2016 marks the end of an uptick cycle with vehicle sales in the retail automotive market. This year, we can expect vehicle sales to slow down and plateau. Combined with increased regulatory pressure, 2016 will be a year in which many agents will need to stretch their capabilities and their market base as they prepare for potential economic challenges in the years to come.
The good news is that new opportunities are not out of reach. In fact, there is an often overlooked opportunity for agents seeking to expand their business volume, as well as increase their footprint in the marketplace, in the powersports industry.
Revving Up Product Sales
Now, it is understandable that discerning agents might be concerned with branching into a market they know little about. However, given that the powersports industry is still in the early stages of F&I development, agents might find that they know more than they give themselves credit for.
Your knowledge, particularly in the F&I space, can have immediate and dramatic impact on powersports sales and profitability. Most powersports dealers do not fully understand the F&I process, how to implement a strong F&I department or how to measure its success. Strong agents who have worked with dealers in this area have a wealth of knowledge to provide immediate benefits. This makes the agent value proposition that much larger and more tangible in the powersports space.
Beyond the potential ease of differentiating their services in the powersports market, agents with automotive industry experience may not realize that there is actually a shorter sales cycle and faster revenue opportunity in the powersports space. Think of it this way: You can spend 18 months going after one new-car dealership, all the while competing with 50 administrators. Or you can acquire several powersports dealer partners in that same time period with only seven competitors. That’s right, seven.
So what does it take to make the leap into this brave new world? When contemplating expanding into the powersports market agents need to take the following steps:
- Change your mindset from working in a “need to have” industry to a “want to have” industry,
- Do your research and
- Apply what you’ve learned in auto to the powersports space.
It seems simple when put on paper, but taking the time to really delve into these three steps can go a long way toward ensuring success in the powersports market.
Step 1: Mindset
One of the biggest learning curves for any agent will be operating in a space where the vehicle purchase is a “want to have” rather than a “need to have.” Most powersports owners buy motorcycles and four-wheelers for leisure activities, not for their daily commute. This means that, while powersports demand might be high, the number of people willing to invest in the purchase of a powersports vehicle tends to filter down to those who can afford both a car payment and a motorcycle payment, along with the required insurance payments.
Typically, powersports enthusiasts, who still have to put food on the table, will focus on paying off their car or truck before making a powersports purchase. This filter is the industry’s biggest challenge right now, especially with the rising price tag of new powersports vehicles.
That is not so say that powersports consumers are not heavily invested in their ride. In fact, powersports owners often show more care and concern for their motorcycle than their car. They tend to see the bike as more of an extension of their personality, whereas the car just gets them from one place to another. And as the economy grows, we can expect more powersports enthusiasts returning to dealerships to make a purchase, meaning there will be more opportunity for dealers to increase their profitability and for agents to expand their footprint in the space.
In addition, in this want vs. need space, many powersports dealers extend their thinking beyond pure profitability metrics to the brands they choose to sell. While they can be just as strategic and sophisticated as an automotive dealer, powersports dealers can often base decisions on emotion as much as logic. For example, a staunch Harley-Davidson dealer who is heavily invested in the Harley brand is much less likely to open an Indian store than a Ford dealer is to open a Honda franchise.
Beyond the fierce competition and sense of stewardship between brands, powersports dealers are highly sensitive to being compared to the automotive space. The last thing they want to hear is how they are less sophisticated or versatile than their automotive brothers. This means that while agents can provide powersports dealers with quite a bit of knowledge gleaned from the automotive space, they have to be very careful in how they broach the subject.
In essence, both consumers and dealers operate in a sense of “want to have.” A good comparison to this mindset is the luxury vehicle market. Their purchase decisions are not based on getting from Point A to Point B, but rather on how the vehicle reflects their personality.
Likewise, highline dealers take their sense of brand stewardship seriously, which is reflected in the level of customer service they provide and expect from their agent partners. They believe in the benefits of the luxury brands and shape their dealerships to further cement in customers’ minds that buying from their dealerships comes with a care and attention to detail they cannot get anywhere else.
Powersports dealers operate in the same fashion. They take pride and ownership in the brands they chose to sell and they take care to ensure excellent customer service within a tight-knit community where word spreads fast. In turn, they need the same level of service from their agent partners.
Step 2: Research
Just like in retail automotive, it is important that agents perform their due diligence by researching the dealerships they want to pursue as well as their competitive landscape. They need to perform the groundwork to investigate each dealer’s current provider. It is also a good visual aid to develop a report card, providing a comparative analysis of the current provider’s services. Find out if they provide training, rate comparisons andprocess development, for example.
Be a problem solver. Most agents are probably already used to this when maintaining their relationships with dealer partners. However, it is just as important to research areas dealers can improve upon and provide insight before active engagement, especially in the powersports space. Taking this one extra step can put a strategic agent miles ahead in winning dealer business. You will demonstrate a level of service most powersports dealers are unaccustomed to — but would take advantage of in a heartbeat.
A strong presentation should include:
- An online and in-person mystery shop,
- A comprehensive website and online inventory review,
- Online reputation assessment,
- Demographics and surrounding area overview and
- A comparison with the target dealer’s competition.
Lastly, it is important to look at each dealer’s inventory and compare it to the coverage offered by their current provider. Often, anywhere from 40% to 50% of their inventory does not qualify for coverage from most powersports providers, which means there is ample opportunity for a strategic and forward-thinking agent to earn their business with one of the few providers that maintains expanded coverage levels.
With this research in hand, you should be well-prepared to present dealers with something interesting — or at least a new perspective on their dealership operations. The powersports dealership personnel should be more intrigued and interested in how an agent can make them more successful.
Step 3: Application
Agents already accustomed to fierce competition in retail have the potential to easily win powersports dealers by maintaining the level of service they already know how to provide. You do not need to be timid about branching into a new market as long as you trust and use the processes you have relied upon for so long to build relationships and increase a dealer’s reliance on the agent model.
In fact, agent success in the powersports space relies more on understanding F&I than on understanding the space itself. Agents positioning themselves as F&I specialists and helping dealerships implement successful and compliant F&I programs have ample opportunity to materially grow their footprint at a faster pace in this space.
Remember, just like in retail automotive, providing a constant flow of solutions that keep dealers thinking about increasing market share and profitability deepens and strengthens your overall relationship with your dealers. Agents looking to make the transition into the powersports space will also need to look to partner with a solution provider that understands and can support and help execute their powersports strategy.
Providers that already operate in the space often have a better understanding of the products and services most dealers find beneficial, as well as a strong ability to cultivate relationships and make introductions, giving agents a resource to lean on to ensure successful market expansion.
Because the powersports space has so little agent competition, you’d be surprised how much more effective agents can be. Dealers in this space are not used to someone outside the dealership being invested in their success. By building a relationship with them, understanding their objectives and hurdles and educating dealers on the intricacies of F&I, agents can provide an immediate and exponential impact on their business. Remember, this all stems from adjusting your mindset, doing the homework and research on each prospect and determining how to apply lessons learned from automotive retail.