Friend & Friend
227 State St.
Ellsworth, Maine 04605
29 Stillwater Ave.
Orono, Maine 04473
Cooper Friend and Kyle Hildebrand
Kyle Hildebrand married into powersports. His wife’s family, the Friends, had been in the industry for decades. Friend and Friend founder Peter Friend started the business in Newport, Maine, after reading a dealer inquiry from Honda in Sports Illustrated in 1964. Cooper Friend bought the dealership from his father in 1976 and moved it to Ellsworth, Maine, near the center of the state’s Atlantic coastline. The company added Yamaha in 1979. Kawasaki joined the lineup in 1990 and Polaris and Suzuki followed the next year. By 1999, Friend & Friend was ready to expand into a second location. Friend chose Orono, Maine, for the new store. The company added Yamaha and KTM to the lineup there. For his part, Hildebrand is an enthusiast as well. He has worked his way up the company chain, starting out at another dealership Friend previously owned, Green Mountain Harley-Davidson, followed by L-A Harley-Davidson, before becoming a partner in the business. Both Friend & Friend locations carry motorcycles, ATVs and snowmobiles. Ellsworth also stocks PWC.
Everybody worries about hiring good employees, but what about keeping those you already have around? That’s one of Hildebrand’s top concerns, along with inconsistent competition and the overall economy. His dealerships are going on the offensive to increase employee retention. In addition to external training from manufacturers and others, Friend & Friend has an in-house training program for all its employees, from management to associates. In-house training not only helps employees become better at their jobs, but also fosters team building, Hildebrand says.
The weather has been the largest driver behind unit sales for the last couple months at Friend & Friend. Maine has received quite a bit of snow late this winter. That has driven up snowmobile sales, as well as that of ATVs that have been accessorized with snowplows. Honda and Polaris brands have done well at the Ellsworth location, while Suzuki and Yamaha have thrived in Orono, Hildebrand says. ATV sales do well year round, he adds, since they can be ridden 10 and maybe 12 months a year.
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
Those smart customers aren’t going away. Friend & Friend has noticed a large increase in the number of consumers looking to purchase a vehicle who have done a significant amount of research before walking into a store. It’s a highly beneficial trend, Hildebrand says. “The consumers are becoming more educated,” he noted. “With money getting tighter, consumers want to know they have all the information they need before making a buying decision.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
Friend & Friend’s parts and accessories department has seen a lot of growth for more than a year. One of the contributing factors to this trend is the growing number of people who are choosing to update and fix up their late-model machines rather than looking into buying a new one. Associates aim to add four to five accessories, or “hot items” as Hildebrand says, to each unit sold. In the service department, Friend & Friend touts its same-day service initiative. The dealerships also push the collective experience of their service departments. The company has three technicians who have been with it for more than 17 years each, Hildebrand says.
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Friend & Friend is highly involved with its local YMCA. In April, the dealership is giving away an ATV to benefit the YMCA. Although customers might enter for free once a day leading up to the drawing, those who want to increase their chances can purchase multiple tickets in the days leading up to the giveaway. All of the proceeds will go to the YMCA. The effort has been well received within the community so far, Hildebrand says, and he hopes the goodwill continues to grow. As far as lifestyle events go, Friend & Friend coordinates a number of bike nights during the summer, drawing more than 200 bikes to the events. The company has partnered with a local restaurant to house the gatherings.
WORDS OF ADVICE
“Hang in there,” Hildebrand said. “Focus on the process. The people and process are what will keep things moving.”
Friend & Friend – Ellsworth, ME – March 31, 2008