Friday, December 6, 2019

A return to Sam Avellino's legendary Royal Enfield shop

Exterior of Royal Enfield's New England distributor.
Avellinos shop in Revere, Mass. was the  New England headquarters for Royal Enfield.
(Photo courtesy of Angel Bart)
A mystery photo from the archives of the Royal Enfield Owners Club UK recently gave a vivid look into the past when Angel Bart, daughter of Sam Avellino Jr., identified two of the young men on the right in Royal Enfield T-shirts as her father and her uncle Richard "Dicky" Avellino.

Readers of this blog stepped up to identify some of the Royal Enfield motorcycles in photo as especially rare models that place the time of the photo as circa 1963.

Photo of motorcycles and young men in Royal Enfield T-shirts.
The mystery photo from REOC archives. Sebastian "Sam" Avellino Jr. is third from left
and his brother Richard "Dicky" Avellino is at right. The young man at left was a friend
of theirs but who? And who is the older man at far left? Where was the photo taken?
(Photo from the archives of the REOC UK)
The Royal Enfield on the extreme right, labelled as an Interceptor, is likely a rare 700cc VAX Interceptor, first of the Interceptor line of powerful twin-cylinder motorcycles. The motorcycle at extreme left is a Royal Enfield Fury single, with the Big-Head motor. These could be 1961 or '62 motorcycles.

This was a critical era for Royal Enfield in the United States, as it emerged in 1960 from years of badging its motorcycles as Indians for sale through Indian motorcycle dealers and began to sell through its own outlets, such as Avellinos.

In the process it would introduce Americans to the mighty Interceptor, the parallel twin powerhouse designed for American highways. The Interceptor, produced through 1970 in England, is reborn today as the near look-alike (but thoroughly modern) INT650 from Royal Enfield of India.

But questions remain. Who are the other two people in the photo, and where was the photo taken?

I theorized that the location was inside the legendary Avellinos motorcycle shop in Revere, Mass. It seemed to make sense. The photo is crammed with Royal Enfield motorcycles, a banner and advertising material. All this could have existed in the Revere shop, since Angel's grandfather, Sam Avellino Sr., was the New England distributor for Royal Enfield.

And there are what look like shop display windows behind the young men.

But Angel didn't think that was correct. The building didn't look familiar to her. And she sent me a photo of the exterior of the shop (seen at the top of this article) that seems to show plate glass windows that don't match the mullioned windows behind the young men in the mystery photo.

Three men inside motorcycle shop.
From left are Sam Avellino Jr., Sam Avellino Sr. and Richard Avellino inside the well-stocked shop.
A Norton motorcycle leaks oil onto a newspaper at left center of the photo.
(Photo courtesy of Angel Bart)
A second photo she provided, of the inside of the shop, doesn't show anything matching the mystery photo either — but it is nevertheless precious as it shows her grandfather Sebastian "Sam" Avellino Sr., her father Sam Avellino Jr. and her uncle Richard Avellino.

And then Brian Downing came forward. Brian knew the shop well — he had been going there with his dad since he was seven years old. That would have been in the early 1960s!

Brian was kind enough to share photos he took of Angel's dad, Sam Avellino Jr., on a visit "some time in 2007." That's a critical date: the shop was torn down in 2008. Sam Junior passed away in 2014.

Man standing against work bench in motorcycle shop.
Sam Avellino Jr. with Royal Enfield motor in the shop in 2007.
(Brian Downing Photo)
Like Angel, Brian gave me permission to use the photos here. Together, Angel's photos and Brian's will hopefully remind Royal Enfield enthusiasts of the Avellinos' contributions to Royal Enfield history in the northeast corner of the United States, back in the glory days.

Readers, if these photos awaken memories for you, please share them with us in the Comments section below.

Cluttered bulletin board in motorcycle shop.
Photos of motorcycles, clippings, and religious cards mingle on a shop bulletin board.
(Brian Downing Photo)

Royal Enfield motorcycles on floor of Avellino shop in 2007.
Royal Enfield motorcycles, antiques by 2007, crowd floor of the shop.
(Brian Downing Photo)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

How the Royal Enfield brand keeps the magic going

Scene from the Royal Enfield video "Astral Ride" shows stars.
Scene from Royal Enfield video "Astral Ride" on YouTube.
Blogger Jorge Pullin recently pointed to a YouTube presentation that explains the power of the Royal Enfield brand.

"The Enduring Magic of Royal Enfield: Understanding the Mojo of the Brand" was the topic of Royal Enfield brand manager Shubhranshu Singh's presentation at the Great Lifestyle Brands conference in India recently.

You can watch his entire talk on YouTube, but it's 40 minutes long.

Here is a quick summary, not that he needs help from me in explaining, but I'll take a few shortcuts to save time.

Singh begins with this:

"Things endure because they're relevant at each stage of their evolution. It's not like they are enduring simply because my grandfather still thinks that Royal Enfield is a cool brand and they make great bikes. It's because millions of consumers today — the ones who are intending to buy — also think it's relevant for them."

I take from that he means that while Royal Enfield clearly honors its heritage, as its decidedly retro-styled products attest, it doesn't ride on heritage alone.

He quoted Siddhartha Lal's 2005 statement, "We will put the world under the spell of a new order of motorcycling from a brand that continues to transcend time."

Critically, that was before the introduction of the modern Unit Constructed Engine and the new Classic 500 that together made Royal Enfield a roaring success in India and a player in motorcycling around the world.

Yet Lal's 2005 statement remains a guiding principle, Singh said.

It's not that nothing about the product changes. A brand that does one thing and one thing only risks consumer fatigue, Singh warned. But a brand that can be many things to many people over time can endure.

What does stay the same is this:

"There is an unwavering nature in the way in which the brand conducts its business," Singh said.

And what is that?

"So, for Royal Enfield, it is a feeling. It is a sense of passion," he said.

He goes on to say that it is also "a sense of belonging to a tribe." If you're riding a Royal Enfield and you see someone else riding a Royal Enfield, you feel "he's my kind of guy."

That may be true in India, where Royal Enfield has a long, uninterrupted history (almost as long being built in India as in Great Britain) and fantastic sales. But that sense of community, augmented by long-standing mass events in India such as Ridermania, doesn't much exist yet in the United States or anywhere else outside India.

That's OK. Royal Enfield will work to "create culture" around its brand everywhere, Singh said.

"So you take things at your slow and easy pace, you focus on doing few things but doing them very deep, and you try to build culture. So my submission would be that almost every brand can make an ad, most brands can do a reasonable job at marketing, very very few brands in the world can create culture from scratch."

Later in the talk Singh mentions that this could be as simple as having a weekend ride at a dealership — perhaps just a few riders merely going out to breakfast. From this comes a bond, increased interest and, for a few, commitment.

He was on firmer ground, still, I think when he emphasized this principle:

"No boundaries; which means everybody's welcome. It's an 'inclusivist brand,'  there is no exclusion, there is no platinum grade rider and life behind the velvet rope and you're not eligible because you've not clocked 30,000 kilometers, nothing like that."

"Pure motorcycling," gets mentioned, of course, by which Royal Enfield always means "authentic; not being plasticky; not being — you know — talking about features alone; it's not about compelling you to do something, it's about motivating you to do something. So it's always a 'pull' orientation rather than bombarding you with commercial-seeking messages."

"When others are zagging we would like to zig and when others are zigging we would like to zag, and that's also provided a lot of distinction to the brand. For instance, even today, as a motorcycle, we are naked, we are metallic, we are heavier, we are not necessarily the fastest motorcycle, we are not the most tech laden," he said.

Others can do those things, he said. There's no need to join them.

If you have the time, it's worth watching the full 40 minutes to get a full sense of why Royal Enfield does the things it does. But, even if you don't, take just a few seconds to watch this excerpt, in which Singh concluded with a tribute he didn't expect his boss Siddhartha Lal, would ever see.

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