Father-son team open new dealership in Maryland
New dealership openings have certainly become a sparse event in these lackluster economic times. Sure, many get bought and sold, and unfortunately some are still closing, but opening a new store while customers are still reeling from the recession is rare. Yet the father-son team of Ernie “Louie” and Matthew Gardner has done just that.
Glen Burnie Motorsports in Glen Burnie, Md., opened March 1, with a goal of offering area powersports enthusiasts a superior customer service experience.
“We kind of just saw an opportunity. With how the dealerships are handled in this area, we thought that customer service is gone, and we thought we should just appeal to that,” Matthew Gardner said.
Ernie is an enthusiast, and he has grown tired of poor customer service and four-to-five-day waits on parts. So three years ago, the pair decided to open their own dealership that would provide the type of shopping experience Ernie was seeking.
Though neither has experience running a dealership, both are well-versed in the world of business. Ernie owned a concrete business until the mid-1990s, followed by ventures in storage and other businesses. Matthew has worked with his father, as well as running his own group of office suites.
Key to starting out on the right foot with the dealership was hiring employees who are experienced in powersports, but who also have the same vision as the Gardners.
“We really wanted people that know what they’re doing but are still willing to learn and adjust, like we are,” Gardner said.
The family also brought on consultants Amanda Blackstone and Duncan Butler of The Butler Group Atlanta to help with the opening, after meeting the duo at Dealer Expo.
“They were able to set something up and were out about two weeks later to help out from top down with everybody,” Gardner said.
Getting from concept to the store opening was no simple task. The Gardners had considered purchasing an existing dealership, but felt changing the culture at an already-established business would be more difficult than starting from scratch.
“We just wanted to do it our way. We had a vision in our heads of how we wanted to run it, so we set it up, and the right building became available, and Yamaha became available,” Gardner said.
The dealership is located in a former Saturn automotive dealership, providing it plenty of showroom and service department space. Other auto dealers are also near the location, about 10 minutes outside of downtown Baltimore.
The dealership sells cruisers, street bikes, dirt bikes, scooters, ATVs, side-by-sides and generators. It only carries Yamaha for now, but the Gardners are hoping to expand their offerings in the future.
“We’re actually pursuing other brands right now, so we do want to be multi-line,” Gardner said, adding that the dealership is also looking to add watercraft to its lineup.
Rainy weather has hampered the soft launch of the dealership, but units have still been moving, with four sold during the second week of business.
“We’ve got a lot of foot traffic. People want to check out the new place,” Gardner said.
So far much of the dealership’s marketing has been focused on social media because of its low cost. The dealership had more than 1,500 Facebook fans and almost two dozen Twitter followers by late April. Glen Burnie Motorsports is also placing some radio and print ads with Yamaha co-op dollars, and some of its advertising will appear on TVs at nearby Gold’s Gym locations.
The dealership plans to host a slew of events to promote itself. Staff members are talking to local riding organizations, and one charity bike wash is already in the works. Glen Burnie is also hosting a May 11 grand opening featuring a dyno, a wheelie machine and a live rock radio station radio broadcast.
“Anything we can do to drive traffic and just be more involved in the community,” Gardner said.
If enough traffic is generated, the dealership plans to increase its staff. It currently has eight employees, which Gardner feels is understaffed for the size of the store.
In Year 1, the family expects to lose money on the venture, as it is a new business, but Matthew and Ernie are also confident they’ll see success.
“We’d like to get Pro Yamaha, and to do that we’d likely have to hit our goals for the year,” Gardner said.
To reach that status, the Glen Burnie Motorsports plans to be different. Staff have been trained to answer the phone with a smile, greet customers when they come in, get parts in a timely matter, help customers receive good financing plans and not bait and switch them. The vision for the dealership, Gardner emphasized, is “treat the customer first; treat them the way they want to be treated.”