Randy Campbell’s dealership showroom is full of eye candy.

“They’re like jellybeans,” Campbell says of the unique sets of wheels, and pretty much every flavor is parked on his poured concrete floor. Shiny colors with names like “daring plum” and “dragon red” are like flames to the moths walking in the door; they can’t help but stroke the metallic curves while easing into the seats.

The Italian label is what draws them in. It’s the kind of vehicle that has its own product line — hoodies, T-shirts, even greeting cards, all of which Campbell stocks in his store. On the walls hang posters of movie stars posing regally next to the “jellybeans”, reiterating to customers that they are purchasing an elite product.

If his customers shop at Burberry or Louis Vuitton — which they likely do, Campbell says, because his brand is all about name recognition — they can order custom leather seats with either designer’s emblem. In fact, they can order custom pretty-much-anything. The basic model features luxuries like chrome lining, steel chassis and ergonomic design; any upgrades can be tailor-fit to the driver’s needs.

The only non-negotiable is the number of wheels: Scooters come with only two.

Anyone who knows anything about scooters recognizes the name “Vespa”. The pedigree Italian label, the Cadillac of scooters, accounts for at least 50 percent of Campbell’s sales. People whose experience on two wheels is limited to riding a bicycle will walk into his Vespa Dallas showroom and fork over a credit card, just for the sake of the name.

And if they’re going to buy a Vespa — or any scooter, for that matter — they’re going to buy it from Campbell.

That’s because Campbell is pretty much the only game in town. There are the big-name dealers — Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha — but as for as the small pond of scooter-only dealers, Campbell is the big fish. Just a couple of other scooter dealers exist — Moxie Scooters in Colleyville and Eurosport Cycle in Fort Worth are the closest competitors — and they can’t sell new Vespas. That’s because Vespa franchises are protected trade territories, and Campbell holds claim to the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Around these parts, you might call him the scooter mogul.

Campbell makes no apologies for his monopoly, and freely confesses that he has put other scooter dealers out of business.

The prime example was the closure of the original Vespa dealership in West Village, which Campbell bought in December 2004. He had opened University Scooters barely a year before, originally planning to fix and sell vintage scooters and parts. But when customer after customer came in looking for new Vespas, Campbell resolved to get his hands on them.

“I bought every used Vespa that I could find around town — Craigslist, eBay, the newspaper — because that was the only way you could get ’em,” Campbell says.

“I had 10 used ones, and [West Village] had none. A customer would go into their store and look at the price of a new Vespa, and I could beat them on price and service. I actually drove the value of the Vespa down.”

That Vespa dealership sold 91 scooters in 2004. In 2005, the year after Campbell took over, that number shot up to 351 — nearly tripling Vespa sales and almost quadrupling overall scooter sales.

That first year and every year since, Vespa Dallas has been a top 10 nationwide seller of the brand. In 2006 Campbell moved into the new showroom less than a block away from the original University Scooters store, which now operates as a maintenance and repair shop, and he also opened Vespa Fort Worth.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t even own a scooter when he decided to get into the business.

Real estate investments were Campbell’s bread and butter for 15 years, until a friend serendipitously rode a vintage Vespa over to Campbell’s Swiss Avenue home. It had been years since Campbell had seen one up close. Once an avid motorcyclist, he wasted no time hopping on and taking a joyride up and down the street.

The next time Campbell’s friend came over, he was hauling two vintage Vespas on a trailer, and they rode together to the West Village dealership — the first time Campbell saw the “jellybeans”. Campbell began asking around to see if anyone in the area was dealing the older model scooters. When he couldn’t find a major player, Campbell decided to give it a go.

The vast majority of scooters he sells today are either new or used versions built starting in 2001, when Vespa made its grand return to the United States after a 15-year hiatus. But Campbell hasn’t completely given up on vintage models. In the back of his dealership is a room he calls “the museum”, and it holds the collection Campbell began accumulating soon after his first ride in 2003. The oldest is a 1954 Vespa, made before began exporting their scooters to the in 1957. The movie “Roman Holiday” was partly responsible for the popularity, Campbell says, with Americans swept up by scenes of Audrey Hepburn riding sidesaddle through Europe with Gregory Peck at the wheel.

Then as now, Campbell says, the American demand for scooters is all about style, and to this day, Vespa is the luxury trademark.

It’s not surprising, then, that until recently Campbell described the typical “scooterist”, as he calls them, as “35 to 55 with disposable income”. Scooters are somewhat like boats, Campbell analogizes: “This is not something that people have to have.”

But the scooterist demographic is changing, he says. It started with Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 when gas prices climbed to more than $3 almost overnight. Scooters, which get between 75 and 125 miles to the gallon, suddenly became much more popular.

“That’s when our sales went through the roof,” Campbell says. “It brought a whole different buyer to us.”

Buyers wanting to save money at the pump are drawn to his highway scooters that travel at speeds of 90-plus miles per hour. People with long commutes into Dallas are beginning to trade in their gas-guzzling SUVs for these versions, which get 75 miles to the gallon, Campbell says.

The scooter gaining the most steam, however, is the Buddy. At $1,899, it’s the most economical scooter in the store, and it gets 100 miles to the gallon. With stats like that, Campbell says, it’s starting to rival the Vespa.

Judging by his scooter sales, Campbell says the economy started contracting in the last quarter of 2007. He says people now walk into the store and tell him: “You know, I have to do something.” But Campbell is often surprised that a scooter is the answer.

“If you live three miles from downtown, how much do you think your SUV is going to burn each day? But if you live in Allen … it’s all about how far you drive,” Campbell says.

“Those savings will not make the payment on that $5,000 scooter unless you’re riding it 10,000 miles a year. Your weekend warrior isn’t going to pay for it.”

Yet Campbell can simply glance out the window at the Shell station across the street from Vespa Dallas and come up with a pretty accurate sales projection: As those numbers increase, so do his.

For some people, though, the economy is not the motivation but the justification for a scooter purchase. Yes, scooter riding is economical and eco-friendly, Campbell says, but at its heart, it’s just plain fun. And for that reason, his customer base will always be people who just want a jellybean.

That could be said for Stonewall Terrace residents Sharon and Mike Martin.

“Randy is really bad. He has all those cute scooters out in front of his store all the time,” Sharon Martin says, “and because of where we live, I drive by there often, and they catch your attention.”

The jellybeans were enough to draw her into the showroom about a year ago to start asking questions. The Martins already own a hybrid car, and Sharon Martin was impressed with the scooters’ high gas mileage and low emissions — plus, she says, “they’re cute.” It took her about six months to convince her husband, a Dallas Police Department detective, to let her buy one.

“I’m in my 40s and I wanted something fun to drive to work,” says Sharon Martin, manager of the Preston Royal and Park Forest library branches. “My husband kept saying, ‘No, I don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s not you I’m worried about — it’s other people.”

He finally visited the dealership, however, and Campbell told him all about the scooter safety classes at RiderCourse Center, and that roughly half of his buyers are women. Mike Martin finally relented, on the condition that his wife’s scooter had to be red or yellow for visibility.

When they bought the scooter, a Vespa, Sharon Martin didn’t yet have her motorcycle license, so her husband, who raced motorcycles as a teenager, was happy to break it in.

“We all kind of knew it was a matter of time before he would settle on one, and he did,” Sharon Martin says. “Of course, he has a faster, more powerful one than I do, but mine is cuter.”

Her Vespa is yellow and his is navy blue, and they often ride together to church at St. Matthew’s Episcopal, to the grocery store or to NorthPark Center. Both of them ride their bikes to work — two or three times a week, in Sharon Martin’s case, and often in a dress, which draws quite a few questions from women asking her how that works. Mike Martin doesn’t ride his Vespa to the Jack Evans building downtown as often, but when he does, he gets plenty of harassment from the other police personnel.

“I’ve threatened to park it beside their Harleys, and they threaten back. Some of it I can’t repeat,” he says, but adds that it doesn’t faze him. “It will be a sad day when I start worrying about what they think about it.”

Campbell has his own set of jellybeans, of course — four Vespas he keeps in his garage (the cars have been relegated to the driveway). Two of the four belong to his wife, one of them a “Princess” scooter decked out entirely in Mary Kay pink. And if Vespas are the Cadillac of scooters, then Campbell’s selection includes an Escalade — the Vespa GTS250.

Of course, his options aren’t limited to what’s in his garage. The choice of what jellybean to drive is one of the perks of being the scooter mogul, and Campbell relishes the answer:

“Anything I want.”


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