ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Owner Mark Allen started with a marine dealership. He bought another, then added three powersports businesses, finally consolidating everything in August 2012. There are separate buildings for powersports, marine and service, and a giant tent that houses an open-air side-by-side lot.
On the powersports side, First Coast sells a wide range of OEMs, including Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Polaris, BRP/Can-Am, Sea-Doo and Arctic Cat. A team of 30 employees is responsible for about 1,700 new and used unit sales each year. The expense of running such a big dealership reaches $250,000 each month. That, Allen said, is the equivalent of a medium-sized car dealership — and he’d know.
Allen grew up working at his family’s dealership, and he has headed several efforts to bring Toyota dealerships back from bankruptcy. More recently, Allen landed a management position at a Honda dealership in South Florida, reportedly helping to turn it into the largest car dealership in the world.
When the dealer opened a division for Honda motorcycles, Allen found himself at the forefront of the project, overseeing as many as 600 Honda motorcycle sales each month. After that, Allen returned to the automotive world, but after six months he realized that powersports had become home.
“I got lucky and got our first Honda store here,” Allen said. “But my whole background has been in selling cars, training, service in the largest stores in the country. So it was really interesting coming to one of the smallest markets in the state and creating one of the top stores in the country out of it.”
Allen makes it sound easy, but building First Coast Powersports has had its challenges. Prior to the consolidation, one of the locations lost $800,000 of inventory in a fire. One hundred new units, all stacked in crates, went up in flames. Most of the units were personal watercraft, but ATVs, side-by-sides and motorcycles were in the mix, too.
“That year was tough. All the news stations covered it as the whole business burned. It sounded like we lost everything, and we ended up losing two weeks of sales because it took that long for everyone to learn we were still open,” Allen said. “We consolidated two stores for the short term. Dealers throughout the rest of the state pitched in three or four units to help us have inventory.”
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