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PWC clubs bring dealers customers, advocates

Jeff Hemmel, Contributing Writer
August 6, 2012
Filed under Features

Dealerships find benefits of connecting with local riders

Enthusiast clubs thrive in powersports, from snowmobiles to ATVs to motorcycles. And with a group of like-minded consumers as a target, many dealers have discovered the benefits. With some notable exceptions, however, PWC-related clubs have yet to gain the same kind of momentum with their local dealerships.

Should PWC dealers help remedy that situation by doing more to promote clubs and riding opportunities? Powersports Business recently spoke to various players to get their opinions.

Mutually beneficial
The benefits of a PWC club should be obvious from the enthusiast’s perspective.

“Personal watercraft clubs are a great way to meet and ride with folks who share your love of personal watercraft,” said Chris Manthos of the American Watercraft Association, which has more than 50 affiliated clubs nationwide. “There are plenty of cases of riders meeting folks through the club who end up being lifelong friends.”

Indeed, clubs are a great means to find riding buddies, get insider advice on new craft, discuss which dealers and shops seem to support and respond best to their customers, and even plan organized group outings. Clubs provide that feeling of community, bonding people with similar interests for the increased enjoyment of all. That community can serve the dealer well.

“We try to get involved with the clubs, not from an aspect of trying to be profitable for the business, but just as something more to offer our customers,” said Noel Hughes, owner of Cycle Springs Powersports in Clearwater, Fla. “I’ve always looked at it as if somebody comes over to a customer’s house and sees a PWC sitting in the garage and asks what they think of it, the worst answer is ‘It just sits in the garage’ and that they never do anything with it. That’s not going to promote our sport. By supporting clubs or events for customers to get out and ride their craft, I think it’s going to be better for our sport.

“We use it more to keep people enjoying their vehicles, and seeing some of the new product that’s out there. And hoping that in the long run that comes back to us.”

Reaching out to local residents who are likely to connect with the dealership only bolsters the dealership’s business opportunities.

“Being involved with the local community is beneficial to any business, and especially a business that has organized clubs utilizing the products and services they are marketing,” said LOOK Marketing’s Tim McKercher, who works closely with Sea-Doo. “If a dealer has a watercraft club locally, it’s easy to find 100 percent qualified customers. You know they are owners and vested into the sport and probably ride more than most, meaning they need more service and probably buy new models more often. A dealer can be the ‘go to’ dealership for all the members’ needs.”

Building a relationship with a local PWC club can benefit both the rider and the dealer.

“We always encourage the club/dealer relationship,” Manthos said. “Why wouldn’t a dealer want to extend a special welcome to an organized collection of customers? Likewise, who doesn’t want to get to personally know their local watercraft dealer?”

Beyond The Obvious
One potential hurdle in the dealer/club relationship, of course, is the unspoken assumption that club members may be more prone to expect discounts, deals, or even favors that a dealer may be reluctant to provide.

And indeed, one dealer contacted by Powersports Business raised this issue. It’s a situation that Manthos recognizes, but feels the savvy dealer can handle it given the potential benefits.

“There is a somewhat justifiable concern for dealers that being affiliated with a club will lead to requests for favors, product, or preferential treatment in the service area,” Manthos said. “But every business owner knows when it’s appropriate to take care of the regulars, and when to say no.”

“I don’t believe there’s any negative to a club in that regard,” Hughes said. “Most of the time your customer knows you need to make money to stay in business.”

Another notable benefit of clubs for all concerned is that there is strength in numbers. A united front of dealer and consumers can prove a formidable force when the time comes to stand against unfair access restrictions or other legal obstacles. Rather than have a small or scattered presence at community meetings, clubs can get the word out quickly to a large group of enthusiasts that a lone dealer might be unable to match.

“It’s an advocacy group in your corner as a third party of ‘the people’ should any unjust regulatory concerns surface,” McKercher said. “The club members can go to bat for protection of watercraft use and it will not be viewed as having any business politics behind it, just people protecting their right to free recreation.”

“We would like to see more dealer/club relationships with an aim of having ready-made and unified ‘grassroots reaction forces’ to counter any anti-access bigotry,” Manthos said.

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