards Ron began his relationship with Vespa. As Martin, Ron’s oldest son, explained this was at a time when Lambretta dominated the north’s ‘blue collar’ market. “It’s well documented that Douglas was building models that were obsolete in Italy. Dad’s shop was close to Barnsley’s Lambretta dealer who always stocked the latest models. They were probably selling about 50 a month at that time and deliveries would be lined up outside their showroom. They’d stand outside and laugh while my dad unloaded the dated Vespas which Douglas had supplied. That was the worst thing they could have done. It just made him more determined to succeed.”
One thing that makes Ron Daley’s stand out is the dealership’s constant willingness to innovate. As Martin explained they were one of the first dealers to see the potential of Japanese motorcycles. “We adopted Yamaha at a very early stage. There’s no doubt it was a gamble, British bikes were seen as all-conquering, but we soon realised that they were well built, reliable machines.
“History shows what happened to the British manufacturers. The quality of Vespa products also improved when we started to get machines from Italy, it was an exciting time.”
Nothing lasts forever but even the most pessimistic of dealers couldn’t predict the storm that was brewing in the early 80s. “The miners’ strike hit us hard,” said Martin, “Almost overnight Barnsley became poor. There was no need for cheap commuting transport, and if people had a job there was no cash for hobby motorcycling. At the same time profit margins were squeezed. On a Yamaha costing £5000, we’d be lucky to make £25. What seemed like the final straw came when control of the UK Vespa franchise went to Heron Suzuki. They weren’t interested in working with a Yamaha dealership and we lost Vespa.”
Over the years Ron held various franchises including MZ, KTM, Ducati and Gilera but to keep things afloat he turned towards four-wheels. “We’d had experience with Reliant for several years,” said Martin. “They were popular because they only needed a motorcycle licence. We thought that there was a market for affordable four wheeled transport and began to sell Lada.” After several years of struggling, Ron approached Piaggio and pointed out, not inaccurately, that the local Suzuki dealer was paying lip service to the Vespa brand. After a convincing pitch he secured the franchise and sales of the marque increased tenfold within a year.
A family affair
Three generations of the family are now working at the shop and Michael, Ron’s grandson, is part of the next generation looking to the future. “We’re all very proud of what grandad built and are determined to keep growing the business,” he said. “The internet’s an important part of what we do and we’re developing our use of social media to highlight the great products and services we offer. Something I’d really like to make people aware of is our spares holding. We probably have the country’s largest range of original Piaggio parts, particularly for the PX and can use our buying power to offer these at prices equal to, or less than, the price of inferior copies. When the PX ceased production we bought up as many as we could find and continue to secure the best examples that come to market. Although our selection of new PXs is now limited I’m confident we can offer our specials for quite some time to come.
“We’ve always offered great sales and service for machines and are very pleased to have recently acquired Scooter Crazy’s clothing stock and expertise. This has made us a genuine ‘one stop shop’ for riders of all abilities”.
Ron Daley Motorcycles is a business founded on the concept of family and one that places customer service at the heart of everything it does. While looking to the future, the family hasn’t forgotten its roots. When Barnsley’s air rifle store recently closed down, Ron bought its stock and added it to the range of products on offer. All he needs now is a sweet shop and the circle’s complete!
To mark the shop’s 60th anniversary the team have created an exceptionally limited dealer special. Based on a brand new PX125 chassis, the ‘RD60’ is available in a choice of two-tone schemes. Martin explained: “We wanted to build something that paid tribute to the early dealer specials and at the same time showcased the very best of our current product range.” The result gives more than a passing nod to the Grimstead specials while being equipped with enhanced suspension and braking plus a new build 200cc engine.
Although its final price is still to be confirmed the flagship red edition won’t be cheap, but the amount of work that’s gone into the build is staggering. The front end alone has almost £500 worth of accessories including a Pinasco radial calliper, Galfer disc and a shortened Bitubo suspension unit. The latter, combined with a lowered rear shock, gives the scooter a very different and aggressive profile. It also requires a shortened stand and the overall effect is very subtle indeed. It’s wrong to say that this is close to the factory’s original specifications as it far exceeds the quality of anything produced in Pontedera.
Photographs: Gary Chapman
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