WHEN YOU FIRST wanted to open your own powersports store, you may have had a slew of ideas that came to mind: how you wanted your store to be, what your concept was, and how you were going to set yourself apart from the rest. You were probably an avid rider, as well. Throughout my years of store visits, seminars and training sessions, I've noticed something alarming about the latter: Managers and owners of dealerships have simply stopped riding.
Granted, this isn't true for all dealers, but there is a large number of former riders who are running stores. Employees, I've found, still talk about their Sunday rides, but I can count on one hand the owners or managers I've met who can talk about theirs. When was the last time your managers or yourself went for a ride?
It's no surprise that this summer we'll face even higher gas prices, the highest ever in the U.S. Well, guess what? This is a huge opportunity for our industry. I wish I could say that more units will be sold due to higher gas prices, but I can't. What I can suggest is that you hop on your old bikes, ride on the urban and rural roads, and show potential customers that now is as good a time as any to ride.
ORGANIZING A RIDE
Here's how to get started in organizing a ride.
Have a meeting. Dealers need to gather their managers in an informal meeting to plan, organize and choose a road captain for a late-morning or afternoon ride. I suggest a minimum of two organized rides per month. Yes, you read correct; this is the obligation of management and ownership to consistently get their customers on the road.
Promote your rides. Make it known in your communications with customers that there are upcoming rides. Tell them in person, send them mailers, or even call them. Many stores put up a monthly event calendar with details on the rides planned. They also send out an e-mail blast. The rides must be a priority at your dealership so that you reach everyone who sets foot in your store.
Plan overnight rides also, at least twice a year. I have organized rides to Daytona, Sturgis and OEM-sponsored events. You all know what events are out there, so plan the rides around them. Make sure that managers and owners allocate their time to be spent on these rides. It gives them more time to be with their customers, creating business relationships that last long after the ride.
Offer service and product specials. At the shop I once worked at, we had this slogan: "The more they ride, the more they buy." Have your service department put together a flier saying, "Get your bike serviced for the ______ Ride Special!" (always include the name of the ride). This is an excellent opportunity for additional parts sales like windshields, saddlebags, highway pegs, billable labor hours, etc.
Solicit your customers in the travel industry and event planning. Getting them involved adds creditability to your store. Get the point across to your customers that they can plan vacations involving motorcycles, dirtbikes, ATVs or UTVs.
Invite all riders. Back when I worked retail, the store was single-line, but we promoted our rides as "all brands invited" and had great acceptance (and additional unit sales).
CATERING TO CUSTOMERS' SCHEDULES
The key factor is whether the dealership maps out all details so that customers can just show up and have fun.
You may have customers who really want to go on the longer rides, but time is an issue for them. You can arrange for customer pickup by a commercial truck or motorcycle carrier either at the starting point or from the destination back to the dealership so that these customers don't have to participate in the whole ride. They can ride just one way, taking up less of their time.
In the coming months, the challenges in our industry will be at an all-time high, and our customers will be overwhelmed with rising gas prices and other inflated expenses. Think back to why you got into this industry in the first place: to ride.
Now go ride!
Steve Zarwell is a dealer consultant and a member of the Dealernews editorial advisory board. Contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org.