Life on the floor. A dealer’s perspective
We have been powersports dealers for a little over four years now. The learning curve has been much steeper than we expected, but we’re just about to the point where we realize how much more we have to learn. Progress, I guess.
From the very beginning, one of the most vexing questions we’ve faced has been what our store hours ought to be. We operate five stores across Colorado, all acquired. Each one came with a set of store hours, none of them quite the same.
Agreeing on store hours
There was no consensus among our own stores or is there, I found out, among powersports dealers in general. Well, that’s not exactly true. There is a baseline of agreement, something just about all dealers agree with and here it is: A powersports retailer needs to be open at least five days a week. That’s it.
After that, local custom, the time of year, the habits of competitors, store location, quality of life, organizational structure, management and customer service challenges, state laws and, occasionally, customer demand dictate an incredible variety of store hours practices in powersports dealers across America.
The question of the number of days to be open or whether evening hours make any sense depends entirely on whom you ask. Everybody’s got an opinion and a well thought out reason to have it. The first question dealers have to wrestle with is whether five days a week is enough.
“Up until three years ago, we were open five days a week,” Scott Lyons, co-owner of Reynolds Motorsports in Buxton Maine told me. “But our competitors opened up on Monday, so we thought we had to do it too. We’re now open Monday-Friday 9-7 and Saturdays 9-5.”
In Houston, though, a close-knit dealer community has kept the tradition of being closed on Monday going strong. “Lots of dealers want to be on-site when their store is open,” Wendy Buchman, general manager of Texas Yamaha in South Houston said. “But I’m afraid it will end up being a six day week.”
Several dealers I’ve spoken with talked about stealing business or losing business, depending on whether their store was open or closed on Mondays. In several states, an assortment of blue laws makes Sunday a day when most powersports retailers are closed. In those states, the question is, Five days or six? In states where there are no blue laws regulating Sunday business, the question is rapidly becoming, Six days or seven?
In large markets such as California and Arizona, seven days a week is considered normal. And the trend is spreading. Ray Hempstead, owner of Barneys in St. Petersburg, Fla., told me his managers want to expand from a six-day week. “They are aggressive guys who want to stay competitive,” he said. “This industry is at a crossroads. In five years I think everybody will be open seven days a week except for the very small mom and pops. The manufacturers and the customers are demanding more.”
Hempstead is not so sure the advent of seven days a week is entirely a good thing. He worries about the quality of life for his employees and the level of customer service offered in a seven day a week environment. “We talk about how bad service is in most other industries and we can’t afford to go there,” he said. “I don’t know when employees can recharge or even when we can have a meeting if we’re open all the time.”
In any event, everybody agrees that five is the minimum and, obviously, seven is the maximum number of days. But what about the number of hours to be open on those days? What about evening hours? What about closing early on Saturday? What about winter hours?
Dick Davis, owner of Extreme Sports Yamaha in Sumter, South Carolina has been open on Mondays since he started four years ago because he “just felt like a retail business should be open six days. Being closed on Mondays just never made sense to me.” But evening hours are a different story for Davis. “We tried being open in the evenings, but didn’t get much response, he said.”
Yet that hasn’t been the experience for Lee Bronville, a salesman at Five Seasons Sports Center in Eveleth, Minnesota. He told me, “Evening hours are real important to us. Our customers work 9-5, they come in after 6. We cover the working man by being open until 7 pm.” Bronville said it’s been that way for 32 years.
At Cycle City in Cincinnati Ohio, Service Manager Mike Sherry said evening hours only worked for them in the summer. They cut back the closing time from 7 pm to 6 pm in the wintertime.
At least half the dealers I’ve talked to across the country adjust their store hours on a seasonal basis. Ray Hempstead said, “We’ve been in our location for 50 years. It’s not a retail, mall-type area. Our customers won’t shop here after dark, so we stay open later in the summer.”
Well, that makes sense. And lots of dealers in cold weather states change days and hours during the winter. In Colorado, many dealerships open up on Mondays as daylight savings time draws near. Then they shrink to five days a week when the busiest part of the season has gone by.
But that philosophy violates the #1 rule in retailing, according to Jim Robinson, sales manager of Harley-Davidson/Buell of Tucson. “You know, the number one rule in retailing is don’t change your hours. And rule number two is never break rule number one,” he said.
Scott Lyons agrees. At his store in Maine (where it has been known to get a little chilly in the winter), they stick to their six day a week schedule all year long. “Some dealers in the area make seasonal adjustments,” he said. “But we think it confuses customers.”
Making a Decision
At Colorado Powersports, I was bound and determined to figure out the very best thing to do with store hours. In a meeting with all our general managers, I asked everyone in the room to think as a consultant. That meant, not concerning themselves with how to do something, only about what would be the best thing to do.
Each manager took himself and what his decision meant for him as a manager out of the equation and a truly amazing thing happened: a clear consensus about optimal store hours emerged.
When personal preferences, management difficulties, personnel expense and industry tradition were not considered, the clear consensus was that ideal store hours would be Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 8 pm and limited hours on Sunday, if local laws permitted.
I guess that’s retail. And that’s where we are. Or perhaps it’s only where we’re headed. I hoped to avoid the whole issue by letting each of our GMs set their own store hours. I did insist that they select a schedule they could live with 12 months a year, whatever it might be.
The result? The general managers decided we would have one store open seven days a week, two open six days a week and two open five days a week. One would stay open until 6, two until seven pm and two will stay open until eight pm, but just two nights a week. How’s that for consensus?
In the end, I just had to impose consensus. Starting this month, all our stores will be open every day but Sunday throughout the year. We’ll stay open till 7 pm during Daylight Savings Time and drop back to 6 pm in the winter.
There. I’m glad that’s finally settled. But…
Copyright 2003 Powersports Business