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Northwoods Harley Davidson helps put Arbor Vitae on the map

Northern Wisconsin motorcycle dealership earns Bar & Shield Achievement Award

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June 10, 2024

ARBOR VITAE – Harley Davidson, an American motorcycle manufacturer whose beginnings date to 1903 in Milwaukee, has thousands of dealerships around the globe.

One such dealership, Northwoods Harley Davidson – located at 1700 U.S. 51 in the small Town of Arbor Vitae in Wisconsin’s Northwoods – recently found itself the talk of the industry.

The motorcycle dealer was one of just 24 in the country that received the Harley Davidson Bar & Shield Achievement Award, which recognizes it for its excellence in performance and customer service.

“It’s a huge honor,” Co-owner Jesse Zambon said. “Award winners have to hit the sales goals Harley expects – there is a point system for several different categories, but it’s heavily weighted on customer service. It’s stuff most people might not care about but we certainly do.”

In selling more than 200 Harleys per year, Zambon said Northwoods Harley was in the top 10% nationally when it came to garnering the award.

Working with about 11 full-time employees, he said his crew is dedicated to quality customer service.

“Our employees are specialized and have experience – they care about the customers,” he said. “When most people walk through the door, they say, ‘hey Jim, hey Tom, hey Steve.’ They know our employees by their first names – they have that relationship and trust we’re going to take care of their bikes any time of the year.”

Though the motorcycle industry in northern Wisconsin is tough during the colder months, Zambon said Northwoods Harley’s customers are loyal.

“It’s give and take – we do the best we can for the customers and invest in the business with new technologies and training,” he said. “I think we have a good reputation.”

Northwoods Harley Davidson recently welcomed a group of female riders from Michigan to the dealership in Arbor Vitae. Submitted Photo

Zambon, along with his wife, Amanda, co-own the shop with minority owner Al Ison.

“Al and I are close,” Zambon said. “Him and his wife, Darby, are like family to me.”

General Manager Andrew Thibodeau, Zambon said, should also get loads of credit for the dealership’s success.

“He has his boots on the ground, and I’m the man behind the scenes,” he said.

Though Northwoods Harley has several different departments, Zambon said they are all in the same building.

“We have parts, clothing, labor, sales and finance all in one location,” he said. “We operate like a fast-food restaurant – we have all these different avenues Harley measures.”

Bringing Harley to the Northwoods

The original owner of Northwoods Harley, Zambon said, was Jerry Renner.

“Jerry has since passed, but he and his wife started Northwoods Harley in 1997, I believe,” Zambon, who has been co-owner since March 2022, said. “It was a new build and a new shop – they were the ones who brought a Harley shop up north… Harley Davidson probably thought they were crazy.”

Before opening Northwoods Harley, Zambon said Renner owned a Harley dealership in Milwaukee.

“He sold that, made a decent chunk of money and had a good relationship with Harley,”
he said. “He had property in northern Wisconsin – he and his wife loved the area. At some point, he had a partner in the business as well.”

Zambon said he reckons Harley Davidson had some reservations about the vitality of a dealership succeeding in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

“I think Harley basically said, ‘if you want to do a dealership up there, you can, but I’m not sure if it will work or not,’” he said. “This area is so populated in the summer – that’s what gets us through.”

Weathering Mother Nature

Zambon said being in the motorcycle business “is tough sledding during the winter” thanks mostly to Mother Nature.

“Though it’s tough in the winter, we do a lot of business during the other six (months),” he said. “We do winter storage – that’s a big part of our business. We store more than 200 bikes – most of those people plan their maintenance when they drop their bikes off. We also do a lot of accessories – custom building and that kind of stuff.”

Northwoods Harley, Zambon said, also has an extensive amount of Harley Davidson apparel available for purchase.

The tradition of riding motorcycles

Zambon said several factors have contributed to Northwoods Harley’s success over the years.

“Some of our customers live in other parts of the country in the winter, like Florida and Arizona, and then live up here in the summer,” he said. “We also have people who might live in Chicago but have a cottage up here. They have a bike at home and a bike here. People also like to trade in and upgrade – it’s a revolving door. If something new comes out, they might say, ‘I want to upgrade.’ Depending on where you live in the country, motorcycle riding – especially in (the rural) Midwest – is growing.”

Northwoods Harley Davidson also carries an extensive line of apparel. Submitted Photo

Zambon said riding motorcycles – Harleys in particular – is a timeless activity.

“My family has been in the motorcycle industry since the 1960s – my grandparents, my dad and my brothers,” he said. “We seem to rebound quicker in the motorcycle industry than other businesses. It’s that freedom of being outside in nature on a bike. You can use it as a commuter or go on trips. It’s a pastime I don’t think will ever go away.”

Zambon said Harley’s rich tradition also helps.

“Harley Davidson is by far the No. 1 motorcycle manufacturer in the country,” he said. “They have a lot to offer customers. Every dealership is unique and has different events. You have major events like Sturgis, Daytona and Milwaukee that bring in tens of thousands of people. Up the road in Tomahawk – a Harley-supported event – brings in 30,000 people into the area for the week. I think it’s also good for the economy and the country in general.”

 Zambon said Northwoods Harley coordinates special events itself, like chili cookoffs, organized rides and more.

“I think that’s what separates us from the bigger Harley dealerships – we have a lot of interactive events with customers,” he said. “We like people and are always trying to throw things together to have a good time and give them a reason to go for a ride and stop by the shop.”

Northwoods Harley’s hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week except Sunday when the dealership is closed.

To learn more about Northwoods Harley, visit or head to its Facebook page.

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