WPS Steps on the Gas

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Distributor eyes more East Coast coverage, more products for street bike market

BOISE, Idaho — Western Power Sports wants to put a new distribution center on the East Coast to get closer to its dealers there.

The company has looked at sites in various states and will be ready to move ahead with the warehouse addition after completing an expansion to the company's headquarters in Boise, Idaho, says president Craig Shoemaker.

"We won't be there in the next six months but will be shipping from there in the 2008 season," Shoemaker says. WPS also has warehouses in Fresno, Calif., and Memphis, Tenn.

WPS has enjoyed 20 to 25 percent growth annually during the past five years. Shoemaker says he expects that growth to continue, even though the vehicle markets the company serves — particularly the off-road motorcycle, ATV and snowmobile markets — have experienced a slowdown.

"We're having to adjust and do things, but our sales are still running pretty strong, and I think if the market was up we'd be up more," Shoemaker says. "The neat thing is that we're in a position where there is still so much potential out there.

Now pay attention to Shoemaker's logic: "Some of our competitors are pretty much everywhere. So, if you're already everywhere, in every shop, and that market goes down 5 percent, there's a chance you could go down 5 percent. But if I'm only in 50 percent of a market and busy figuring out how I can get into 60 percent, that means 10 percent of that market is a 100 percent increase for me. It may actually represent a small part ofthe pie, but it's all 'plus' business."

So WPS is feeling the effects of a down market, but "we have some friends out there who feel it a lot more because they're counting on what they were doing yesterday," Shoemaker says. "And if the market's not doing as good today as it was yesterday, then they aren't doing as well today as they were yesterday."

Street Market Focus

WPS' 300 employees service about 6,000 dealers. The company's distribution business was founded on the snowmobile business in the late 1970s, then transformed in 1988 into an off-road parts, garments and accessories distributor after purchasing California-based Sierra Motorcycle Products.

Now the company is increasing its focus on its on-road business.

"We started out as a snowmobile company, and I think we're still known more as an off-road company, but motorcycle is No. 1, and within that, street and dirt are about equal," Shoemaker says.

The sled market is now the smallest portion of its business. And although the dirtbike market continues to grow for WPS, Shoemaker believes that the street market will outdo it, strictly due to potential.

"In motorcycling, you get one day of sunshine and you ride your bike," he says. "With snowmobiles, if it doesn't snow for a stretch but drops 6 inches one night, it still doesn't help. So that's the reason we're putting a lot more effort in other aspects of our company, because Texas and Florida don't live on six weeks."

For a distributor, business growth depends on performance from vendors and dealers. WPS doesn't plan to be all things to all people; indeed, Shoemaker says, his company wants to be the expert on select brands or markets.

"We don't want to have the biggest catalog or the most items to sell," Shoemaker explains. He uses a retail analogy: "We don't want to be the motorcycle dealer who sells Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Ducati and KTM. We want to be the dealer who sells, perhaps, only a couple of those brands, but knows more about those brands than the competition.

"I don't want to sell all brands," he continues. "What that turns into is, 'I don't care; shuffle them up on the table and pick one.' We want to capitalize on service, we want our suppliers to be represented well, and we want dealers to get a good deal from us."

Even though WPS is a national distributor, its coverage can be spotty. To improve this, Shoemaker says WPS will rely on its field reps.

"A dealer in Mississippi may use us, whereas a dealer right over in southern Alabama may not because of the representation we have," he acknowledges. "A lot of times, it's one of those situations where we're entering the market and a new rep shows up at the dealership and says, 'Hey, I'm your new rep for so-and-so.' Well, that's not going to get the dealer's business.

But if the rep perseveres, he has a better chance of succeeding, says Shoemaker. "If he sticks it out for a while, and becomes a solid foundation for the brands he's carrying, he's going to start to earn that business."