“How are we going to differentiate ourselves?” That’s the question so many dealers are asking themselves in the down economy, says General Manager James Larabee. “I think that’s the real goal for any business during these trying times. You have to offer something above and beyond your competitor, whether it’s personal service or people. Customers might drive two states over these days (for a product).” The differentiating factor for Manchester Honda/KTM is its employees, says Larabee. “They are experienced with the product,” he said, “and they’re only going to recommend what they know works.” There are about 16 full-time employees and four part time, which has grown since Larabee’s parents opened the business in ’64 as a Honda dealership. They later carried Kawasaki, Ossa/Yankee, Maico and Hercules, all of which came and went between ’64 and ’83. They hung onto Honda and currently sell KTM as well. “KTM was added in ’93 as a compliment to our Honda line,” Larabee said. “We wanted an off-road competition-oriented brand, and our service manager was an ex-KTM rep so it seemed like a good fit. KTM has really been good for us. It’s a good compliment to Honda.”
“We won’t see a return of the floor traffic to get us where we need to be by the end of the year,” Larabee said. “We’re just trying to get through this year. We have a good control of our expenses. We’ve reduced those greatly. I think some of the markets will come back in the spring.”
What was popular yesterday won’t even be asked about tomorrow, says Larabee. “We tried to analyze past buying experiences,” he said, “but I think we can just throw that out the window.” Last year the KTM 990 Adventures did really well at the dealership, but Larabee says this year they had little consumer interest. There also have been fluctuations in the popularity of other products, adds Larabee.
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
As with so many dealerships, floor traffic has dwindled considerably, says Larabee. Thanks in large part to a very wet summer in the Northeast, people just haven’t been able to ride. “When you have a threat of rain showers every afternoon for eight weeks, it puts a dent in riding,” Larabee said. “We sold more Gold Wings in March and April than we have sold in some years entirely. That dropped off because of the rain. When you can’t ride, you see a decrease in unit sales. That follows through to parts and accessories because people aren’t accessorizing those bikes.” Loan availability and high interest rates also have put a dent in unit sales. “Some people who we got approved don’t qualify for the Honda special rate,” he said. “The interest rate is higher than they were expecting, and it’s sometimes enough for them to say ‘no thank you.’”
PARTS AND SERVICE
Manchester Honda/KTM does a lot of online parts and accessories sales through its Web site, eBay and Craigslist. The online duties are done by three employees. “We split it up,” Larabee commented, “so we keep on top of it on a daily basis.” During the height of the season the dealership usually carries 2½ technicians, but during the winter that falls to one service manager.
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Manchester Honda/KTM does a lot with motocross and race sponsorship. Larabee says they rented a national motocross track in Southwick, Mass., and invited all their riders to attend. They provided food and beverages as well. Larabee says more than 200 riders attended. They also offer contingency programs to the racers. To help promote the dealership, Larabee says the store has some of its own jerseys as well as graphics packages.
WORDS OF ADVICE
“We’ve been talking about this in our managerial meetings. We really want to project a positive outlook to all the customers who come in as well as the associates you work with,” Larabee said. “You can’t always do that, but you always need to try. Project confidence. Thank every person for coming in. It always could be worse. We’re working in a great industry.”