Eighteen years ago, local motorcycle enthusiast Bob Henig was operating a small used parts and repair shop for BMW motorcycles from the comfort of his Wheaton home basement and garage.
Today, Henig is the owner of Bob's BMW in Jessup and has built a local empire by being the second-largest supplier of BMW motorcycles, parts and accessories in the United States, according to BMW.
"This all really started off as a hobby that ran amok," said Henig, who lives in Columbia with his wife and their 8-year-old son. "But it's something that I love. I am an enthusiast. I eat, sleep, love what I am doing. I love motorcycles."
That love affair started in 1972 when he purchased his first motorcycle. Several years later, he bought a second motorcycle -- this time, a BMW.
"Back then, a lot of people considered [BMW motorcycles] to be ugly ducklings because they only came in black," he said. "But my love for riding was nurtured."
Still, Henig, a professional photographer, hadn't considered running a full-time business and selling BMW motorcycle parts until 1981, after a car struck him while he was riding his bike and he was seriously injured.
Henig said he survived the collision because he was wearing a helmet, but he suffered injuries to his neck, shoulders and back. Doctors advised him to give up photography temporarily because it required lifting.
Off to a fast start
At home recuperating, he came up with the idea to put his love for bikes to use and started selling BMW used parts from his basement. He called his business Bob's Used Parts.
"It just took off," Henig recalled. "There was an enormous demand for parts. The business took over my house, and I had to build a garage."
With business soaring, Henig hired two employees and rented small warehouses in Jessup to store parts and service motorcycles.
He expanded to repair bikes and sell new parts imported from Germany, where BMWs are made. By 1988, he had a solid clientele with customers coming into the dealership several times a week to swap motorcycle stories.
"We would have coffee brewing and free doughnuts and pastries, and customers would spend hours just hanging out," Henig said.
He decided to advertise in motorcycle magazines and started conducting business through the mail.
It dawned on him then that what had started as a small idea to keep busy after his motorcycle accident was quickly turning into something bigger.
"It was scary at first, because I wanted to make sure that I was expanding at the right time," Henig said.
After years of being independent, Henig initially resisted becoming a dealer. But in 1990 he had the resources to became a dealer selling motorcycles as well as parts. In 1991, Bob's Used Parts changed to Bob's BMW.
BMW required that he sell 30 bikes his first year. He sold 54, and sales have increased steadily every year since.
Last week, Henig expanded his empire once more by moving into a spacious building on 2.4 acres on Guilford Road in Jessup. It features a showroom that houses both new and older BMW bikes and a motorcycle museum with BMW motorcycle parts and paraphernalia that Henig and his customers have collected over the years.
The move was made possible by a $1.4 million loan from Bank of America. Henig has 28 employees and says he plans to hire another eight soon.
Giving something back
He said that because of his success, he is committed to giving back to the community. He serves as a local organizer for an annual charitable event called "Ride for Kids," which supports the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation of the United States. The mission of the foundation, based in North Carolina, is to find the cause and cure of childhood brain tumors through medical research funding.
Since the organization was founded in 1984, millions of dollars have been raised to provide research grants.
"Bob is a wonderful human being. He has been the voice in helping to raise money and enthusiasm for what we're trying to do," said Maria Tarajano, national program director for the foundation. "He has gotten involved in this cause because he is a good person, and his heart was touched by children who were dying. He felt he couldn't ignore the problem."
In addition to raising funds, motorcyclists who participate in the ride invite the children to ride along in sidecars.
Ride of his life
As for Henig, he said he's having the ride of his life.
"It's so much fun," he said. "We're really an adult toy store. No one has to have a motorcycle. Our major job is to have fun with our customers and make buying a motorcycle a fun process.
"We get headaches and heartaches just like every other businesses -- but one thing about us that other businesses don't have is that we're responsible for a lot of other people having fun, and that makes us feel good."
Pub Date: 3/22/99