2010’s Top 100: Full Speed Ahead!

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This story originally appeared in the Dealernews March 2010 issue. 

With each new year comes a fresh new batch of Top 100 entries to dig into, read deeply, study long, poke around in and really get a sense of what dealers are doing in the world of powersports retailing. I think I’ll always be amazed by what I read.

As many dealers and entrants point out, the competition offers the chance to benchmark their business, acting as a mirror in which they can check their store’s reflection. Given that most people considered 2009 a year they’d like to bury out behind the shed, we are happy to report that most of the entries indicated that those reflections were still able to fog up the glass a bit.

In other words, 2009 may have sucked wind, but the dealers who entered the Top 100 competition demonstrated that they refuse to let a sour economy cow them into submission. While unit sales were down, we saw dealers pumping energy into growing P&A sales and service dollars. Some reported modest, but healthy growth in these areas, and indicated that they’re going to focus on more of the same for 2010.

Marketing and advertising dollars were also in short supply, leading many owners and managers to finally learn exactly what technology could do for them. Text message promotions. Social networking. Online advertising via Google AdWords and other sources. E-mail newsletters.

We receive submissions from dealerships of all shapes and sizes, ranging from elaborately prepared photo album presentations to quick-and-dirty handwritten entries. All highlight some of the most hard-charging and creative dealers on the continent.

There was one entry that struck me, that from Doug Douglas Motorcycles, which seemed to embody the criteria on which the competition is judged. It is probably one of the most heartfelt entries I’ve ever read. A 3,500 sq. ft. Triumph-only store in San Bernardino, Calif., the shop is a throwback with a twist. Much like Triumph’s lineup of modern classics, which blend old and new, the store seems to easily represent yesteryear’s greasy aesthetic while maintaining a very modern front. This is especially interesting considering the store survives in the shadows of two of the largest dealerships in California — Bert’s Mega Mall and Chaparral.

The store’s been in the same building since 1963 in what is still a residential neighborhood. And much like the old-time barber or grocer, they think of themselves as the neighborhood bike/repair center. They’re not completely old-timey. One staff member, a student at nearby California State University, San Bernardino, came up with a plan to display bikes and clothing on campus. In addition to the display, they also set up a booth to accept credit applications, “The results are that Triumph is now well-represented in the parking lot at CSUSB.”

Intrigued, I snooped around Yelp and the store’s Google Maps page and read outstanding customer comment after comment. Sure, online reviews can be gamed, but it’s rare for a list of online reviews to not include at least one or two displeased cranks.

I get a taste of the dealership’s spirit from two things: First, this description of founder Doug Douglas from the store’s website’s “Our Staff” page: “Founder of the company and part owner. Former national caliber racer that’s won the prestigious Baja off-road race more than once and set a solo record in the process. Grouchy, hard of hearing and the best mechanic you’ll ever know.”

And then this line from the Top 100 entry: “What Doug Douglas Motorcycles lacks in fancy architecture, upscale location or slick-Willy ad campaigns, we make up for with heart and the determination to continue to provide the good people of the Inland Empire with a motorcycling alternative. We don’t win customers with a Crystal Cathedral, instead we treat them with respect, straight-forward answers and a fair price and let the chips fall where they may.”

Yes, we celebrate modern retailing, encourage dealers to raise the bar, and are blown away by the powersports meccas built by some, but there’s something special about shops like Doug Douglas, stores that offer a direct link to the industry’s past.

Dennis Johnson
Editor In Chief
dennis.johnson@dealernews.com

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