GoDaddy's Bob Parsons takes on the motorcycle market

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In the past many years, it’s been common to see successful businessmen jumping into the powersports retailing game — so much so, that it’s changed the face of what had been an enthusiast-born industry.

Lawyers. Doctors. Accountants. Professionals of all stripes have taken their hard-earned cash (and business acumen) and invested in small and large dealerships.

And then there’s Bob Parsons.

You may know of Parsons from his GoDaddy.com fame or from his company’s now legendary Super Bowl commercials, but what might be a surprise is that the tech industry giant is also a big-time enthusiast who returned to motorcycling four years ago and has since logged close to 85,000 miles on the road. In 2008 he turned his attention toward powersports retailing and now owns Go AZ Motorcycles, a multifranchise destination in Scottsdale, Ariz., that includes a BMW, Ducati, KTM and Triumph dealership, and a Honda store. So Parsons may be just another businessman-enthusiast-turned-dealer, but he’s one who sold his first business — Parsons Technology — for $64 million, and is the sole investor in the Go Daddy Group Inc. family of companies, which saw revenues upward of $497 million in 2008.

To complement his two stores, Parsons has also launched an e-commerce site at www.goaz.com.

Parsons believes he picked a great time to get into the industry, having picked up the franchises he now owns at prices that “we were very happy with,” adding that the opportunity likely won’t come around again for a very long time. Now he wants to focus on improving customer service, something he believes is lacking in most dealerships. This, he says, is the same tack he took when he built his first company.

“I spent a lot of time looking at that industry,” he says. “I’ve noticed that in this industry now, there are a lot of opportunties where things like customer service and that sort of thing [need to be fixed] and there’s some room for somebody to do it differently. “Service has kind of stumbled a bit. Most of the shops are run by people who were enthusiasts at one time or another and maybe are not necessarily good business people. What I’ve attempted to do was bring good solid business principles to the motorcycle business — at least to my business.”

His approach may sound like retailing 101 — having customers interact with employees who know and enjoy the business, offering wide inventories and good pricing, making service available for when the customer needs it — but it’s one he says has already earned him some loyal customers. And it’s one he’s directing toward his e-tailing operations. He launched the e-commerce site this year, using GoDaddy.com’s Marketplace as the backbone of the operation and its payment processing services to handle online transactions. The Marketplace is his company’s online sales hub launched as a rival to eBay and Amazon.

“Basically what I’m taking is what I’ve learned at GoDaddy.com and and what I learned at Parsons Technology before that, and transferring that to the online experience for Go AZ shoppers,” he says. “The most important thing is anticipating and answering questions that the customers have, and having lots of visuals. When somebody buys something online they can’t touch it or feel it. They have to make their buying decisions based on what visuals they see. So the most important thing is to have it very well-presented and to answers questions about size and materials, whatever those questions might be. “There’s a convenience in ordering something online, but it’s a royal pain in the ass to order something online and not get what you want and then have to go through the hassle of returning it.”

The goal is to offer them the right experience to get them to buy the products. The site does this by listing products according to brand, category and rider type (e.g. adventure touring, sport touring, street, off-road/ATV, cruiser and scooter) and posting multiple photos and related videos, and including complete product descriptions and shipping information.

“If you have an e-commerce site and you’re selling apparel or certain parts for a bike and you don’t have a good visual of that, your likelihood of selling that [product] is down the toilet,” he explains.

In addition to offering online all the brands of PG&A he carries in his stores, Parsons says he has the advantage of being able sell the branded gear offered by his OEMs. This interplay between his physical store and his websites also allow in-store customers to order products that can be shipped to their homes.

In the coming months, Parsons says that more products, videos and other functions will be added to his e-commerce site. “Our goal is to be successful in that area,” he says. “I don’t know if our goal is necessarily to be the biggest, although that has always seemed to happen in my experience.”

When asked about the friction that’s historically existed between brick-and-mortar stores and Internet sellers, Parsons likened it to the conflict that’s always existed between new technology and old traditions. That goes back to when people who had horses had conflicts with people who had cars, he notes. But to compete, retailers are going to have both a physical store and an online presence, he says.

But what of the traditional storefront dealers? Is there still room in the retailing world for them?

“Yeah, I think there is for the less profitable ones,” he says. “It’s that simple. If you want to have a dealership and you don’t care if it’s that profitable, be my guest.”