Five Questions: Laura Lemco

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The following is the full version of an excerpt that appeared in the Dealernews November 2011 issue.

The Lemco name is synonymous in the powersports retailing world with exacting training, detailed reporting, precise tracking and constant improvement. With Ed Lemco’s death in July (which brought a tremendous outpouring of support from the industry), his daughter Laura is now the Lemco in the industry. Laura heads Lemco Motorcycle Industry Consulting Services, focusing on running 20 Clubs and transition consulting. We followed up with her to talk about her dad and the future of the Lemco brand.

DEALERNEWS: How long have you worked in the powersports/consulting business?
LAURA LEMCO: I have worked in the motorcycle industry off and on all my life. I suppose if you condensed it, it would total at least 14 years. My dad was a Honda-Suzuki dealer when I was young and he soon added Harley-Davidson. He later became one of the first Honda car dealers in the country, and it was through NADA that he gained his first exposure to 20 Clubs. He later sold his retail businesses and became a consultant, bringing the 20 Club concept to the powersports industry. I experienced all this firsthand and saw what was “behind the scenes.” I understand what it means to scramble for payroll and to know the pressure of having to sell a certain amount that day to keep the doors open. I also grew up with great memories of company Fourth of July picnics and Christmas parties. Our dealership staff was extended family to me — it never crossed my mind to think differently.

As an adult, I have worked in the powersports industry in the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and Australia. I have worked with small operations tucked away on the quiet side of town, to the big boxes with freeway exposure. I have been involved with most aspects of most departments, though I must say I stick to numbers when it comes to the service department. (You don’t want me trying to fix something mechanical!) Through the constant exposure and experience in so many facets of the industry, I have come to love the people, the fun and the challenges of running a retail motorcycle dealership.

DN: Your father holds an important place in the history of powersports retailing. What influence did he have on you and your professional life?
LEMCO: How do you describe something that big or influential? I am so thankful for dad’s examples of:
Wisdom — not just about business, but so many details in everyday life. He looked at the whole picture and tried to see it from different angles.
Humor — he loved a good story, and I can still hear his laugh.
Caring — dad’s huge capacity to care for others. He helped so many people simply out of his desire for them to succeed and make the most of the resources available to them.
And then, of course, he exemplified so much business acumen. Dad had an incredible ability to look at the numbers, see the problems and come up with solutions. Amazing. It has made me love numbers and reports. Dad used to have a quote on the wall about the importance of perseverance. He was the epitome of that quality. He really never gave up.

There are not enough pages in your magazine to list all the failures, but the successes were all the more sweet because of the struggle to get there. Anyone that knew him got almost tired of hearing about the Traffic Log. But, really, what is more important than who came through your door and what happened to them?

DN: What lessons did you learn from your father that you apply to your everyday work?
LEMCO: Dad had an incredible work ethic, and he worked because he loved it. Yes, he wanted to make some money, but that wasn’t his strongest motivation. This wasn’t his quote, but I believe this describes him well: “Life is short. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life!” Dad lived his own life.

My main focuses in the consulting business are 20 Clubs and transition consulting because those are what I enjoy doing best and where I can add the most value. I want to learn, grow, share and contribute to the success of others. I hope to continue dad’s legacy in a way that honors him, but also adds the particular strengths that I have to offer.

DN: What is the biggest impact your dad had on motorcycle retailing?
LEMCO: Dad brought business processes and professionalism into motorcycle dealerships when the [stores] were mainly hobbies. He didn’t invent having a sales procedure, reporting, analyzing, questioning and improving, but he sure helped make them serious pursuits for many dealers. I believe dad also brought dignity to the roles of the staff in dealerships. He knew many employees move on, but while they work in a dealership, the processes and procedures he taught enabled them to learn and practice transferable skills that they could take to their next position.

DN: What are some of the biggest benefits of joining a Lemco 20 Club?
LEMCO: Our groups are not for everyone. They are unique a few ways. For starters, he owned dealerships. I grew up in them and now I am an owner, too. I often can’t give candy-coated answers because I know they don’t always exist. Sometimes it’s just plain hard work. But in relating to the struggle by having gone through so much of it ourselves, we work together with clients to find solutions.

We also do a lot of “extra” reporting. Our Lemco Composite has been imitated, but not improved upon. It is the backbone of our 20 Clubs. The weekly department tracking has become increasingly important in getting department managers and staff involved in contributing to the success of the dealership. It’s difficult to get some managers to participate. It’s tough to admit sometimes what the numbers are telling you and to take action. Those who embrace the reporting requirements come to utilize them for greater improvements in every department.

We are not a social group. We do socialize and we do build friendships, but the focus is constant improvement. As dad often said, “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” Running a dealership is not easy, and neither is being a consultant! We do encourage one another, but we also ask a lot of questions. No one can be the best in every area and it takes some humility to be open and honest with the group.

A Lemco 20 Club brings the most benefits to the members who fully participate. To “smorgasbord” and implement only what you feel like doing doesn’t bring the same results. For those who are willing to constantly hire, train, track and sometimes even let staff go based on performance, a well-run, profitable dealership becomes the biggest benefit.

DN: Should all dealers develop an exit strategy for when they decide to sell?
LEMCO: Yes, they should, but this would be hard to do on your own. Some people can prepare their own financial plan, or write their own will. You do these things only a few times in life, however, so it’s hard to gain the experience you need to navigate all the options and strategies. Having someone with experience can save you time, money and angst.

DN: What are some of the components of a successful exit strategy? LEMCO: Set your ego and emotions aside. You have a lot of history, money, sweat and tears invested in your business. You can cherish those things, but you can’t really sell them. You are selling a future income stream. Know what you want to do next — have a dream to move on to.

Surround yourself with good advisors (and I’m not just saying “pick me!”). Retain an attorney that has experience in acquisitions in this industry, as well as an accountant that can help you navigate through the complexities.

DN: How has the business changed since you first became involved?
LEMCO: The motorcycle world has become more complex — more complicated machines, greater choice and variety, a huge number of complimentary products, all sorts of ways for customers to gain information and so on. I feel a bit repetitive to say more challenges and more opportunities, but it is true.

DN: Where do you see it going from here?
LEMCO: I believe the motorcycle industry will get even more business oriented, more numbers driven, and more competitive. It’s certainly not the world of the mom and pop shops anymore. As with many industries, I also see it becoming more “globalized”. We (the US) used to dominate the world in terms of sales volume. That is becoming less and less the case and OEMs are focusing more attention and investment on global markets.

DN: What would you like to add that I didn’t ask?
LEMCO: Just one little story — When I graduated from college, a family member criticized my choice to become an overseas missionary and said I should pay my dad back for all that college tuition. When my dad heard about it, he stomped out of the room. Then he stomped back in, looked me in the eye and said, “The only thing you owe me is to do the best you can do for your kids.” Losing my dad was so immense, but I look at my boys and continue on — doing the best for them that I can do.