1504 Hillcrest Parkway
Altoona, Wis. 54720
Only one third of all family businesses are passed on to the next generation successfully, according to the Family Firm Institute. Though the older Mike Riley is the sole owner of Sport Rider in Altoona, Wis., the family is well on its way to a successful transition with son Scott working full time with the dealership for the past 10 years. Currently, Scott Riley, 34, is parts and sales manager for the business, but as a young adult he learned the ropes of the store from his father and others filling in as needed. Before the service-oriented store opened in 1981, Mike Riley worked for 19 years at another motorcycle shop in nearby Eau Claire, Wis. Sport Rider was granted its first franchise, Polaris, in 1982. Victory was eventually added in 1998. Triumph followed in 2002. The business has five full-time and two part-time employees working in a 7,500-square-foot building. However, the dealership manages to sell around 175 ATVs and 100 motorcycles each year. Snowmobile sales used to be high as well, but with the recent relatively snow-light winters, sled movement has fallen to one fifth of what it had been, says Scott Riley. “Service and parts for snowmobiles have perked up, but with the rising cost of new machines, there’s less and less buyers for new sleds,” Scott Riley said. “We think it’ll be a couple years of this kind of weather (significant early season snow) before customer confidence returns.” Along with ATVs, motorcycles and snowmobiles, Sport Rider sells Polaris UTVs. Scott Riley says the best part about working in the industry is the big kid’s toy store atmosphere. “The products we sell have a utility purpose, but you get to get out of the house and enjoy life a bit and these things allow that,” Riley said.
Not unlike some of his peers, Scott Riley isn’t pleased with the influx of Chinese product in recent years. Particularly that the product’s quality doesn’t match up to that of major OEMs and additionally has a significantly lower price point. Scott Riley says that lower dollar figure draws in consumers who are looking for a good buy, particularly in a down economy. He also notes uneducated consumers likely don’t know there’s a quality difference, and if they have a bad experience with the machine, they can be highly unlikely to return as a powersports consumer.
Never mind there’s a foot of snow on the ground in eastern Wisconsin, Scott Riley says ATVs have been the top seller, and there have been a surprising number of motorcycles sold in the last month at Sport Rider. Polaris’ Sportsman 500 has been the dealership’s best selling machine since its introduction in 1996. “It’s kind of the mid-sized model, but it offers all the features of the big machine without the cost.” Scott Riley adds despite not being legal to trail ride in Wisconsin yet, Rangers also have found a healthy home at Sport Rider. He hopes UTVs will be trail-legal soon to further boost the machine’s sales.
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
“The customers have been a little more discretionary in terms of what model they get,” Scott Riley said, “and they’re huge on financing. Oftentimes if they can’t get financing, they can’t get the bike.” More Baby Boomers are coming in lately as well, he observed. “They want a bike again now that the kids are out of college,” Scott Riley said. “They like the fuel mileage and being young again, enjoying the outdoors.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
Sport Rider prides itself in its masses of parts and accessories in stock. There is a method to the madness. “In stock means more likely to sell,” Scott Riley said. “With competition from the Internet, if I have to go to the catalog to order a part or accessory for them, (customers) are more likely to do it online.” The service department is the heart of the dealership and is where Mike Riley spends most of his time. All Sport Rider’s technicians are Polaris, Victory and Triumph factory-certified. The training is “pricy, but it pays in loyalty and the word spreads,” Scott Riley noted. “You have to have qualified mechanics, otherwise you won’t stick around.”
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Riders groups are the crux of social activities at Sport Rider. The dealership organizes Triumph and Victory rider groups. The groups ride four to six times each year and usually get together once during the winter for dinner. They take different lengths of rides and visit a variety of destinations to accommodate different riders. “That’s a good way to create customer loyalty,” Scott Riley said. “(Participants are) more likely to visit the shop more frequently.”
WORDS OF ADVICE
“We pay attention to the bottom line more, having invested in a software system,” Scott Riley said. “There are a lot of dealers out there still operating on old school methods with bookkeeping and data collection. There’s a lot to be gained or lost upfront. In layman’s terms, there’s too much money left on the table.”
— Lisa Young
Sport Rider – Altoona, WI – Jan. 21, 2008