Flagstaff, Ariz., is the government seat for Coconino County, which is, by area, the second largest county in the continental United States. Flagstaff itself spreads over 64 square miles at the desert base of Arizona's San Francisco Peaks, and it's surrounded by one of the largest pine forests on earth. At nearly 7,000 feet up, the city also is one of the highest-elevated communities in the country. The area serves a dichotomy of interests as a year-round Mecca for tourists, a second home for many wealthy Arizonans, and neighbor to a Native American reservation.
This diverse clientele along with miles of remote (yet accessible) desert, forest and mountains are the major ingredients for hosting a successful powersports dealership, Northland Motorsports.
Gary Hengeveld purchased the business only two years ago. Northland Motorsports sells Can-Am, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki and Yamaha, plus Shoreland'r trailers — all from a 35,000 sq. ft. former Toys "R" Us store alongside a shopping mall on historic Route 66. Gary's son, Joe, is general manager; his other son, former Honda-backed desert racer Steve Hengeveld, could be called a "community ambassador." The store employs 19.
Northland's previous owners founded the dealership in a smaller building before moving it to the ex-toy store in 2003. They completely redesigned the store to more suitably fit the requirements of a powersports retailer: the large, obstruction-free showroom now features bikes and PG&A displays, and the shipping and receiving area is the dealership's service center. Business offices were added.
The local joke is that the building still houses a toy store, only the toys got bigger.
Gary became a dealership principal after a career in medical injection molding — quite the transition. Son Joe explains: "The previous owners weren't involved in the community, didn't take care of the outside of the building, and just didn't seem to care anymore. So since my dad raced when he was younger, and we've been racing since age four and have always loved the sport, we just decided to try it out."
Given the diversity in the community, just who is Northland's typical customer? It's hard to pin down. "We don't really have a 'typical' customer," Joe says. "Our customers are young and old, and very wealthy or quite poor. About 50 percent of them pay for their purchases with cash, while the other 50 percent usually need some sort of financing.
"We have a lot of people from Phoenix who come up and ride in this area," Joe adds. "There are a lot of landowners, ranchers; and there's a nearby Navajo Nation reservation. Plus, since we're right on Route 66, we get quite a few travelers on bikes who are looking for service — tires, oil changes, that type of thing."
A five-person sales team mans Northland's showroom, a 23,500 sq. ft. rectangular space that displays roughly 200 units at any given time. The showroom is split into lifestyle-based departments serving, for example, ATVs, dirtbikes and streetbikes. These departments meet at the store's entrance, giving customers an immediate overview of what's offered deeper into the display areas right when they walk in the door.
Vehicles line up according to manufacturer and type. There are 16 TV screens throughout the showroom, each showing videos designed to generate customer excitement for the products sold in that particular department. Major displays are changed every two months, and range from a "Go Green" focal point (winning the 2007 best dealer display award from Kawasaki) and son Steve's Baja 1000-winning motorcycle and helmet.
A four-person team takes care of the 4,000 sq. ft. parts, garments and accessories department, a perimeter layout that encircles the entire showroom floor. This requires the PG&A employees responsible for merchandising to ensure that all displays fuse with the various vehicle departments, yet work together harmoniously.
Hard parts, accessories and riding apparel all sell well; however, equally impressive is the amount of casual apparel Northland retails. "We carry an amazing array of clothing for a motorsports store, and have become a local 'hot spot' for the latest fashions as well as bikes," Joe says.
Northland's 7,500 sq. ft. service area is handled by one service writer, two lot technicians and three trained technicians. The dealership's techs have 50 combined years of experience.
The service department offers the usual — a tire repair station, hydraulic lifts and specialty tools — as well as the the more modern prepaid service programs starting to dot the industry. "The pre-paid service program is an in-house service that customers can fold right into their financing when they buy a bike," Joe says. "It'll get you any of the scheduled services your vehicle's owner's manual calls for, whether it be an oil change, chain, valve adjustment, new plugs — whatever."
Northland Motorsports, like many dealers across the country, uses several media campaigns to promote product throughout the year. But the most successful initiative for promoting the dealership — and attracting new customers — is its involvement in off-road racing. Northland is the title sponsor for the Arizona Motorcycle Racing Association (AMRA) and the annual sponsor of the local Whiplash Off-Road Racing Series. It also sponsors six Team Green riders and multiple private racers. It's that type of community involvement that keeps son Steve busy when he's not out racing Trophy Trucks for his new sponsor, Toyota.
"The race-driven advertising has pushed dirtbike and ATV sales to a new level, almost double in volume since the focus began two years ago," Joe says. As an illustration, the local Whiplash series spikes weekend consumer traffic at the store by about 30 percent over nonrace weekends.
While the off-road market is lucrative for Northland, the business doesn't survive on dirt alone. Community and riding group involvement is key to building sales. For example, Joe says the best promotional campaign of the year is the annual Yamaha Star Touring Group ride, which includes a poker run, catered BBQ, more than 400 door prizes, additional prize raffles and other attractions. "Local businesses attend the event as do several radio stations that aid summerlong in promoting the event," he notes. "The community enjoys it, and it is welcome to all customers — not just riders.
"We see a great deal of referrals, service work and accessory sales as a result of the ride."
Joe believes that the store's commitment to the customer after the sale is what develops the long-term relationship, as does community involvement. "This year we've been host to national forest service meetings that have informed local off-road enthusiasts to community forest issues," he says. "We've helped in an annual OHV area cleanup that keeps our trails open and community clean, we sponsor our community high school athletic fundraising program, and we take part in a number of festivals, celebrations and parades."
The dealership's sponsored employee rides are often extended to new customers, so they can quickly feel like they're part of the Northland family. "Northland feels that if the staff works together to help one another, the attitude will spill over into helping our customers meet their personal riding goals," Joe says.