Ted Nielsen’s entry into the business began with a gas station and a single-line Arctic Cat dealership.
Now, Nielsen Enterprises northwest of Chicago offers nine OEM brands over an expansive 80,000-square-foot complex. The dealership’s support of snowmobile and motorcycle racing is well known among those in the industry. The dealership has been a longtime sponsor of the Nielsen’s Grand Finale ISOC Snocross race in Lake Geneva, Wis., and has backed a long list of snowmobile riders over the years with its race team. It also offers support to six Vesrah Suzuki riders in AMA Pro Road Racing.
And while support of the sports is good for business, in order to provide an optimal retailing experience, Nielsen provides direction for his employees to make a commitment to the dealership’s customers.
“They’re the foundation of any success we obtain,” he said. “They have the skills and passion that allow us to do what we do. We have to maintain an up-front image to the customer and have qualified people to work on the units.”
Pre-owned sales continue to drive profit margins at Nielsens.
“We can never get enough pre-owned units,” he said. “From the motorcycle side, we get whatever we can get. Profit margins are always heaviest with pre-owned, and in these economic times, it’s much more of an advantage for us to have as much pre-owned as we possibly can.”
Nielsen said the dealership builds the bulk of its pre-owned inventory off the street and from trade-ins.
New unit sales have seen a boost due to the growing popularity of side-by-sides.
“And we have the luxury of carrying all powersports lines, although sales of all of them can be affected by the weather,” Nielsen said.
“Our F&I department has done a really good job in this environment,” Nielsen said. “It’s not as strong as it used to be, but that’s mostly because manufacturers are more into F&I.”
Nielsen reports that overall, retail financing remains “very difficult” for his customers.
Separating soft goods and garments from hard parts has been an important part of Nielsen’s overall success in the department.
“PG&A is definitely a good factor in adding to the success of our business, but we do run it a little differently,” Nielsen said. “So jackets and lifejackets and soft items are handled as a boutique, really, with their own staff. It allows our parts staff to focus on the machines, and the garments staff to focus on the fit. You need people with knowledge of the product, how to size it, how to fit it, tell someone what’s in it. It’s suggestive selling, and you need employees with the right type of personality to make those sales happen. It’s the personal touch that makes the sale.”
As a longtime KLIM retailer, Nielsen says the brand plays an important role in the department’s success.
Hard parts sales have been steady, but Nielsen claims that could be due to a Chicagoland dealership base that has decreasd by 10-15 stores in recent years.
“It’s still the backbone of our business,” Nielsen said. “We’re open seven days a week and we do a lot of ROs. We take service as it comes in the door to make it more convenient for the customers.”
As a board member of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, Nielsen participates in a variety of events that benefit the powersports-friendly charity, including the Ride for Kids.
The ISOC race sponsorship also sets the dealership apart from competitors, as does annual support of motocross racing at the Lake County Fair. In 2013 for the 50th Anniversary World Championship Snowmobile Derby, Nielsen’s restored the 1984 World Champion Phantom Sno Pro. It’s being showcased at the Snowmobile Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Germain, Wis., until the race in Eagle River, Wis.
“We are a dealer that participates in the sport that we sell,” is how Nielsen describes his support of various industry events.
“I don’t know what our sweet spot is for inventory,” Nielsen said. “The snowmobile business is not one for the faint of heart. We try to control inventory levels and keep it down as best we can, but none of our machines are necessity items. Sometimes we get shoved into the back when people have an opportunity to buy other things.”
What attracts employees to your dealership?
Nielsen’s attracts professional people to the dealership by offering benefits such as paid vacation, retirement savings and insurance. And when they come, most never leave. Five employees were honored for more than 25 years of service with a trip to Las Vegas on Nielsen’s dime.
“You’ve got to have the employee passion and knowledge to back up the business operation,” he said.
Location: Lake Villa, IL
# of Locations: 1 powersport, 1 marine
Full-time employees: 48
Year founded: 1969
Principal/Owner: Ted Nielsen
OEM brands: Arctic Cat, Can-Am, Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris, Sea-Doo, Ski-Doo, Suzuki, Yamaha