Dan Witmer and Mary Teasdale’s Canadian dealership was originally a business called Darotune, opened by Witmer, who was a road racer in the 1970s and ’80s. “Back in 1982, I started a small motorcycle shop that did mostly performance work on street bikes and race bikes, and we also sold accessories,” he said. In 1989, Witmer added the Sea-Doo line. He brought on Honda in 1990 and Arctic Cat in 2001. The dealership expanded three times from 1985-‘94. In 2003, the Honda dealership was moved to a separate location, and it was reopened as a Powerhouse dealership under new ownership in 2006. In 2008, the primary dealership also moved. “(The old location) was just too small for all the product lines that we had, and we wanted a fresh store, something new and sleek looking,” Witmer said. “We also changed the name from Darotune to Gear Head. We were just trying to promote our new image along with our new store. It was time for a change.” Teasdale helped create the new Gear Head, which carries Victory, Polaris, Piaggio, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Vespa, Hyosung, SYM, Zero Electric, PitsterPro and E-Moto. “We have quite a few different products here that are not mainstream Japanese brands, and I’d like to say we have products for just about everyone,” Witmer said. Besides its variety of brands and vehicles, what sets Gear Head apart is its attention to customer service. “Customers are not just numbers and their bikes,” Witmer explained. “We really get to know our customers. We get to know the bikes that they ride, and we can take better care of them, I think.”
Financing is of utmost concern for Witmer. “It’s difficult to get some customers retail financing in terms of products, and we don’t have a lot of options for wholesale financing,” he said. In Canada, there is only one wholesale financier for powersports dealers, which limits options. “The industry is still in a fragile state of recovery, and lenders are making it even more difficult to operate profitably and expand retail,” Witmer explained. “To avoid dealing with these changing rules, we are buying as much product as possible for cash, although this means smaller and more frequent orders to the OEMs. Most of our OEMs have been very cooperative.” Besides experiencing troubles with wholesale financing, Witmer is finding fewer customers are being approved for retail financing. “That can really dampen sales,” Witmer reported. “We might lose 40 percent of our customers because we can’t get them financed. You’ve made the sale, they want it, but the banks don’t want to lend them money.”
Because Gear Head carries a variety of vehicles and brands, its popular models vary. “This year the Victory Motorcycles have been doing quite well for us,” Witmer reported, adding Polaris’ side-by-sides also have sold well. Each year, however, popularity changes because of several factors. “I would say two years ago when gas prices were high, scooters were our biggest sellers, and I’m sure we’ll see that again this year,” he said. What also are looking promising are the Moto Guzzi and Aprilia motorcycles and Piaggio and Vespa scooters. “The Italian stuff seems to be getting a lot of attention now,” Witmer said.
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
Recently, Witmer has noticed customers becoming more knowledgeable. “I think customers are doing a lot more research before their purchase,” he said. “The Internet has really given them a tool to research the purchase, and they seem to come into the store knowing exactly what they want. They don’t need to be sold on a particular model. It really all comes down to price.” Though vehicle sales are still bringing customers into the store, P&A has changed. “They seem to be buying a lot more accessories online rather than coming into the dealership and actually looking at the product in person,” Witmer said. That’s an issue the is dealership is tackling. “We’re always looking at ways to get customers to come in the dealership, rather than answer questions by e-mail or phone,” he explained.
PARTS AND SERVICE
As Witmer’s business began selling accessories before it sold new units, the department has remained integral to the dealership. “Well over half our floor space is dedicated to riding gear, apparel, helmets, that sort of thing,” he explained. “That’s probably one thing that we try to focus on and do really well.” The department is advertised through the dealership’s website, events, e-mail blasts and newspaper ads. “We have a huge selection, probably the best in the area, and most of the name brand products and helmets and apparel and tires and so on,” Witmer reported. The service department is just beginning to pick up for the busy season, which lasts seven to eight months. During the off-season, only one technician is employed, while another joins the ranks the rest of the year. “We don’t need to do much really to promote it,” Witmer said. “As the season comes, really once we get into April and May, we get so overwhelmed in service, and it gets hard to keep up.” The shop services all brands of products, not just the ones the dealership sells.
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Throughout the year, Gear Head hosts open houses and sales events that are promoted through local newspaper and radio ads, the dealership website and e-mail blasts. “We’ll usually have a radio station here doing a remote broadcast for the day, and they’ll be promoting it on air,” Witmer added. The dealership is decorated for such events, and special deals are offered. “We also invite the local riding clubs and other organizations that are related to our business. We invite them to set up a table here too,” Witmer said. Besides in-store events, Gear Head also participates in local charity rides. “We’re usually one of the stopping points for people that are on the ride,” he said. “They can stop here for coffee and whatnot, and we give discounts to those riders on that day.” Those stops bring new customers into Gear Head that had never heard of the dealership. “It helps with sales; it also helps with awareness of our dealership too,” Witmer explained. “A lot of local riders may not be aware of our dealership, and it gets them in here and aware of what we have to offer.”
WORDS OF ADVICE
“I would say just keep doing your own thing, whatever works for you,” Witmer advised. “Don’t worry about what other dealers are doing. It seems like everyone has their own angle of what works for them. Just do what you’re good at doing and stick with it.” PSB
Gear Head-Ottawa, ON-4/4/2011