BUSINESS PROFILE: ST. BONI MOTOR SPORTS
Owner Mark Niforopulos bought his dealerships after being a loyal PWC customer to one of four stores in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. “I was a customer, and it was at the small Jet Ski shop, and I always joked with him that when he was ready to sell the shop, I was interested,” Niforopulos recalled. Though Niforopulos was kidding a bit, when the four dealerships came up for sale in the fall of 1998, he jumped at the chance to own them. “I felt there was an opportunity to put together a full-line dealership in the western Twin Cities,” he said. One of his first moves was to combine the four locations into one. “I consolidated everything really in 2000,” Niforopulos said, “just to have full service under one roof for everything we sell.” Within the first three years, he acquired the full model lines of Yamaha, Kawasaki and BRP, which he still carries now.
“My biggest concern is probably the state of the economy because we sell items that are not necessities,” Niforopulos said. He’s worried too many customers are gauging their purchasing decisions by what they see or read in the news. “If there’s bad news, consumers definitely are careful about purchasing stuff,” he said. Niforopulos also is concerned about what a rebound will look like for the industry. “I’m curious to see how 2012 goes,” he said, adding that by 2012, the rebates and discounts customers have come to expect will likely be gone. “What will the consumer say to not saving 15-20 percent on items and paying closer to MSRP?” he asked.
For a dealer located in an area that already has a more than a foot of snow on the ground this season, snowmobiles are the hot sellers. “We’re seasonal. We’re like farmers,” Niforopulos explains. The most popular sled at his dealership is the 2011 Ski-Doo 600 E-TEC. “The Ski-Doo, they’ve got an amazing product right now,” he said. With the E-TEC motors, he has found operation is easy and maintenance is minimal.
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
The biggest change Niforopulos has seen in the past couple years is the sales of mid-priced models have decreased. “What I’ve noticed is there seems to be a big spread in the consumers. We’re selling a lot high-level product, and we’re selling a lot of entry-level product. We’re missing the middle Americans,” he said. “There’s just fewer and fewer customers for the product priced in the middle.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
As the “backbone of the company,” the service department is integral to St. Boni Motor Sports. “Most service departments have been built as a necessity. I built our service department first,” Niforopulos explains. When he bought the dealership, he focused on creating a quality service area before turning his attention to new unit sales. “That was really what I was most interested in, fixing stuff, repairing, solving problems,” he said. Because of that, the dealership works on as many or more units than it sells. To that end, the dealership has focused on providing options that others in the Twin Cities may not. “We have the full machining area; we have the full dyno room, and I’ve tried to round up as much knowledge as possible with the staffing. It’s the No. 1 asset that I have is my staff,” Niforopulos said. The dealership’s parts department has been chugging along. “It’s the slow steady is what I call it,” Niforopulos said. “It’s definitely growing every year.” What has kept the department afloat both last year and going into this winter is strong snowmobile parts sales, a new website and new tactics. “Last year, we purchased deep, so we could offer discounts, knowing it was going to be a buyer’s market, and taking the gamble paid off for us,” Niforopulos said.
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
The dealership found success in 2009 when it decided to launch a new website aimed at selling through the Internet and at driving customers into the store. 50 Below built the site, and Niforopulos has been impressed with the new tool. “It needs constant maintenance, but our customers have been loving it,” he said. The idea of creating a new website came up after the dealership closed on Sundays and Mondays about two years ago. “It’s a courtesy for people when we’re closed,” Niforopulos explained. The site was launched in September 2009, and a grassroots marketing campaign began with fliers and direct customer communication. “We did start offering discounts online, so that helped the word of mouth,” Niforopulos recalled. So far, the site has been successful. “It’s worked beautifully for us,” he said. The dealership is one of 50 Below’s top five online sellers, and new unit promotion online is drawing floor traffic. “The major units, definitely people are shopping online and coming into the store, but we’re producing quite a few web orders as well,” Niforopulos said.
WORDS OF ADVICE
As a small business owner, Niforopulos says it’s important to know exactly where a dealership is financially. “We’re all passionate owners, and we all want to believe we’re probably doing better than we are,” he said. “You need to believe in your financials, they’re the true indicators of how you’re doing.” PSB
ST. BONI MOTOR SPORTS
St. Boni Motor Sports
4120 Steiner St.
St. Bonifacius, Minn. 55375