511 2nd Avenue South
Kearney, Neb. 68847
Gene Freeze, Craig Stokebrand and
Craig Stokebrand went to college and got a degree in education. Set to mold the young minds of the world, there was one problem for him: he graduated in December. Since there aren’t typically many teaching jobs open at that time, Stokebrand decided to try his hand at selling motorcycles. While he wasn’t interested in motorcycles at the time, he’d always wanted to try playing the sales field. After working his way up the corporate ladder and marrying original owner Gene Freeze’s daughter Amy, Stokebrand, along with his wife, bought a portion of the dealership in 2004. Freeze opened Kearney Yamaha in 1986 as a Yamaha-only dealership, but has since added Kawasaki, Polaris and Suzuki. In addition to being co-owners, Craig Stokebrand acts as sales manager and Amy Stokebrand does the accounting. The 22,000-square-foot main building is on a tract of land that includes a four-acre test ride area and a pond for watercraft tests. Both test areas have proven successful for the dealership, eliminating comebacks and customer complaints, Craig Stokebrand said.
Two things keep Stokebrand up at night: out-of-state sales and big box stores selling powersports products. Kearney is about an hour away from the Kansas state line and some of the city’s residents and other Nebraskans close to the state’s borders have been circumnavigating Nebraska’s sales taxes by buying elsewhere, which means less business than potential. Kearney Yamaha gets many complaints from consumers who get frustrated when powersports vehicles they bought at big box stores break down and the bigger store doesn’t have the support or parts to fix them. The dealership is trying to develop some local solutions to this problem by stocking more parts.
Over the last year, Stokebrand has definitely noticed the rise of the utility vehicle. Their popularity has even started to make up for some of the loss of ATV sales the dealership has experienced. Cruiser sales also have grown explosively at the store. About four years ago, Kearney Yamaha was selling about 75 a year. Now, it does about 375 a year, Stokebrand said.
The dealership’s popularity with women has come to nearly rival its popularity with men. This is especially evident in Kearney Yamaha’s clothing department. Dealership personnel stock an equal amount of clothing for each gender. Stokebrand enjoys the different people who make their way into the store. “My favorite thing about being a powersports dealer is you get to deal with so many personalities, from typical hard-core biker guys to families to farmers and they all want the same thing,” Stokebrand said. “They want customer service. They all make up the whole powersports industry.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
Kearney Yamaha offers a number of services to its customers. The dealership has prepaid maintenance plans. ATV customers are guaranteed a two-day maximum turnaround for in-shop repairs, or they are given a machine of equal or greater value until the repair work is done. Local riding clubs get discounted service. In addition, for 2007, Kearney Yamaha will be renovating its parts and service areas. Dealership personnel have learned the importance of customer flow from participating in a 20 group and will be focusing on that this year.
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Instead of dinner and a movie, Kearney Yamaha does dinner and an open house. Every year in the first part of December, the dealership hosts a soup supper and invites 14,000 of its closest customers. The hearty meal is followed by an open house with the biggest discounts it has all year. The dealership also does dinner rides the third Thursday of every month. Although they let the restaurant of the week know they’re coming, Stokebrand says, “It’s fun to go into a town of 200 people with that many motorcycles.”
WORDS OF ADVICE
“Two things: I think everybody should join a 20 group and learn to make money on back-end stuff. That it is possible,” Stokebrand said. “People need to learn to adapt. The industry is changing. Trying to do stuff the way you always did won’t work anymore.”
Kearney Yamaha – Kearney, NE – Jan. 22, 2007