Putting the fun back in the powersports biz

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Bill Cameron of Skagit Powersports is a shining example of a dealer who knows that a down economy is no excuse for cutting way back on fun — for either his customers or employees. To inspire you even more, we culled ideas from other Top 100 dealers. We also surveyed our industry friends. Some suggested events; others said that now is a good time to reconnect with your customers.

Get creative with your bike nights. Mike Bruno’s Bayou County Harley-Davidson in Houma, La., has held a bike night with a Western theme, complete with mechanical bull rides. Other bike nights have had circus and Elvis Presley themes.

Green Mountain H-D in Essex Junction, Vt., has a monthly bike night that includes not only drinks and food specials, but fun contests. Each bike night includes a traditional Slow Bike Race as well as other not-so-common contests like a Big Wheel Contest (below), a Co-Pilot Balloon Toss, Pumpkin Bowling and Burnouts. The store holds the events, which are open to all makes and models, at a local historic restaurant/bar and gives out Essex Bike Night T-shirts as prizes. The store offers barbecue to order from a smoker in the parking lot. It also films a video of each bike night that it posts on its home page.

Show them the money. Who turns down free cash? Fun Bike Center Motorsports in Lakeland, Fla., brings in a money booth on certain Saturdays so new-vehicle owners and drawing winners can have at it in a game-show- challenge fashion. Onlookers are entertained, and customers walk away with a few extra bucks. Win-win.

Host gender-specific parties. Dealers report hosting both men- and women-only events, but the latter is obviously more popular. Bluefield, W.V.’s Cole Harley-Davidson says its first Garage Party in March 2009 was its most effective marketing campaign of the year. The store promoted the event through e-mails and in-store signage. To reach nonriders, staff attended a women-only motivational conference and handed out invitations. Cole H-D also advertised in a local women’s magazine and in newspapers. The store sent out a press release, and all three local TV stations and most of the area’s newspapers reported on it. About 45 women showed up to the event. Each attendee received a gift bag and enjoyed appetizers and desserts. Two attendees signed up for the store’s new Rider’s Edge training course.

Host dyno contests. At its spring open house, Cyclewise of New Haven, Vt., had a dyno on-site for a horsepower shootout. The store gave prizes to the top performers in each class. Other highlights of the event included flowers and chocolate for all women (it was Mother’s Day weekend), a DJ spinning music and announcing door prize winners every 15 minutes, demo rides, a bike show, technical seminars and a huge barbecue.

Pig-out at Pig Trail. Doughnuts faintly resemble tires, so it’s perfectly acceptable to host a Krispy Kreme-eating contest at your store. Just ask Pig Trail Harley-Davidson of Rogers, Ark. — and John “the Muncher” Stay, the winner of the contest and a $250 gift card.

Put some flair into your decorations. Cole Harley-Davidson in Bluefield, W.V., has a Harley-themed jukebox. It also has two 42-inch flat-screen monitors displaying photos of dealership events and Harley-Davidson videos.

Celebrate holidays. Mike Bruno’s Bayou Country Harley-Davidson in Houma, La., says that one of its biggest bike nights of the year is always Halloween. It places an inflatable haunted house in the middle of the dealership to act as the stage for a costume party.

For Halloween and Easter, Cole Harley-Davidson in Bluefield, W.V., invites kids and parents to the store to do some crafts, enjoy snacks and treat bags, and draw for a kids gift basket. During Christmas, Santa comes for a visit, and kids can get their photo with him on a new Harley.

Don’t forget vegetable promotions. Outdoor MotorSports in Spearfish, S.D., held its first Giant Pumpkin Contest in 2009. The store dedicated an area in its landscaping to growing the pumpkin. It held a naming contest in the spring — with Zuma being the winner — and the dealer posted pictures each week as Zuma grew into adulthood. At the end of the year, the store had a Zuma carving contest. Zuma was even recycled into dress wear at the end of his lifespan. This year, the store hopes to grow a 400-pounder.

Send in the hogs. If you can’t afford to hire a greeter, take a trip to the animal farm. Donahue Harley-Davidson/Buell in Sauk Rapids, Minn., “employs” potbellied pigs Lina and Sassie as the store’s whimsical greeters. The results? Instant conversation-starters, a lighthearted store atmosphere and some saved payroll cash to boot. Economical, fun and unique.

Treat your employees to some fun also. Star City Motors Sports in Lincoln, Neb., takes its entire staff, including their spouses and children, to Taylor Park, Colo., for a three-day, all-expense-paid trail ride during Labor Day weekend. The store treats management to an extended trail ride that covers 600 miles of off-road riding through the Rockies.

Conrad’s Harley-Davidson in Shorewood, Ill., rewards employees throughout the year with a company picnic with go-kart races, a Christmas party at a local bowling alley, free turkeys for all employees, and store discounts. The store offers select employees the opportunity to demo a new Harley for the year. Monthly full-staff meetings entail free doughnuts and coffee. An employee of the month is treated to the prime parking spot for the month and a Visa gift card. To round out the meeting, a team-building competition takes place with the winning group awarded free lunch for that day. Conrad’s reports having very little turnover.

On Labor Day weekend, employees of Davie, Fla.’s Broward Motorsports participate in a “Battle of the Stores” softball game for a little friendly competition.

Bullwinkle fans they are not. Due to the nearly fatal collision of a Vermont rider and a 1,000 lb. moose in 2007, a small group of riders created the nonprofit Moose Foundation. Its mission is to help injured riders. Each fall, Green Mountain Harley-Davidson has a Moose Foundation group ride with a moose burger BBQ. The store raises funds through donations and “Damn Moose” T-shirt sales. The store also hosts poker tournaments at its store for the foundation.

Mike Bruno’s Bayou County Harley-Davidson in Houma, La., hosts several bikini bike washes per year to raise money for charities. The girls donate their time, and the dealer donates the resources and uses its e-newsletter to get the word out. The dealership has gone a step further by teaming with Hawaiian Tropics to make its Hawaiian Bike Night the regional qualifying pageant. As you’d expect, this is one of the store’s most highly attended bike nights. Finally, Mike Bruno’s hired the Cajun Spice Bikini Team for its Men’s Night event.

Make your customer lounge a home away from home. The lounge at Grand Prix Motorsports in Littleton, Colo., features Internet access, four large recliners, a fireplace, a big-screen TV, and tables for pool, foosball and shuffleboard. Of course, free snacks, coffee and reading material are always good ideas.

Start your own club. Performance PowerSports in Seneca, S.C., bought Puckett’s Mill, a Civil War-era grist mill updated in the ’30s to generate power for a family. The store converted the condemned property at the bottom of a hill near a river into a clubhouse and campsite for The Bottom Motorcycle Club and Hangout. The club’s T-shirts include “I’ve seen the ‘Bottom,’” “I’ve Hit Rock ‘Bottom,’” and “I Got ‘Bottom.’”

Three proven ideas. 1) demo rides, 2) all-you-can-fit-in-a-bag sales events, and 3) a fun delivery process for major unit sales. As an example of the third idea, Bayside Harley-Davidson in Portsmouth, Va., asks all bike buyers to complete an in-house poker run. The salesperson walks customers to each department and introduces them to an associate, who congratulates them, gives them a gift, and has them draw a playing card. After the poker run, dependent on their poker deal, customers could win prizes ranging from a free T-shirt to a $500 gift certificate. Customers are also asked to “ring the bell,” a ship’s quarterdeck bell mounted outside the finance office. When the bell is heard, staff and customers shout aloud, applaud and greet the new owner into the Harley-Davidson family.

Have fun with displays. A Top 100 dealer favorite is suspending vehicles from the ceiling. Shown below is a limited-edition sportbike in Rick Roush Motor Sports in Medina, Ohio. The dirtbike display in Grand Prix Motorsports in Littleton, Colo., uses a suspension rope in combination with a bike stand. Of course, just regular vendor displays can be cool also. Just merchandise them well.

Get the media involved. After noticing radio DJ Scott Schulte (above) at events, McGrath Powersports in Cedar Rapid, Iowa, asked him to test-ride a bike weekly during the summer, then discuss it on his morning show with the store’s GM. Schulte blogged about each bike. He even mentioned the test rides when the store wasn’t paying him. Walk-in customers enquired about which bike he had ridden. At the promo’s end, Schulte wrote and performed the song “All the Bikes I’ve Loved Before.”