Garrett Paull isn’t a veteran of the motorcycle industry. He’s a retired airplane captain who spent 34 years with United Airlines. To fuel his lifelong love of motorcycling he sold his farm in Colorado in March 2008 and used the profits and his retirement fund to purchase Powersports of Joplin — a 21,000 sq. ft. multiline dealership that had been open for 25 years under multiple owners in multiple locations, but was languishing under an economy that was steadily heading south.
After one and a half years of ownership — which included funding an out-of-pocket refurbishment of the entire store — Paull has created a retail location that’s in the top 5 percent in its district for each of the three OEMs with which it does business — Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha.
“With Garrett not having any kind of experience in this industry, he has a completely fresh view,” explains Eric Slagle, Powersports of Joplin’s vice president and general manager. “Whereas many of us will think we have to do something a certain way because it has always been done that way in the bike business, he’ll ask ‘Why?’” As a result, Slagle says, the dealership does some things completely different than others.
“While every business is unique, business is business — you’re in it to make money,” Paull says matter-of-factly. “With that said, we go out of our way to make our customers feel important and respected and welcome. For us, it’s not just about selling bikes but about sharing a lifestyle. Our tagline is ‘The fun starts here.’ So, if you’re not having fun, and you’re not selling fun to your customers, you don’t have any business being in the industry.”
A REFURBISHED LAYOUT
The open sales floor has ATVs, cruisers and sportbikes positioned in separate sections. The parts and accessories department sits to the side of the vehicle sales floor and is highlighted by neon and backlighting. It features riding apparel on floor racks, glass helmet cases, a wall of slat-board dedicated to cruiser chrome, another wall offering nothing but off-road accessories, and a wall featuring street apparel.
The remodeled service department is located at the back of the store, and a large warehouse area at the opposing back side of the building is used for receiving new vehicles, storing service bikes and holding warranty items — “basically an area we use to keep everything else clutter-free,” Slagle says.
Other work done includes the addition of wall hangings (some of customer portraits) and new signs. The entire parts department was reformatted, and the customer lounge — which features a TV tuned to a motorsports channel — has comfortable couches and a play area for children, “to make it more like a living room,” Slagle says.
“Also, we installed much more efficient lighting that has saved us probably 25 to 35 percent of our energy costs,” he continues. “We recycle all of our cardboard, and we closely watch our air-conditioning and heating. We actually won an award for our efforts — one of the regional business journals gave us what they called the ‘Green Award.’”
Powersports of Joplin’s vehicle showroom operates with four people. New-unit sales are split pretty evenly between ATVs and motorcycles, and the store sells “a lot” of pre-owned (primarily in the cruiser category) that it sources from trade-ins and National Powersport Auctions.
So how’s business?
“Challenging,” Paull says. “We know many dealers are down 50 and 60 percent, but we’re not down like that, and I feel we’re doing better than many.”
Slagle agrees. “Our service department is about level with last year, our parts and accessories department is above last year, but major unit sales have been a challenge for us this year. Sportbikes are down this year, and we’ve seen a dip in off-road motorcycles, but our cruiser segment has done real well,” he says. “We’ve actually done pretty well with sport quads and our side-by-side business has been really good, with many customers who would’ve previously purchased utility ATVs now opting for the side-by-sides.”
PRIORITY PARTS & SPECIAL SERVICES
Perhaps the most unique part of Powersports of Joplin’s PG&A department is an oak and brass rail bar that’s lined with Honda and Yamaha stools and stocked with supplier catalogs.
“The ‘Parts Bar’ allows customers to belly-up and take their time in making notes, jotting down part numbers, etc., then giving those notes to our guys who are either standing by or at the parts counter,” Slagle says. “It all goes back to trying to make the customer feel comfortable rather than sold to, and has proved to boost our P&A sales.”
Customers gravitate most toward helmets and riding apparel, bolt-on cruiser items, products for their utility quads, and products for the Yamaha Rhino and Honda Big Red side-by-sides. Slagle says that many customers are dragging old bikes and ATVs out of barns and looking for parts to get the units to run again.
Paull notes that women’s apparel is another big focus for the dealership. “We cater a lot to our female clientele because, oftentimes, if a couple comes in and the wife is not sold, the husband won’t buy,” he says.
Genuine Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki products are a hot commodity, and Tucker Rocky, Parts Unlimited and Scorpion are among the dealership’s most-used suppliers. Displays are updated seasonally.
Powersports of Joplin’s service department is in the rear of the building, accessible by walking through the PG&A department and past the customer lounge or by riding up to the back of the building, where there’s an opening serviced by an electric garage door, and directly to the service desk. Checkerboard floors and bright lighting make it an inviting area.
Special services are also a specialty of Powersports of Joplin. Staff will run customer and vehicle drop-offs and pick-ups and while-you-wait servicing. “Tire and oil change specials run constantly,” Slagle says. “Also, although our store doesn’t open until 9 a.m., this year we started opening our service department at 7:30 a.m. to allow customers to drop something off before they go to work. It’s all about pleasing the customer, and we’ve really had a good response to that offering.”
ON THE BOOKS
F&I accounts for about 5 percent of Powersports of Joplin’s gross income. The dealership claims it can find financing for just about anybody through its local banks, credit unions and OEM programs. But it’s been a challenge, Slagle says.
The dealership typically completes about 70 percent of its deals with financing, but in the month of August saw about 65 percent cash deals. Why the big change? “Because, while credit has been tightened, the folks with money are still buying,” Slagle says.
“We’ve seen as high as an 80 percent turn-down ratio this year,” he says. “Still, with that said, we do a good job at getting a lot of people financed. In fact, we got some done the other day that I didn’t expect would get done. We work heavy on down payment, equity, etc., to make sure we get as much financing for our customers as we possibly can. We do whatever we can to get someone onto a vehicle.” This article originally ran in the Dealernews November 2009 issue.