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Williow’s Motorsports-Chesire, Conn.-December 28, 2009

December 28, 2009
Filed under Power Profiles

Business Profile
The backbone of Willow’s Motorsports is its staff. The dealership’s owners, Jim Tabor and Mike and Carolyn Vallone, invest as much into their employees as they do into their customers. Mike Vallone says they keep the staff as motivated as possible and in the know through weekly staff meetings and monthly get-togethers. “We absolutely keep the staff informed of what’s going on, of what the current climate is and how we can do better than what’s out there,” he said. “Your staff is your team. Your team needs to know what’s going on. It would be pretty awful if Joe Montana went into a huddle and said, ‘Lets just hip-shot this thing.’ You’re all a team; you must all work together to achieve the same goal.” While the dealership has faced cutbacks like most other stores, Vallone says they continue to work as a team. “It’s crazy out there,” he noted. “I get phone calls every day about dealers closing.” The dealership has been in business since 1977, but Vallone got fully involved in 1996. “I purchased a Honda dealership over in Waterbury, Conn., and moved it into our facility,” he said, adding they also carry Kawasaki, Yamaha, Polaris, United Motors and Vectrix.

Greatest Concern
The state of the economy and the success of dealers lies in the hands of the consumers, and Vallone says when consumer confidence bounces back, so will the industry. “Five years ago if a consumer had $5,000 in his savings account, he was comfortable and he would finance and buy a new bike. Now that same consumer has to have $30,000 in the bank before he feels any kind of comfort,” Vallone said. “They’re afraid for their jobs. At unemployment at 10.2 percent, they don’t know if they’re going to go to work one day and get laid off. There needs to be some positive things from the news. Until the consumer can feel confident, I don’t think they’ll be knocking the doors down. When that comes back, we’ll be rocking and rolling.”

What’s hot
What’s not hot is the sport bike segment. Vallone says the demographic that usually buys them is having trouble getting financed. Therefore, that market has fallen off. What is doing well are the mid-sized cruisers and surprisingly, ATVs, notes Vallone. “It’s the small cruisers, Yamaha and Kawasaki,” he said. “The Kawasaki Ninja 250 has been good for entry-level riders and women. The 900 Yamaha and 950 Kawasaki have also been good.”

Customer buying trends
“Scooters were a trend; there’s no trend right now,” said Vallone. “The numbers were what they were minus 30 percent.” A trend, however, that has finally made its way across the country is increasing women riders. “It seems like the women’s motorcycle market finally hit. I know they’ve been saying that for years on the West Coast, but it seems on the East Coast, we’re always a few years behind,” Vallone said. “I saw good floor traffic on women’s new purchases. We’re promoting it and trying to make it more women friendly, typical marketing-type things.” Another shift in business is the fact that now it’s a buyer’s market, notes Vallone. “Profit margins seem to suffer a bit because the good buyers know they can shop around and get a pretty good value,” he said. “They’re looking for value, mid-cruisers. You need to work each and every customer absolutely 100 percent from the time they enter the door to the time they leave. Make sure you’re answering all their objectives.”

Parts and service
“If you ask anyone in the Northeast, they’ll probably say we have the best service manager in the Northeast,” Vallone said. “He’s been with us for some 30 years, and he’s well respected. He definitely knows his vehicles.” Despite a great staff, the service and parts and accessories departments have dropped in business since the economy took a turn for the worse. “The service department was doing good, same with P&A,” Vallone said, “but without the new vehicles sales, the departments are suffering a little bit.” An extremely wet spring and summer didn’t help new vehicle sales. “There’s no question I think the rain had something to do with it, but in the Northeast we’ve been used to that six out of 10 years,” Vallone noted. “A lot of people would like to think of that as the bottom line excuse. I’m not blaming the weather, surely it didn’t help, but in the spring, the floor traffic wasn’t like it used to be.”

Promotional home runs
Direct mail has worked the best for Willow’s Motorsports. Vallone says once every couple months they’ll send out postcards promoting different specials and/or preowned units. “We can target 100 percent of our customers at that particular end,” he said. “Our database (DMS) is from over 30 years in business, it’s pretty extensive.”

Words of advice
“It’s time to hunker down. It’s time to look at the parts department, service department, sales department. Keep inventories down, that’s a major thing. You need to cut back as best as possible without jeopardizing the integrity of the dealership,” Vallone said. “Keep a positive attitude with consumers. Have fun with each and every customer. Now is the time to really build relationships with the existing customers you have. Have fun with them.”

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