Pictured Above: Kaegan Mounce and Bryan Driggers sell motorcycles, UTVs and ATVs at Freedom Powersports in Fayetteville, Ark.
Photo Courtesy of Jesse Wiles
The team at Williams Tractor has opened up its dealership to Rural Lifestyle Dealer this year for our “Season to Season” series. This Fayetteville, Ark.-based dealership with 7 locations has shared how its rural lifestyle-focused dealerships fight the seasonality of slow times in winter and peaks in spring and early summer. For the final installment, the dealership team comments on similar challenges faced by its powersports stores and unique marketing paths that might benefit rural lifestyle dealers.
Williams Tractor’s stores in Fayetteville, Berryville, Rogers, and McGehee, Ark., and Rayville, La., offer rural lifestyle products. Within the chain are two powersports-only stores; both called Freedom Powersports. The Rogers, Ark., location is next door to Williams Bobcat/New Holland store and is a dedicated Polaris and Slingshot dealer. The Fayetteville store has Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, KTM, Kymco and Arctic Cat. Williams Tractor is owned by brothers, Doug and Dwight Williams, and their cousin, Gary Tollett.
Drumming Up Winter Business Now
Joe Turner manages the Rogers store and has been in the business for 14 years. He grew up riding 3-wheelers, dirt bikes and ATVs in Arizona and California. Turner acknowledges seasonal challenges of the industry in the Midwest. “But I don’t think our industry is quite as seasonal as the tractor business and it can be ‘hit or miss.’ We’ve actually had some solid Januarys that were really good, and we didn’t do anything more in terms of promotion. There’s no explanation for it sometimes,” Turner says.
January and February are generally the slowest times and the rush begins during the spring season. “A lot of our products are family related, so once school is out, sales pick up. Business slows in late June or July because people are taking vacations and it can be hot. Then in late August, it picks up again. We’ve had great Decembers, but also those that were more like January or February,” he says.
Locations: Fayetteville, Berryville, Rogers and McGehee, Ark., and Rayville, La.
Lines: New Holland, Case IH, Kioti, Bush Hog, Woods, Rhino, Big Dog, Bad Boy, Bobcat, Polaris, Arctic Cat, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, KTM, Kymco, Haybuster, Vermeer, Hustler, Terex and Landoll Business System: DIS
Challenge & Solution: Creating interest in powersports year-round through an appealing retail environment, online marketing, event promotions and an enthusiastic staff.
He has tried a lot of ideas to overcome seasonality, especially during the winter months. “Maintaining a media presence is important. Obviously, digital marketing is huge now. We try to post on Facebook and Craigslist as much as possible to keep our name out there. Polaris does a good job of having programs that are geared toward slow times to draw traffic to you. We try to ‘piggyback’ off them on a local level when they’re running national ads,” he says.
The Rogers store caters to extreme enthusiasts, and Turner tries to schedule special machine builds during the winter. “We do a lot of custom projects for customers, one-of-a-kind machines, which sets us apart and attracts a little different crowd. An internet presence with those types of vehicles can bring in business, especially during the slow times. Providing heavily accessorized vehicles with aftermarket parts that other dealers don’t offer helps bring in customers.
“Wintertime is also an opportunity for the shop to be busy getting trades ready to sell,” Turner says. “You’re able to catch up on some of those ‘loose end’ jobs that were on the back burner in the busy season. We’ll also run service specials to try to get machines in the shop. Same for the parts department, we’ll run different promotions and again, Polaris is good about running off-season parts specials to draw people in.”
“One promotion that has worked is a ‘Freedom Friday’ where we invite police, firefighters, active military and veterans into the store each month for a free lunch. Those events, conducted at both Freedom locations, consistently draw anywhere from 10-40 people. We also do a ‘Demo Day’ event, when it starts to get cold in late fall and that keeps our product in the customer’s mind during the winter and seems to help maintain floor traffic. There’s no substitute for getting them in the seat of the vehicle,” Turner says.
- Seasonality is a challenge in the powersports segment, just like it is with rural lifestyle customers. Take advantage of manufacturers’ off-season promotions, double up on digital marketing and hold special customer events to increase floor traffic.
- Use off-season slow times to recondition trades, market custom built machines and contact previous customers to create interest in the features of new models.
- A large well-merchandized facility encourages year-round shopping. A significant display of high-margin aftermarket accessories can help improve the bottom line.
- Encourage staff members who use recreational products, especially at high visibility events, to post pictures on social media and mention your dealership.
Mining Existing Customers
The sales team also continues working with customers who have previously purchased machines. “I think when there’s downtime, as a salesman, you can cold call a little bit more,” Turner says. The dealership targets customers who have purchased new machines within a 3-4 year timeframe. They may not know about improvements on the next generation. “We contact them and let them know that maybe it’s time to take a look at the new machines and here’s why. Polaris has been good about providing competitive videos that you can direct customers to and we’ve found they will take time to watch them during the winter,” he says.
The Rogers store benefits from being next door to its sister store, Bobcat of Northwest Arkansas, gaining floor traffic from construction people who try to work year-round. “We’re in the same parking lot, so the guys who are pulling in drive past our product. We make it a priority to keep units out there where Bobcat customers can see them. Any time we do an open house, we’ll do them separately, but we’ll have our product there and their product over here to try to build more customers,” Turner says.
Fighting Mother Nature
Bill Eddy manages Freedom Powersports in Fayetteville and is a veteran of the powersports business. In 1974, while in high school, he started at the bottom, sweeping floors in a motorcycle dealership. But later, he moved through the ranks of mechanic, service manager and owner. He mirrors Turner’s assessment of seasonality, but says that has actually improved. “Back in the day, before there were 4-wheelers and side-by-sides, it was extremely seasonal. We had March through July and that was it. That’s still motorcycle season, but ATVs and UTVs expanded the sales periods. It’s still slow in July when people are going on vacations and it’s hot, but when late August comes and moms are thinking about back-to-school, dads are thinking about deer hunting and we start selling ATVs and UTVs. November is slow and Christmas is not as big as it used to be, because we’re not selling $350 mini bikes anymore. Instead, they’re $1,500-$1,800. January and February are our real down times and that’s when we do our painting, fixing up and remodeling,” Eddy says.
“Success in powersports involves a lot of interaction with enthusiasts…”
He says his biggest challenge is matching service personnel needs to peak times and then keeping those employees busy during slow times. When the weather is nice and people are riding, his service department stays busy with repairs. Trying to staff up during those periods is difficult because of challenges in finding qualified technicians. “Motorcycle and ATV mechanics aren’t floating around. All the good ones have a job,” Eddy says. “Temporary help is okay if you can find someone that doesn’t require a lot of training. I have a promising young tech right now, but we deal with 6 brands and many product types — street bikes, dirt bikes, ATVs, side-by-sides and so on. His main job is to assemble new units when they come in. He’s been here for a month and he hasn’t even seen everything we have yet, so he’ll be in the learning stage for some time.”
“When the weather gets bad, it all comes to a halt. When they’re not going to ride it until spring, repairs and new purchases are put off. We just try to balance the best that we can and get our trades reconditioned. We’ve tried programs where we winterize the motorcycle and store it as well as special discounts for service work during the slow time, but we’ve not had what I’d call great success. When spring comes and they’ve let their stuff sit, if it has a carburetor, it’s all gummed up or the battery’s gone bad. That creates a lot of business for us, but it hits all at once,” he says.
Bill Eddy manages Freedom Powersports in Fayetteville, Ark., which is part of Williams Tractor.
Photo Courtesy of: Jessa Wiles
Eddy tries to navigate around seasonality by “creative staffing.” “When we’re busy, if we’re fixing stuff and doing deals, I’m okay with overtime pay,” he says. He also offers flexible scheduling to technicians in the winter. “When it’s slow, I have a couple of mechanics that are single guys and like to take time off. They may be gone for a month in the wintertime. That’s attractive to some employees,” he says.
Bass Pro Inspires Large Showroom
One obvious advantage the Fayetteville store has when it comes to seasonality is the 27,500 square foot indoor showroom displaying 200 machines. Originally built as a furniture store and located on a major north-south interstate, it is well lit, merchandised, and has the “wow” factor for anyone walking in the door.
“Our industry went through a big revolution about 20 years ago. We modernized our facilities to something that looks more like a retail business at the mall. It makes a difference when people walk in and are affected by their surroundings. Even the colors have an impact. I had no idea until we remodeled that earth tones and colors that are ‘warm’ are more appealing than grays and ‘hard steel’ colors. I hear it all the time when people walk in. They say, ‘It just feels different in here.’ The attitude of your sales crew can also impact customers. If people are laughing and having fun, it makes a difference,” he says.
A visit to mass outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops inspired Eddy to focus on his facility. “I’m not a hunter or fisherman, but I was at a dealer meeting in Texas and had about three hours to kill and there was a Bass Pro Shop next door. I’m not an impulse buyer, but when I walked in the store, I remember having the thought, ‘I’m going to buy something, because this is a cool place.’ Driving home it hit me, that’s what we need, a store that when people walk in, they want to buy something. You’re over your first hurdle right then. The first step in the sales process is to get people to lower their guard, so you can talk to them. I spent a lot of money when we remodeled, but it’s really important,” he says.
Extended warranty sales can be valuable protection for customers and a profit center for dealers. Freedom Powersports Finance Manager Steve Perkins analyzes all available products and sells the ones that are in the customer’s best interest, which also ties the customer to the dealer’s service department for 3-5 years.
Photo Courtesy of: Jessa Wiles
Eddy watches the floor traffic at his store and sees a lot of people who come in to shop consistently, regardless of the season. “Many dealerships only attract customers when they have to have something. I have people come in here all the time, on their day off, to look at motorcycles and then they may walk around for an hour looking at apparel, accessories, jackets, gloves, goggles, helmets and all of the chemicals to take care of whatever their particular toy is. Those are all good margin items. My parts manager averages about 35% on accessories. You sure can’t make that on new equipment,” he says.
Joe Turner is manager at Freedom Powersports in Rogers, Ark. The dealership is unique in the Williams Tractor family for representing only Polaris.
Photo Courtesy of: Jessa Wiles
Eddy says the nice facility helps attract new shoppers, especially the growing number of women powersports enthusiasts. “When I started, you almost never saw women come in a motorcycle shop and if they did, you could tell they weren’t comfortable. Over the years, that’s changed. Now up to 25% of all riders are female and that number may be higher on side-by-sides. So, we cater to that audience with a clean, well-stocked and well-organized atmosphere,” he says.
Having Fun with Other Riders
Success in powersports also involves a lot of interaction with enthusiasts. Eddy says many ag and construction equipment customers depend on machines to make their living, which brings a sense of urgency to the purchase. “In the motorcycle and ATV/UTV industry, we try to do a lot of things to create that emotion, including special events, ‘poker runs’ and races. I spent a lot of time through my life doing amateur motorcycle racing and sold a lot of machines at the racetrack because I was there and those guys spend money every week. Getting out where the people ride and getting to know them makes a big difference.
“I have a young man here, who’s 25 years old, and has a new Yamaha YXZ1000, which is a high performance side-by-side. He takes that thing out every weekend and sometimes during the week in the evenings. He’s a big social media guy, so you’ll see pictures on Facebook and Instagram talking about how much fun he’s having and inviting people to go along with him. He can put something new on social media, then take it out and show it, and the rest of the community feels they need to have that product. You almost need an enthusiast for every product line. It’s nice when you have a ‘dirt bike’ guy and a ‘side-by-side’ guy,” Eddy says.
Freedom Powersports in Fayetteville, Ark., located on a major exit on Interstate 49, houses 200 motorcycles, ATVs and UTVs indoors, so customers can view them regardless of the weather outside. In addition, each day the staff wheels 50 more units from the aisles of the facility to the outside display, bringing them back in each evening for security purposes.
Photo Courtesy of: Jessa Wiles
In the end, powersports dealers face the same seasonal challenges as rural lifestyle dealers, peaks during nice weather and valleys when the machines aren’t being used. Special events and promotions in slower times can lessen the impact, but the business is still somewhat at the mercy of Mother Nature, requiring you to have more employees during rush times and fewer through the slow times. Having a well-merchandized facility to allow year-round shopping, stocked with large numbers of various products and high margin accessories and apparel, may be the main area where the rural lifestyle dealer could follow the lead of powersport counterparts toward more sales and greater profits.