4497 W. Converters Drive
Appleton, Wis. 54913
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Appleton Powersports is a truly family owned business. Mike Catlin is the vice president and general manager and his brother Jeff is the business manager. Their other brother Tom is the parts/service manager, and their other brother Dennis is the sales manager. Their sister is the accountant, which they jokingly call the bean counter. To top it off, Catlin said, “Of course there’s Father Carrol who comes down every day to monitor his children and keeps peace and harmony among us.” The dealership has been in business since the late 1960s, but the Catlin family has owned it since 1999. A couple years later, they opened a new facility located at two major intersections in Appleton. The dealership is a full-line Yamaha and BRP dealership with the exception of jet boat and outboards for both brands.
“Currently my greatest concern is still the over abundance of distressed inventory,” said Catlin. “There are three size dealers still left servicing the consumers: Mom-‘n-pop stores, mid-sized stores and high-volume stores. The high-volume stores are all about growth and domination of not only their markets, but everyone around them. They buy up all of the distressed inventories by traveling around the county and flooding all areas with less expensive product. The (mom-‘n-pop and mid-sized) dealers do the best they can, but they continue to take abuse, not only from consumers who tell them they’re ripping them off, but also from the manufacturers because they, the dealers, are not holding their own when it comes to their target market area. Until the entire distressed inventory is dried up across the nation, two-thirds of the dealers will continue to struggle.”
Appleton Powersports has received a pleasant surprise in sales these past few months. “Oddly enough, it has felt like the fall ATV season for us,” said Catlin. “Even harder to comprehend is the fact that it hasn’t been the price shopper buying. With one of the brands we sell, the average ticket price is over $8,500, and most of those sales have been current model year product.” The dealership also has seen an uptick in PWC sales in part because of the hot, muggy temperatures they’ve been experiencing in eastern Wisconsin.
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
The trend Appleton Powersports is seeing is the lack of new buyers because of rising vehicle prices. Catlin says the dealership’s average buyer is
40-60 years old. While those consumers have weathered the storm and for the most part, continue to buy powersports, that’s not the case for the next generation, Gen X, says Catlin. “The MSRP on today’s powersports equipment is getting to be out of the buying realm for that generation,” he said. “Having only been in this industry for 16 years, I remember the days where hardly anything in a dealership was over $6,000. Today, we have ATVs, snowmobiles, PWC and motorcycles exceeding $14,000. Gen X should be the next potential big ticket buyers in the powersports industry, but the current pricing of product is forcing them into other areas of enjoyment that is more economical for them.”
PARTS AND SERVICE
To separate themselves from the other dealers near them, Appleton Powersports takes full advantage of the manufacturers’ factory training programs. “We can thank Yamaha and BRP for creating their programs, which gives each and every dealer the same opportunity to be No. 1,” said Catlin. “No other dealer in the state of Wisconsin has as many certifications as Appleton Powersports, and we are proud of that.” To showcase those accomplishments, Catlin says they hang banners around the facility and are in the process of getting T-shirts made stating those facts. “We are doing very well considering the state of the economy,” he noted. “Again, we can thank our manufacturers for creating the necessary certification systems to continue ongoing training for our employees. This has given our parts department the tools needed to ask the right questions and up-sell whenever possible.”
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
The dealership stumbled across a major promotional home run several years ago. A Department of Natural Resources (DNR) office closed just south of the dealership, and the DNR asked Appleton Powersports if they’d like to become a validation station, which allows riders to get their Field ID numbers. Those numbers allow consumers to legally ride until their official stickers arrive in the mail. “Suddenly we noticed not only consumers coming in with BRP and Yamaha units, but all makes and models,” Catlin said. “Sometimes they came in and left. Other times they left with a helmet, goggles and gloves. In recent years, those consumers who came in for a registration tell us they remembered coming in and knew we sold equipment. So now the wheel is set in full motion.” The dealership gets free advertising because the store is listed on the state’s Web site. “We are also compensated for handling the transactions,” Catlin added. “As of June, we have become a full DNR registration station.”
WORDS OF ADVICE
“The days of telling our consumers, ‘We are the best. We have over 75 years of combined experience,’ does not work anymore,” said Catlin. “Our customers are told the same thing every store they walk into. We, as a team of employees, need to step out of our store and look around. Look at other types of businesses and what they do for promotions. Get out of the ‘We have been doing it this way for years, and it seems to be working’ mode. Somehow we have to show our consumers why we are different, and give them another reason to buy from us other than a cheap price.”