About Pro Italia
In 1987, Woods Motor Shop in Glendale closed its doors and left a great void in the Italian motorcycle market in Los Angeles. Suddenly, everyone around with a Ducati or Guzzi or Laverda (!) wondered what the hell we were going to do.
One of those Ducati riders was Earl Campbell, who had a vision to open a small, Italian bike shop to cater to the local aficionados. That became possible when he brought up the idea to his motorcycle buddies Bill Nation, Eric Lewald, and Glenn Morgan, who were already business partners in a small post production company in Hollywood. Those three had all met in college and had ridden bikes together in Tennessee before migrating to California to seek our fortunes: Bill as a professional photographer, Eric as an animation writer, and Glenn as a film editor.
As it happened, the only way to insure that we could get Ducati parts was to be a dealer, and the franchise was available. When we filled out the dealership application, there was a line that asked how much cumulative experience we had in the motorcycle business. We looked at each other, shrugged, and wrote “zero”. But our enthusiasm prevailed, and the partnership soon had the Ducati dealership and a great name to go with it: Pro Italia.
We leased a little storefront on Verdugo Road (formerly a travel agency), gutted it, turned the front end into a retail space and the rear into a service area. When we opened the doors in November, 1987, it was small but inviting. And Earl had a great idea: put a big window in the waiting room, so customers could see their bikes being worked on. It represented our mind set – we wanted to create a bike shop and atmosphere that we always imagined when we were customers ourselves: one that was owned and run by fellow enthusiasts.
Pro Italia soon became known as the hub of the Italian motorcycle culture in Southern California, and built a large and appreciative customer base.
The idea caught on. Pro Italia soon became known as the hub of the Italian motorcycle culture in Southern California, and built a large and appreciative customer base. We sponsored rides, prepped bikes for the magazines, created and built custom bikes, and started an annual Italian bike gathering called Café Desmo. And we were quickly one of the top Ducati and Guzzi dealers in the country.
In 1996, we moved down the street to a much larger building, where we’ve been ever since. We added Triumph and Aprilia to the line, and continued to grow. Earl had been brilliant at creating an ideal shop for customers to hang out in, but business was not his forte. By 1998, Pro Italia was in terrible financial shape, and Earl moved on. Bill took over the day-to-day operation of the shop, with Glenn and Eric continuing to lend support. There were other, short-term co-owners along the way, but we three remained at the core. And we learned a great lesson: the only way to have a great shop and serve our customers is to succeed on the business side as well.
Over the next few years, we hung in there and rebuilt the operation behind Bill’s leadership, with the support of an enthusiastic and loyal customer base. As the market changed, so did some of our bike lines: we dropped Triumph, Aprilia, and Guzzi, and added MV to our lineup. We were thrilled to eventually reinstate Aprilia and Guzzi when they became a good fit again.
In 2010, we gained another partner when long-time customer Bob Berkow joined our team, and brought invaluable business experience and knowledge to the mix. Over the years, Pro Italia has become an iconic dealership, with a thriving, international internet operation; and we continue to provide great bikes, parts, and service to our local and long distance customers. To top it off, we come full circle this fall, by adding Triumph to our lineup again, this time expanding into a great new location up the street.
Now, when we fill out a new application, we write “80+ years” in the experience box. It’s pretty amazing. Thanks for joining us on this incredible journey, and making Pro Italia the swell place it is today, and that we hope it will be for the coming 25 years.