Rain long into the selling season. Stored watercraft getting vandalized. Sales figures worse than 2009. The competition selling new units for what you’re selling used. The noticeable lack of customers. Consumer credit: what’s that?
Take your pick, there’s any number of reasons to be depressed about the powersports market. Things are pretty ugly. But isn’t this business supposed to be all about fun? Well, yes it is, but it’s kinda hard to be shiny happy powersports people with a major case of gloom casting a shadow across the industry.
Bill Cameron knows all too well the stark reality of today’s motorcycle biz as the owner of Skagit Powersports, a multiline store in Washington state. He’s seen how one event can eat up a year’s worth of co-op, how the flood of customers has slowed to a trickle. Yeah, he knows. But Cameron also knows that his attitude and leadership sets the example for his entire dealership, a 13-time Top 100 dealer and 2010 Dealer of the Year.
And if you’re going to try to liven things up and lead by example, Cameron is well-qualified to do so. He’s got a unique sense of humor and is quick to crack a joke.
“I just keep it light and we have all kinds of stuff going on. I never stop and that really helps,” Cameron says. “I think that’s it. You’ve also got to have a sense of humor.”
It’s also important to keep everybody occupied and to rid the store of gloomy employees. “We’ve gotten rid of every gloomy person. Until you lose them, and the cloud blows away you don’t realize they were so gloomy,” he explains. “When they’re gone, all of a sudden everybody is going ‘phew!’ It really is a big deal.”
These days, Cameron sees himself as less a manager than an entertainment director. He’s organized a monthly track day for his sportbike customers. He’s held store paintball tournaments. Then there was the recent big open house for which he brought in vendors that would appeal to higher-end, adventure-touring riders. It was his most successful open house in a long time, he says. And he’s just got some new equipment that allows him to record his own on-hold messages. (The most recent spot has Cameron talking over the Muzak, telling the caller, “You’re getting sleepy. Close your eyes. You’re getting sleepy.”)
Last year, Skagit held an online film festival contest and arranged for a big list of prizes from Tucker Rocky and Parts Unlimited, with the big award being a new Yamaha vehicle. In 2009, the store also put together an employee fishing derby. But you can’t talk about Skagit without mentioning the Warehouse Racing Association. This is the mini-bike racing series that takes place in a nearby rented warehouse that was once used for storage.
(Head to the video section at www.skagitpowersports.com to see footage of racing action.)
“Every Thursday night we have warehouse racing, and I get about 30 or 40 people who go in there and play. It’s really neat,” Cameron says, adding that during the last races he stood by the warehouse and soaked it all in. “You can just hear the sound of it. It’s really cool. You can hear these motors screaming, little 110s with first gear wound out and the tires screaming, screeching on concrete, and you’ve got six of them going around. It really is neat.”
For Cameron and Skagit, the racing isn’t confined to a warehouse. A monthly track day program Skagit launched a couple of years ago is going gangbusters. Cameron says he knew it would be a big deal after doing his own track day four years back. “I went to a track day and thought, ‘If I could get a customer to do this, it’s just as strong as heroin,’” he says.
Given the nearest track is about three hours and five traffic jams away from the dealership, Cameron has arranged for a shipping truck to pick up and drop off his customers’ bikes. The riders themselves travel to the track in a rented coach, which makes for a little carefree partying on the way home. The program attracts about 25 riders each month. “It’s so big now, that you couldn’t stop it,” he says. “Now they’d just get a bunch of guys with trailers and drive down.”
What the track day event also has done is create a group of built-in customers who have to have all the coolest stuff, all the time. Because of this, Cameron also launched a track day license program which allows qualified riders the chance to get substantial discounts on track day supplies through sponsorships that Cameron set up with some vendors. They also get bragging rights and an ID card with their picture on it.
“It’s working out great, and I’m selling a lot more stuff than I would have. I sold three sets of SharkSkinz bodyworks last week. Bodywork? I bet you could call 10 shops, and they haven’t sold one set this year,” he says. “We went and set up with Alpinestars as our leather guy. We decided we would go all-in and thin out some of the other stuff we were selling. A whole corner of the store is an Alpinestars leather center. We stepped up and got a lot of full suits. You’re not going to see too many shops with racks of full suits.”
In a day where loyalty is hard to come by and customers can chase prices all over Washington state and onto the Internet, Cameron is pretty stoked about how important his track-related business has become. “It’s really powerful. They go out and they’re my disciples. They go out and they make their friends buy the stuff they’re wearing and using.”
The best part of the program? There’s usually a tangible glow emanating from the customers, the employees and the store itself in the weeks following the track day.
So yes, there are dealers double-mortgaged and pouring more into their dealerships. There are noncurrent units sitting there price-tagged at $1,000 below cost. There are all kinds of problems compounding daily and the smoke doesn’t seem to be clearing, but as Cameron explains it, it’s a glass-half-full-or-half-empty kind of situation.
In his case, he makes do with what he has. One sales employee now does double-duty as the official video guy for shooting video walk-arounds. If an OEM throws out some co-op, he’s first in line to try to grab it. He even says the slow down is a great opportunity to spend extra time working with customers.
“There’s no more armies. You get one good customer and that’s all you can hope for,” he says. “Give them the whole day so when they leave, they go, ‘Man, I don’t want to go anywhere else.’ You’ve got to do things that nobody else does. Just give them the best experience possible.”
This issue originally appeared in the Dealernews July 2010 issue.