CEO leans on staff to create a successful business and local riding community
Ask Kevin Lackey about his dealership group, Freedom Powersports, and his eyes light up. He talks about the company’s growth, where the group has been and where it’s going, and most of all he talks about the people — his employees who helped his dealerships get to a place that would land the group on Powersports Business’ inaugural Power 50 list.
Lackey, president and CEO of Freedom Powersports, and his employees have a lot to brag about. Since starting Freedom Powersports by buying out Family Powersports Weatherford and Family Powersports Hurst Discount Outlet in July 2012, the group has expanded to include six locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And the group is successful to boot, with revenues up 12.3 percent in 2012.
That success, Lackey says, goes back to the strong support system he has put in place within his stores. After serving as general manager for Family Powersports for 15 years, Lackey built a relationship with many of his then-colleagues, and he has brought many to his new stores. Many members of the core Freedom Powersports group have been working together for up to 11 years.
To keep that bond strong and to help improve the business, Lackey has focused heavily on staff training. Freedom Powersports’ sales staff, F&I employees and sales managers have committed to a six-month ongoing training program with Automotive Training Academy. In addition, F&I staff attends finance schooling yearly; an American Financial & Auto Services rep stops by the store weekly for F&I training and audits; and continuous education is offered on ADP Lightspeed use, accounting and best practices. Freedom Powersports also invested $100,000 to get each of its dealerships signed up for Spader 20 groups, and all of the stores’ GMs have signed up for Spader management courses this winter. Each department tracks its employees’ goals daily by listing the goals on whiteboards.
“We believe training is the absolute number one most important thing because we have to have good employees,” Lackey said.
Freedom Powersports believes in promoting from within. The group’s best parts manager and best service manager were recently given roles as managers of their respective departments for all stores. The dealership group is also focused on creating a positive work environment, designing a workplace that Lackey says is fun, but also serious, for its nearly 100 employees.
“We give them a great place to work. We give them a great opportunity for growth. We give them a meaningful opportunity for growth,” Lackey said.
In order to continue to build on the exemplary staff the dealerships already employs, the company is beginning to take a closer look at how employees are hired.
“We are doing more of a two- and three-step interview process and doing a lot of reference checking, and this last year, we have started to do a lot more of one-week to two-week training before we actually put somebody in the dealership in their role,” Lackey explained. “We’re spending a lot of time to make sure they understand what their job description is and how our systems work.”
Because of the reputation Freedom Powersports has already built, people are clamoring for a job at one of the company’s dealerships, so the group can afford to be selective. Freedom Powersports hires on attitude first, looking for those who are willing and able to adjust to the group’s procedures.
“We are not necessarily looking within the industry. We’re looking for people who have the ability to show commitment,” Lackey said.
Success with every store
In its first year under Lackey’s ownership, Freedom Powersports has fared well throughout the departments at its stores.
Powersports Business recognized Freedom Powersports as a Power 50 Best in Class winner for its service department. The collective 35-employee service department delivers strong numbers, with efficiency clocking in around 95 percent and margins equating to nearly 73 percent.
To track efficiency, technicians clock into each job with daily time cards. Time stamps are pasted on the back of each repair order, so the service advisor can input the information for accurate RO closing. And just like every other department, service goals are measured each day. A collective total is gathered daily for each tech and monthly for the entire shop. This allows the dealership to follow up with techs when they’re falling behind. A yearly bonus program and tiered compensation also allow techs to get back on track if they missed goals during part of the year.
Because this process is so highly optimized, customers have confidence turning to the dealership for their service needs.
“The most important thing is the communication. We just have a really good process of communication between the service department and between the consumers,” Lackey said. “We are really mindful of staying in touch with customers.”
Because of this attention to detail, Freedom Powersports has been able to hold its labor prices at a rate higher than most of its competitors.
Though Freedom Powersports was honored for its service department, the dealership also excels elsewhere. About half of Freedom Powersports’ revenue comes from new unit sales. The group’s dealerships sell vehicles from Can-Am, Kawasaki, Land Master, Polaris, Sea-Doo, Star Motorcycles, Suzuki, Victory and Yamaha, along with boats from Centurion and Bentley. Its largest segment in terms of total unit sales is side-by-side, followed by motorcycle and ATV. However, each store has its own top-selling segments and brands. One store, for example, sells 250 watercraft in-season, while another sells pre-owned at a ratio of 5:1.
“I think that you shoot yourself in the foot by not having the variety. We don’t want to be so seasonal that it’s scary,” Lackey said.
Another point of pride for Freedom Powersports has been its F&I department. F&I accounts for about 5 percent of the store’s revenue and carries a nearly 60 percent margin. This can be attributed not only to the department’s extensive training, but also to the process in which salespeople deliver committed buyers to F&I.
“Once in the business office, we have a really strict process that involves a menu selling process and an F&I introduction, and we believe in the products that we sell,” Lackey said.
Parts has also been doing well, with 15-30 percent increases spread throughout the group. The lowest margin in parts throughout Freedom Powersports’ dealerships is 33 percent, with some in the group seeing as much as 39 percent margins. The key to such positive results in parts, Lackey says, is having managers in place who order the right products, correctly manage the flow of inventory, work with vendors and assure the department is seasonal.
Though Freedom Powersports wasn’t built from scratch and could rely on the Weatherford store’s 15-year history, the dealership group has had to work to get its new name and culture out to the public.
“I’d say our biggest push is online marketing. We do a lot of stuff with SEO, SEM, a huge Google AdWords campaign coming out of every single dealership. We have a big push for our online reputation now,” marketing director Sarah McVean said.
Each dealership has its own Facebook page, and the brand is also active on Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Four Square, Tumblr and Pinterest. The dealerships also have their own websites, all linking to a primary Freedom Powersports hub located at FreedomPowersportsTX.com. That home site serves as a center for all the dealerships, their collective events and even the events of competitors and other local powersports groups. Combining all that into one site helps build the dealership’s culture and the riding culture in the area.
Freedom Powersports also hosts in-store events, such as demo days, VIP nights and customer appreciation days. In November, the dealership exhibited at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in Dallas, with Tucker Rocky reps joining the dealership at the show as partners. Getting in front of the public like that is important for a dealership like Freedom Powersports, which is trying to earn awareness for its brand.
“The International Motorcycle Show has invited [powersports enthusiasts] to come to one place in North Texas in our backyard. Literally, we surround Dallas, and they will drive 25,000 people through the door Friday, Saturday and Sunday for us,” Lackey said.
The dealership group has also begun a group called the Freedom Power Riders, which is a group of customers that get together monthly to eat at a café and go on a four-hour ride. The Freedom Power Riders originally met once a month, but the group’s popularity has led it to schedule rides twice monthly. That group has also begun raising money for charities, and its members have become cheerleaders for the dealership.
Other marketing efforts include email blasts, direct mailers and text messaging. Freedom Powersports has also invested in print advertising in local publications. All of these efforts are centered on building a community for riders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“We want to make sure we nurture them from the minute they come to the minute they leave, and we want to continue to nurture them,” Lackey said.
Though Lackey purchased his first dealership only a little more than a year ago, his leadership and his employees’ commitment to the stores are already making a mark not only on his dealerships, but also on the local riding community and with their vendors. And the entire process of starting and running the business has also had an impact on Lackey.
“You can almost get emotional about how hard everybody is working to accomplish something really special,” he said. “We’ve had vendors call what we have ‘Freedom Powersports magic,’ but the best part is it’s not magic. It comes from hard work, determination, integrity, and that makes people feel good.”
Locations: Weatherford, Dallas, Decatur, Hurst, Lewisville and McKinney, Texas
Employees: 97 full-time, 2 part-time
CEO/President: Kevin Lackey
Brands carried: Can-Am, Kawasaki, Land Master, Polaris, Sea-Doo, Star Motorcycles, Suzuki, Victory and Yamaha