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July 2, 2007 – Dealers: On-site ATV tracks can pay off handsomely

July 2, 2007
Filed under Features

Dave Olson says his 3-acre, on-site test track has “helped us sell more (ATVs) than you could imagine. Being able to let customers get on and ride is an integral part of the sales experience.”
Olson, owner of Hamilton Polaris/KTM in Hamilton, Mont., was working to develop the test track as the dealership building went up three years ago. The natural area features small and large hills, so riders can get the feel of ascents and descents, an open area for speed and ditches to gauge maneuverability. What test riders won’t find is what Olson calls a “whoop” section, where someone might be tempted to push an ATV past its limits.
“I don’t want people to take chances,” Olson said. “It’s not about racing; it’s about a field test.”
Craig Stokebrand also sees the value of his test areas at Kearney Yamaha in Kearney, Neb. In addition to the 4-acre on-site ATV test area, the dealership also has a testing area for personal watercraft — a 5-acre lake — where shoppers have the opportunity to try out machines and techs can check machines under real-world conditions instead of using a test tank. Because the closest public lake is an hour’s drive, the test lake lets customers check their repaired machines before leaving the dealership.
“It probably cost us another $100,000 to have the ATV test ride area, but for the money, it’s definitely been worth it,” said Stokebrand, owner of Kearney Yamaha. “It’s a huge advantage for us over competitors with concrete parking lots.” When asked whether the test track was used for promotional events, Stokebrand adds, “We have a tough enough time keeping up with the business we have.”
Because of land prices in some locations, building and maintaining a test track isn’t for every dealership. But those who have the facilities say it’s a great way to sell ATVs, both directly through test rides and indirectly through increased exposure during special events and training sessions. Both Hamilton Polaris/KTM and Central Vermont Motorcycles offer their test tracks for safety training programs that draw current and potential customers.
Jay Blanchard, assistant manager at Central Vermont Motorcycles, says the dealership’s 2-acre test facility is used as an ATV Safety Institute training site. Sessions are held as often as every other weekend during the spring and summer months. The dealership also hosts open houses and powersports exhibitions in addition to test rides.
Blanchard stresses that the dealership follows all manufacturer guidelines regarding demos and closely monitors test rides. The dealership is on the edge of the business district in Rutland, Vt., and although the parcel is not gated, it is partially fenced, effectively restricting access, Blanchard says.
Hamilton Polaris/KTM hosts as many as two training sessions per weekend. Olson views allowing the ATV training courses, which have eight to 10 people per class, as a chance to make a good impression on potential customers. “Bringing people who might not have bought their ATVs here to the store opens up a door of opportunity,” Olson said. “It could be a quart of oil or a new helmet, but it may be a new four-wheeler down the road. If they have a positive experience, we might be in the running for the next sale.”
Olson’s track is fenced on two sides, a third abuts a grocery store and the fourth surrounds the dealership, so unauthorized riders are not a concern.
Larry’s Motor Sports features an on-site testing area at its 6-acre parcel in Jefferson City, Mo., but the dealership also offers a 200-acre track where local enthusiasts can spend the day riding. Owner Larry Neill explains that the off-site riding area was set up under a separate LLC to protect the dealership from lawsuits. The limited liability corporation has a 10-year lease on the parcel, which is owned by a church friend of Neill’s. “We don’t have insurance on the riding area, so the LLC was set up as a separate entity from the dealership,” Neill explained. “The LLC has no money in it.”
Riders enter through a metal building where they sign a waiver, pay $7 per person, place documentation and money in an envelope and slide that through a slot in the wall. The riding area operates mostly on the honor system. Employees periodically match up payments to riders, usually on busy days. “Once in a while you’ll find someone who hasn’t paid or isn’t wearing a helmet, but the honor system has worked for us,” Neill said. He adds that longtime general manager Travis Knorr should receive the lion’s share of credit for setting up the track, which features 50-inch wide trails that are perfect for ATVs but too small for Jeeps and larger utility vehicles. Employees can ride for free, and nearly half of them do, Neill says. Employees also volunteer to work on the trail.
Those interested can purchase year-long memberships, which are priced at $100 for an individual and $150 for families, and Neill says it’s common to see families with picnic baskets and using portable grills as they spend a half-day or more using the trail.
“We’re just feeling our way on the trail,” Neill said, “but we opened it primarily to serve our customers. I’d be very happy if it breaks even for the benefit of selling more new and used dirt bikes and ATVs.”
Whether on site or a few miles away, the benefits of a riding area are incalculable, dealers say.
“Having a test track is my No. 1 marketing tool, hands down,” said Olson from Hamilton Polaris/KTM. “I encourage people to go ride at other dealerships and come back here to compare. But since most dealers don’t have a test facility, they come back here to make the purchase.”
Olson believes the test facility doubles the chances of making a sale. “Giving people a chance to ride builds confidence in you and the machine,” he said. “Instead of reading to them from a sales brochure, you can personally go over the features and benefits of each unit as they ride.
“Demonstrating and showing product is all that it’s about,” Olson said. “Give them a positive buying experience, and they’ll tell their friends.” psb

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