Automatic Distributors expanding facilities, SKUs
Dave McMahon, Editor in Chief
October 18, 2013
Filed under Features
New Indiana warehouse built to meet Midwest growth
Automatic Distributors has come from humble beginnings serving the marine industry to become a growing powersports distributor that dealerships are turning to more.
Former owner John Graham, who retired in 2010 and handed the business over to his son, Jeff, actually formed the business in 1967 as a marina. He eventually added Moto-Ski snowmobiles to his lineup of boats and outboard motors, and the Bangor, Maine, company has been growing ever since.
“It picked up one vendor at a time,” said John Ryder, senior business manager. “They were distributing only in Maine at the start.”
No longer. The company opened a distribution center in Indianapolis in 2012 to feed the growing number of Midwest-based dealerships that have been added as partners.
“You could say we had been a regional distributor up here in Maine,” said Ryder, a 16-year veteran of the company. “Over the years we had acquired quite a few dealers in the Midwest who were in need of next-day or second-day service. From Maine it was three- or four-day service. As we all know, people don’t want to wait three or four days for their product. It’s worked out very well for us in its first year.”
Taking the step from servicing the New England area to further reaches of the country has brought growth on a number of levels.
“There are only so many people you can distribute to here in New England. We’ve always had dealers calling us from the Midwest and other places, or we would be calling them to pick up more business,” Ryder said. “It’s hard these days with the big distributors out there. Basically it’s us being a small guy on the block trying to gain some market share.”
Jeff Graham has taken the company from its snowmobile roots to now offer a full line of powersports products.
“It was about 2000 when we expanded into ATV and off-road motorcycles, and we were doing a good business with those products,” Ryder said. “That was as far as we went for a long time. Then we expanded into street bike products and picked up about 100 new vendors and 40,000 new SKUs. After that it was PWC and about 15,000 more SKUs.”
Automatic’s Midwest growth, and the Indiana warehouse, has necessitated more sales staffers, both on the road as reps and as inside sales support. Automatic distributes hard parts mainly, with batteries, cables, levers, brakes and other maintenance-type products constantly heading out the door.
Ryder says dealers find working with Automatic to be an easy, profitable experience.
“We’re a smaller, family-owned company. You get that family-owned touch. With us, you’re not just a number in a book or on the computer. We do everything in our power to help support you and whatever you need. Salesmen like that, too. When a salesman walks into a dealership, he knows we’re going to help the dealer however we can. With some of the other guys, it’s completely different.”
With its combined facilities, Automatic can reach about 20 percent of the U.S. population with one-day shipping, and about 60 percent of the country with two-day shipping. That’s certainly a step forward, but Automatic doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.
“We’re not really regional anymore, but we’re not big enough to be national either,” Ryder said.
Ryder, however, does hope to see its snowmobile apparel house brand, Katahdin Gear, expand its reach in the coming years.
“It’s well known throughout New England, and we’re hoping to have a growing presence in the Midwest with that brand as well,” he said.
Katahdin Gear’s lineup includes its Apex Jacket ($189.95 MSRP), X2-X Pants ($159.95 MSRP), Backcountry Bibs ($99.95 MSRP) and Holeshot Jacket ($159.95 MSRP).