BOISE, Idaho — While its sales reps were busy meeting with vendors last month during the company's national sales meeting, Western Power Sports was inking a deal on a new warehouse in Elizabethtown, Pa.
The 144,000 sq. ft. space, sitting on more than 23 acres, is one more piece to the distributor's nationwide expansion efforts. WPS already has a combined 380,000 sq. ft. of storage space at facilities in Boise; Memphis, Tenn.; and Fresno, Calif.
"It's going to allow us to touch the Northeast now. What's been a two-day and, in a couple of places, three-day ship now will be a one-or two-day ship," says Craig Shoemaker, WPS' president and CEO. "We already have some new staff that's coming on board because the warehouse will allow us to pick up more reps ... We'll definitely be shipping in summer 2009."
While a slowing market has put the brakes on the company's annual growth of 20 to 25 percent over the last five years, Shoemaker says recent numbers are looking up. "Our fall was the smallest increase we've had, but our spring and summer have been the biggest growth we've ever seen," he notes.
The company continues to expand into markets and territories that it did not previously service. It's doing so by hiring more sales reps, weeding through and adding to its product lineup, and adding warehouse space like the new Elizabethtown facility. Over the last year, WPS has increased its rep roster to 80 and now has about 70,000 parts numbers in its catalog.
As the company expands, more reps are being deployed to service dealerships, meaning those reps that used to drive 50,000 miles a year to cover their niches now are only driving 25,000.
CONVERTING SCOOTER RIDERS
It's the smaller-displacement streetbikes and scooters that are driving much of the sales. In fact, just about every vendor that had a finger in the scooter market talked about increasing the number of related products it would be offering for 2009.
Shoemaker says the company's sales in the street market could point to a positive trend for the industry as a whole. "I think we're bringing a lot of people into this market who haven't been [here], even if they ride that scooter and, when winter comes, put it away and not ride again," he says. "But some of them might go out and buy a motorcycle. I believe that we're going to have some people ... actually become riders instead of just being a scooter commuter."
All this talk about the street market is interesting given the perception — Shoemaker calls it a misconception — that WPS is a dirt-oriented distributor. The company has added to its street line over the last 10 years but has been doing so slowly.
"We sell more streetbike products than we do dirt products. We sell more street helmets than dirt helmets," Shoemaker says. He admits that two or three years ago this wasn't the case, adding that the distributor is trying to get over this misconception. In fact, many of the new territories WPS now covers are areas with huge streetbike sales, and many of the new reps are adept at selling street-related parts and gear. The only area WPS doesn't specifically service is the Harley-Davidson market.
STRONG SALES SUPPORT
In addition to the growing street market, Shoemaker also credits the hiring of a new national sales manager, Doug Riipinen, as a boon to the company's growth. Riipinen came to WPS in December after working at Yamaha for six years, most recently as a district sales manager.
"He's a great asset to the company that's really freeing up my time ... to do more behind the scenes and is leading the guys out front," Shoemaker says. "We have, right now, the strongest regional sales manager staff we've ever had by far." WPS has also hired a new brand manager for Fieldsheer and is beefing up its purchasing staff.
Not content to merely feast on those dealerships left out or leftover from the large distributors' business, he says his reps are going toe-to-toe with the likes of Parts and Tucker in some of the biggest stores in the industry, albeit cautiously.
"We know that if we don't have a warehouse there or don't have a rep there we don't even try to go in there," he says. "Until you can do it right, you might as well not try to do it."
Unlike the other large distributors, Shoemaker says the company has been slow to expand its house brands beyond Fly Racing and Shinko tires. He wouldn't offer any specifics on potential new brands, other than to say it would be about a year down the road and would be something different from what WPS is already doing. "We've been debating it for about two years now, and I think we're getting closer to pulling the trigger on that when the time is right."
For now WPS will focus its efforts on providing the tools needed for its reps to sell products, servicing those dealers who buy from the company and working with the vendors it represents. Shoemaker says there have been some bumps during the company's growth, but these rough spots have been addressed.
"We really try to do a little bit more selling and servicing of what we sell," Shoemaker says. "As large as we are, we really try to give our vendors a really good shot at selling their product instead of just getting lost in our catalog."