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CIAO BELLA SCOOTERS – Alton, Ill. – May 25, 2009

May 25, 2009
Filed under Power Profiles

BUSINESS PROFILE
Being located close to a national scenic byway, Ciao Bella Scooters has more than 1 million motorcyclists ride by annually, says owner Helen Davidson. The dealership attracts people from Springfield and Chicago, as well as nationally. Although there are always new faces coming and going, Davidson tries to service everyone, especially women. Davidson says about 60 percent of her customers are women. The Web site even has a “feminine edge,” she said. “It doesn’t look like all the other powersports Web sites. It’s colorful. It’s user-friendly. It’s stylish.” The dealership focuses on scooters and small-displacement motorcycles. It carries KYMCO, Johnny Pag and Hyosung.

GREATEST CONCERN
Like many dealers, Davidson says financing has been difficult, but to offset some of the credit issues, she started a layaway program about two and a half years ago. “We do 10 percent down. We don’t charge any interest and they can make payments up to 24 months,” she said. “If they cancel, we charge them a certain percentage of whatever they’ve given us. We don’t want to be their bank. We want to offer them the opportunity to buy a vehicle from us. I would say 98 percent who do the layaway program make payments for six months or a year, and then they get their income tax return and pay it off. I’ve had several of those people come back and upgrade every year.” While it’s been difficult to get customers financed, Davidson adds the hardest thing of late is the lack of financing for the dealership. “All my business lines of credit have been reduced down to the balance that I owe,” she said. “They’ve taken away all the financing of the flooring. Lack of inventory is a direct result of lack of floorplanning and credit for the dealership.”

WHAT’S HOT
KYMCO is Ciao Bella Scooters’ most popular brand, but Davidson says she sells more of their small displacement scooters, such as the 50cc to 150cc, than the larger-displacement scooters.

CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
More women are taking part in the recreation, but Davidson says this is especially the case at her dealership. “We all know that women are the biggest market untapped out there,” she said referring to the scooter and motorcycle industry. “Women feel very comfortable coming in here and talking to another woman. They tell me they get treated poorly when they go into powersports places. I think that’s starting to change because men are starting to realize women are still kind of ignored.” Davidson says she has a 300cc Johnny Pag pink motorcycle sitting out front that draws in a lot of women. “I’m hoping to add a lot of women’s apparel,” she said. “I’m excited to expand there because there is still not a lot there being offered to women. I see stuff in women’s colors but when you try it on, it’s bulky. It’s a man’s fit with a woman’s colors. I don’t like that.”

PARTS AND SERVICE
The dealership’s parts and service departments have grown considerably since it started three years ago. Davidson says the word is getting around that they do a good job and are less expensive than other places. “We won’t not take someone’s bike and try to repair it,” Davidson said. “If someone comes in with a Chinese scooter, (dealerships) won’t even attempt to talk to them. A lot of times you can’t get parts for those bikes, but if you give your best effort to repair that bike for them, first of all, they really appreciate the effort. Second of all, if you can’t (repair it) they usually come back and buy from you. We don’t turn anyone away.”

PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Davidson has done quite a bit of newspaper and some radio advertising, but her biggest investment in the past couple years has been the company Web site. Creative Juices designed the Web site and Web Growth Solutions manages and markets the Web site as well as other online avenues and are currently in the process of adding a blog, a business profile on Facebook, and YouTube videos. Davidson believes a big source of her future revenues will come from the online shopping section that she has recently added. Designed to look like her company Web site, she purchased a cloned site from Martin Racing Performance and now offers more than 4,000 performance parts and accessories.

WORDS OF ADVICE
“Always be thinking outside the box. Always be thinking of new ideas,” Davidson said. “A lot of powersports businesses get in the mindset and think one way, and it’s hard to break out of that mold. Try to recognize a problem. We’re like everyone else out there. We’re struggling. The only thing that’s saving grace for me is I do offer so many different programs.”

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