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Feb. 11, 2008 – Delivering more than goodwill

February 11, 2008
Filed under Features

Ask Spencer Hudson what he’s done to support the ATV clubs in his area of Vermont, and his list begins with giving them Danny Hale, now executive director of the Vermont All-terrain Vehicles Sportsman’s Association Inc. (VASA).
“Danny worked for me as a salesman when VASA was just getting started. He and I gave them a lot of time, and when they started looking for a full-time employee, I recommended him,” said Hudson, who is owner of All Around Power Equipment, St. Johnsbury, Vt.
While losing a good salesperson isn’t typically necessary, dealer support can be a critical component of the ongoing success of state and local enthusiast clubs. Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect at the dealer level when it comes to the other side of the equation — seeing that supporting clubs and associations will increase ATV sales and service.
“There are dealers who go out of their way to support local clubs and statewide associations, but they are the minority,” said Jack Terrell, project coordinator for the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council.
The disconnect often stems from limited time and money. But dealers who make the effort believe they get plenty of return on their investment.
For Hudson, the proof is in the success of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, the organization the Vermont ATV group is modeled after. The Vermont snow group’s interconnected trail system is more than 5,000 miles.
“Our snowmobile sales wouldn’t be anywhere near what they are without [the Vermont snow group’s] great trail system,” Hudson said. “People come from all over the country to ride in Vermont because we have the greatest snowmobile trails around.”
VASA now has about 600 miles of ATV trails and a growing network of supportive dealers.
“The dealers’ understanding of the value of a trail system has dramatically changed during the last three years since we’ve been promoting the trail system,” said Hale. He adds that ATVs, which have been historically used in Vermont for hunting and farm work, are now becoming more popular for recreation
“We are doing everything we can to promote the trail system, which will absolutely increase sales at the dealerships,” Hale said.

Political Clout

Common ways for dealers to support local clubs and state associations are by including a year’s membership in the price of an ATV and providing product for raffles and other club fundraisers. Alan Rodenborn, owner of Racing Unlimited Kawasaki-Polaris, Ft. Dodge, Iowa, has done both.
“We’re just two miles from the ATV park and anything that benefits the park benefits us. But I also think that anything that benefits the industry, benefits all dealers,” said Rodenborn, who is also president of the Iowa Motorcycle Dealers Association.
If funds are an issue, dealers can support clubs and associations by co-hosting or partnering in events. For example, All Power Sports Equipment teams up with the Vermont ATV group and other dealers at events like the recent Yankee Sportman’s Classic.
“We offered demo rides and considering that it was a January weekend, they were a surprising success,” Hale said. “We had all we could handle both Saturday and Sunday.”
A key benefit of a strong network of local clubs and state associations for dealers is the political clout that comes with a group effort. In Iowa, for instance, the connection is clear.
“The Department of Natural Resources actually calls on our lobbyist to help it, so they get our input as well,” Rodenborn said.
Rider access issues often trigger new club organization but come with the downside of a leveling off of interest when the issue calms down. Rodenborn sees that as a fundamental problem with clubs.
“A lot of time it is just a handful of core people who do all of the work, and people get burned out,” he said.
He believes that paid club staff are the answer, and dealers can help by doing their part to build the coffers of the organization by helping to support fundraisers.

Better Customer Experience

Rick Alcon, owner of Team R&S Powersports Group, which has four dealerships in Albuquerque, is another dealer who goes out of his way to support ATV riders. Although most ATVers in New Mexico don’t belong to organized clubs — due to the fact that historically their access to riding areas hasn’t been an issue — Alcon believes that supporting ATV riding activities is simply good business.
“I think it is a good idea for dealers to be directly involved in their customer base regardless of the customer segment,” he said. “The more involved the dealer is, the more the community feels a connection to the dealership beyond just the buy/sell agreement.
“We work really hard to create touch points with our customers and potential customers. The more touch points that we have that are personal, the better we believe our business will be,” Alcon said.
Part of R&S Powersports’ support is a leadership role in the New Mexico OHV Alliance, a grassroots, consumer-oriented right-to-ride club that monitors land-use issues. Various sub-groups have evolved from the organization, including an ATV group. In addition to his personal commitment to the alliance, Alcon encourages his salespeople to become active in the subgroups and other local clubs.
“That way they are in touch with what their customers are doing and what they want,” Alcon said. “They also see the products in action, so they can suggest solutions to make the customer experience better.”
For those dealers still not convinced they have the time or resources to support their local clubs, Mona Ehnes, president of the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders, in Great Falls, Mont., recommends they at least make sure their salespeople are knowledgeable enough about the area to provide accurate information. She tells of one ATV buyer who was told by the salesman that there were miles of trails to ride in the Highwood Mountains. In fact, the area is closed to motorized vehicles.
“People need to know what is going on,” she said. psb

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