Eric Slagle, Powersports of Joplin: 'Hedging our bets for 2011'

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Powersports of Joplin's showroom.

Eric Slagle, general manager of Powersports of Joplin, a Top 100 dealer in Joplin, Mo., on what he gleaned from 2010.

"We are hedging our bets on 2011. The recovery is not going to be a fast one, but, we have seen enough “light at the end of the tunnel” to go full blast into the new year. Local events, advertising and bringing attention/people directly to the dealership is going to be a point of major focus for us. We have a number of events lined up already. We are focusing on blanketing our local market with PowerSports of Joplin — drawing in business that is not necessarily associated with our business.

"Our online presence has taken a major leap, and we are going to continue to push online. We have switched to a more shopping-oriented website and we are working on getting our name out everywhere in social media.

"We are also making sure we have the proper amount of staff to handle traffic, and that the staff is trained to provide a great customer experience to everyone who comes in the doors. You do not have to give away product at a cut-rate price to survive. Well-trained, knowledgeable and friendly staff can build value in your product as well as your dealership. Making sure that happens here every time is a major goal for 2011.

"We are going to be more prepared in 2011 than we were in 2010 — like listening to more of what our customers are telling us. I have always said the customer will tell you how to sell them and how they want to be treated. I am afraid that we fell down on that a bit in 2010. Floor traffic was down, financing was tighter, and everyone’s general mood about buying was cautious. If we had listened better, we could have maximized on the customers that were here. The result, I am afraid was lost sales in both departments (sales and P&A). That is something that no one can afford right now.

"We had a lot of “green” staff members, as well. Although we remained high in our OEM rankings, we can’t help but think we lost sales because of it. In this business, experience counts. As general manager, I have always been very involved with our customers. In 2010, it seem like I was spending all my time looking at budgets, spreadsheets and bottom lines instead of interacting as much with the customers. While budgets are important, the people in your dealership are what keep you open, so they're much more important. The personal involvement of the owners and GMs are vital for a dealership. Customers like to see and talk to you. For 2011, that will change. We will “get back to basics” and be much more involved personally with our customers.

"Specific changes are to include better and more in-depth training of our staff in other departments. This way, we can effectively cover P&A and sales better. We have always touted cross-training, but, in 2010, we did not do it as well as we could have. Training will be more important than ever. We will be properly staffed to make sure we do not get surprised by traffic and unable to handle it. We are going to be more involved than ever in the local community. This will drive traffic to us.

"Another goal for 2011 is to have more fun. We sell motorcycles and ATVs, we need to focus on why we got into this industry. There are going to always be plenty of negatives out there, so have a good time doing what you do. We want to work hard, enjoy our customers, ride more and just generally run a good business. Success is out there, we just have to keep swinging. We will hit that home run.

"We did see a significant downturn in business in the beginning of 2010. As we close out the year, we have seen a good uptick. What this did to us was make us much more aware of the money going out and coming in. We revised budgets, looked at every expenditure and tried to maximize cash flow. It made us cautious, so we downsized some by not replacing staff when others left. We looked long and hard at inventory levels, and reduced where we could to save costs.

"2010, what we did right? Well, I truly believe a lot. I touched on some of the downfalls we had, but, we did manage to increase our market share by 10 percent. Our November numbers entering the holiday season were up by 12 percent. Our P&A department took on a fresh new look and a more customer-driven sales policy. Our service CSI scores have never been higher, and our sales department has increased sales in the back half of the year over 2009. We are actively working on dominating our local market through customer service and fair business practices. We have earned the respect and repeat business of our customer base and look forward to the challenges that 2011 might bring."

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