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Aug. 9, 2010 – Panel explores ways to differentiate stores

August 9, 2010
Filed under Features

DALLAS — How can a dealership differentiate itself from its competition?

That was one of the questions an industry panel took turns addressing during the recent Tucker Rocky Distributing national dealer show.

For dealer principal Clark Vitulli, one of the event’s four panelists, the idea of differentiating isn’t just a good thing, it’s a matter of survival. Vitulli’s St. Augustine, Fla., Harley-Davison dealership is located 30 miles south of a large Jacksonville, Fla., Harley dealership and 40 miles north of Daytona, which houses the largest Harley store in the United States.

“It’s huge,” Vitulli said of the need for his store to separate itself from other Harley retailers. “If we don’t differentiate in each of our markets, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Vitulli was joined on the panel by Rod Lopusnak, national sales manager for American Suzuki Motor Corp., Arnie Ackerman, chairman and founder of Motorsport Aftermarket Group, and Paul Leinberger, a brand and marketing strategy expert.

To differentiate, Vitulli outlined a number of areas the dealership has sought to separate itself from other Harley dealers, including using testimonials in marketing. “We have our customers telling our story,” said Vitulli, who has owned the Florida dealership for three years after formerly being an executive with a prominent national dealership group.

“It doesn’t do any good for me to be on TV or radio bragging about what we do different. I want my customers to do it, and let me tell you, they will do it. You’ve got customers who will tell your story better than you can.”

Vitulli added parts and accessories as another key to differentiate the dealership.

“First of all, you better know what your competitor offers,” he said.

Vitulli said his Harley store is moving away from carrying almost all Harley PG&A items and providing more aftermarket V-twin items.

“We’re getting more and more products that are non-Harley (manufacturered or distributed) that customers really want to see and aren’t used to seeing in our dealership,” he said.

Lopusnak of Suzuki noted how simple planning can make a huge difference in dealerships setting themselves apart from area competitors.

“Many dealerships go on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “They come in and they open the door and they hope things are going to happen.

“You have to have a plan, especially in these difficult times. Set your calendar. You really need to look at your dealership and reinvent it every 60 days. If you do that, then you’re going to see a difference.” psb

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