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April 23, 2007 – Industry Leader: Craig Shoemaker, Western Power Sports

April 18, 2007
Filed under Features

Western Power Sports President Craig Shoemaker has led the company, a one-time regional distributor, to impressive growth during the past several years.
By this summer, the Boise, Idaho,-based distributor will have doubled its sales force to roughly 80 employees from the 40 it had in 2003.
Expansion in warehouse space has followed the increase in staff. The company has expanded its California and Idaho warehouses, adding about 80,000 square feet of new space. Plus, Shoemaker says the company is seeking to add a site in the Northeast to build business there.
Along with the staff and facility upgrades have come steady sales growth, with the family owned company last year posting a 20-25 percent growth in sales.

What’s the biggest challenge for the industry and what should be done about it?

All the new Chinese bikes — it’s not so much a challenge for us right now, but it will be in the future because of our dealers. I think that can create a major challenge for us as aftermarket distributors in the near future. I think some of (the infusion of new Chinese vehicles) actually is good. I look at a few of these bikes and I say, ‘These are great starter bikes.’ It gets people in the industry. They’re nothing fancy, but it’s kind of like when Honda brought the Rebel back several years ago. It’s a great starter bike at a price you can afford. And as you get going, you’ll want to go to the next level. So then you go in and buy a Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Harley, whatever.
My concern is dealers are going to look to the aftermarket companies and distributors and say, ‘We need you to supply us with parts.’ In some cases, we can. But in many cases, there are so many different options, it’s just not going to happen, not for a long time.
I’m a little bit afraid that although we could get some people started in our sport, we could also get some burned by it because they got really frustrated because they went and bought a few of these for their families and they were fun at first, but when … we’re getting phone calls saying, ‘can you get us parts for this?’ And we’re going, ‘What is it?’ So we’re going to double out catalog in size for all this small stuff because there’s 60 million applications and you don’t know if it’s going to work or not.
What can be done about it is we have to be smart and be ready to ride it out. It’s going to go for a while and then a lot of it is going to filter out and then there’s going to be a few left. Then we’ll start having some aftermarket parts for those few, lasting companies.

What’s the biggest challenge in your current position and how have you dealt with it?

One of my biggest challenges is keeping a personal life for myself and my key employees. We love what we do, we’re growing, we’re having fun doing it and it’s really easy to just work, work, work and keep challenging yourself and climbing the hill. But there’s more to life than just work. And I think to create a long-term healthy environment you have to make sure you’re not burning your employees out, even though they seem to be having a lot of fun. Sometimes we do have to work a lot of hours, but there are times when we have to say, ‘wait a minute.’ I watched my kids go through grade school, junior high and now they’re in college. Are we taking any time for them, too? I think that’s one of my deals — is to find that happy medium between working hard, accomplishing stuff but finding out that we have to hire more people to do this job because I want you guys to take more time off and not having to work so hard. As any real growing company, it’s a key thing that you make sure you don’t burn yourself out. The reason I say that’s a real challenge is because we’re having a lot of fun and it’s real easy to wake up and say, ‘Let’s do it again.’ I don’t want to wake up five years down the road and look back and say, ‘well we built a big company, but what was it all about?’ There’s way more to life than how many beans you get to put in your drawer each night.
What I’m doing is trying to hire more key personnel and staff to offset some of that, so we can give still give the service and the growth we want but not totally sacrifice the core group that is here.

What’s the best advice you can give to others in the industry?

One of the things that is important for all of us, whether you’re distributors or dealers or even manufacturers, that at all levels you need to stay young and fresh. Don’t be afraid to change. Don’t be afraid of letting your younger, fresh key personnel say, ‘Really? You think we should do that?’ And go ahead and try some of their ideas or be willing to be open to them. I think you have to be willing to keep an open mind with your employees. At the end of the day, you have to stay young and fresh and sometimes that can be really hard. I’m watching some companies do it (the same way) right now that I believe are not anywhere near their potential but it’s because they’ve been doing it (that way) for so long and are going to continue to do so.

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