Powersports East: Nathan and team show you how it's done

Publish Date: 
Apr 17, 2013
By Dennis Johnson

EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE a business becomes such a familiar presence in a customer’s life that the store and all of its employees start to feel like family.

This is the goal of many powersports dealerships — the shared enthusiasm, the regular riding and bench-racing, the first-name-basis hi and goodbye. But what separates a regular marketing drill from a sincere desire to connect? Ask Lynn Nathan; she’s been connecting for 28 years at Powersports East, her Top 100 multiline dealership in Bear, Del.

Monthly street and off-road rides. An open-door policy even on days they’re closed. An exclusive annual customer appreciation day. An annual bike auction. The regular events (parties, actually). A consultative, low-pressure sales atmosphere that likely reflects the nature of a store run by women — one of them, the GM, is Nathan’s daughter, Rebecca.

But it’s those monthly rides, held since the early days, and the meals and camaraderie shared out on the road that help make the store seem like home. Riding is close to Nathan’s heart. Before opening the dealership, she served as the curriculum director for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and was, along with her husband Joel Samick, a chief riding instructor.

“It gives the riding community in our area a real sense of belonging to the dealership. We want to make them feel like they’re part of the family,” Nathan says. “We want to know them by name and what they ride.”

They launched the off-road rides as a way to show their ATV customers recommended areas where they could legally ride their quads. The street rides emerged after the store ran a motorcycle safety course: The owners figured that with the new riders trained and licensed, it was time to get them out on the road. The camaraderie is informal; during these rides, the owners sometimes may even get to find out why someone shops at another dealership.

“It’s very enlightening to tell the truth,” she says.

Powersports East images by Denmarsh Photography

The now-retired Samick still leads the way for both the street and dirt rides each month, and writes up entertaining and irreverent ride reports for the store’s website. The narratives now serve as something of a voice of the dealership.

While the rides are the thing that keeps the dealership connected to the local riding community, inside the store there’s a little something-something that connects management and employees with their customers. Not only is it a family-run business — with daughter Rebecca slated to take over the store next year when Nathan retires — it’s a dealership proudly run by women: Nathan and her daughter, the store’s insurance agent and bookkeeper. Nathan says that if she could only find female sales personnel she’d be thrilled, but has yet to find anyone to fit the bill.

“So much change is in the air. The stock market is up. Way up. The clocks have only just today sprung ahead. Weeks of cold rain have finally given way to brilliant sunshine. Even the most blatant pessimists must now admit that spring is in the air. It is difficult not to be optimistic in general. It is time to ride your bike, damn it!”

 — Excerpt from Powersports East’s March monthly ride report

What’s so special about the atmosphere of a store with so many women in positions of power? Well, for one thing it engenders an overall culture of the business that’s much more touchy-feely, Nathan says. Customers respond differently to women than they do to men, she points out. New riders, especially men, are more at ease when dealing with women, and they don’t mind admitting to a female employee that they don’t know what they’re doing.

“They don’t get embarrassed,” Nathan says. “They also feel that women are more trustworthy, that they’re not just trying to sell them something — that they’re really trying to help them.”

And then there’s the clichéd nature of a motorcycle store being an aggressive, testosterone-filled haven of high-pressure manliness. Not so at Powersports East.

“We pride ourselves in not having aggressive sales staff,” she explains. “We’re very low-pressure. If someone’s too high-pressure, they don’t last here. It’s not part of our culture.” (Continued)