“Mr. Motorcycle” Celebrates Several Birthdays 48 Years In The Business... 30 Years At Same Location... And, Personally, His 79th!
His name is Billy Howard Epley and he has an infectious smile. Everyone calls him Bill. He is the founder and owner of E & H Motorcycle Sales & Service, Incorporated. This past weekend he celebrated 30 years at the same location - 122 M. D. Blanton Circle in Forest City. It’s a location tucked away off Broadway. But this is not the full story. He has been selling and servicing motorcycles for 48 years. First in Forest City, then Spartanburg and when he grew tired of driving back and forth, he finally came back home and built his present location. Another part of this weeks celebration was that this past Sunday, May 15, Bill was 79 years old!
He gets up at 5:30 a.m. six days a week and can’t wait to get to work. One thing you can say about Bill, customers follow him like a cat when you give it a bowl of milk. You might say his customers “feed” off him. There’s good reason for this. You see, Bill is very big on customer service. With him, that’s a priority.
What caused this attitude? The reason is very simple. When Bill and a friend, Bill Bennett, were looking to buy a new bike, they went to a dealer in Valdese, in 1960. They ordered two Triumph bikes. When they came in, Bill and his friend went to get them. As they arrived, the owner was walking out the door. Bill told him “we got our money on our hip and want to pick up our new bikes”. The owners reply was: “you’ll have to come back because I’m going fishing!” Frustrated, Bill and his friend left and drove to another dealer in Charlotte. They waited over 20 minutes in the showroom and no one waited on them. When finally someone waited on them, they had to wait another 15 minutes or so to get a price. When he returned he blessed them both out when they mentioned how long they waited. So, the next week they went to Spartanburg to a Harley-Davidson Dealer. Probably, because they were so young, they ended up getting laughed at. That did it! Bill went to a newsstand and bought two motorcycle magazines and started writing letters not only to buy a bike, but to inquire about becoming a dealer. Within two weeks he got replies.
Then, one day at his day job, bottling at the Pepsi plant where he worked for five years, Bill was told there was someone there to see him. He said they would have to wait a few minutes until he finished his run. When he came to the office, there was Otis Jones from Federal, N.C. He had a truck and trailer with seven new motorcycles. He asked Bill to sign for them and he not only got his new bike, but also was in business. He had no dealers license to sell and needed to get one. He had only $550 to his name, so he took the bikes and stored them in a building behind his father’s house. He kept his day job at the Pepsi plant and sold the bikes in the evening. To get them financed he had to drive to Gastonia. It was the early 60’s and the determined Mr. Epley was on his way!
He also never forgot how he was treated. To this day, customer service is number one. The day I visited the dealership, a gray headed man who came by to wish Bill continued success, simply stated: “He sold me my first bike when I was a teenager and I follow him everywhere.” As folks came and enjoyed free hot dogs, drinks, and chips, they all had to come in and shake Bills hand and wish him continued success. E & H Motorcycle has what every business would love - customer loyalty. Bills customers are his friends.
Bill and his wife, Georgia, have been married 60 years. She was 16 and he was 18 when they were married by W. R. Douglas in Gaffney. It cost Bill $10. He told his mama he was going fishing. She asked him why he wearing a white dress up shirt to go fishing. Georgia got dressed up and told her mom she was going to church. Now, they have three children, Melinda, Susan and Howard. Georgia said Bill told her they were going to keep having babies until he got a boy! So, for her, the third child was a welcome relief! She cooks him breakfast every day. He always has oatmeal and sometimes an egg with some livermush. She also packs him a lunch every day. It’s either a ham and cheese sandwich or bologna and cheese plus three sugar free peanut butter cookies and either a banana or apple. His favorite meal is pintos and cornbread and then some banana pudding.
As for working, Bill will tell you that he will “keep working ‘til God gets me.” His order of priorities? “God is first, my wife is second, and my kids third.” He now has ten grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren with one more on the way in July.
What is the key to his success? “Just being nice to people!” That, my friends, is very obvious! Bill has no customers, just friends!