Textron Specialized Vehicles brings two brands to the powersports market
With its headquarters based in Augusta, Ga., just miles from Augusta National Golf Club, home of the annual Masters golf tournament, E-Z-GO has been producing golf cars for 55 years and is one of the market leaders in that industry. But E-Z-GO’s parent Textron Specialized Vehicles (TSV), a division of Textron Inc., wants to be known as more than a golf car company. Instead, it wants to reach a broader audience, including powersports dealers and their customers.
“We want to be a more broadly recognized, more legitimate player in the powersports industry,” explained John Collins, vice president, Consumer for TSV.
Ever since Textron acquired E-Z-GO in 1960, the company has been known for its golf car expertise. But E-Z-GO is just one of Textron’s dozens of brands, and one of five that fall under the Textron Specialized Vehicles division. TSV also includes Cushman commercial and utility vehicles, TUG and Douglas aviation ground support equipment and Bad Boy, a side-by-side company that was acquired in 2010.
Though E-Z-GO golf cars are TSV’s most well-known products, the division in recent years has begun putting more resources into and emphasis on its Bad Boy side-by-sides and its E-Z-GO personal transportation vehicles (PTVs), and the company is looking to distribute both through powersports dealers.
Two brands for powersports
Textron acquired Bad Boy in October 2010, giving the company its first brand that already had a footprint in the powersports industry. But as the company has begun learning more about the industry, its distribution models and its customers, TSV has found that it can bring not only Bad Boy but also E-Z-GO into the powersports market with distribution through already-established powersports dealers.
“We believe that not just Bad Boy, but the combination of Bad Boy and E-Z-GO is a very compelling product lineup for a powersports dealer,” Collins told Powersports Business during a visit to the company’s headquarters.
Bad Boy offers the fully electric Recoil, Recoil iS and Recoil Crew, along with the fully electric HDe and hybrid gas and electric Ambush iS in its side-by-side lineup.
And new for the 2016 model year is the gas-powered Onslaught, the brand’s first ATV, which was shown exclusively to Powersports Business in late July and will be available in dealerships by early September. The Onslaught, which was designed to give ATV riders comfort and control, features a 503cc EFI engine with 4X4 and 12 inches of ground clearance. (The Onslaught will be TSV’s first Bad Boy vehicle not manufactured in Augusta, as speed to market drew TSV to partner with a manufacturer in Taiwan.)
“Bad Boy is a brand we plan to invest in, we plan to grow, and we believe in the right channel, which is powersports, it can be very, very successful,” Collins said.
But TSV wants Bad Boy dealers to pick up the electric and gas personal transportation vehicle line E-Z-GO has to offer as well. The E-Z-GO line includes the Express PTVs, with aggressive styling and lifted suspensions for light off-road use; Terrain PTVs, two-wheel drives with cargo beds ideal for large acreages and estates; and the 2Five, a street-legal, low-speed vehicle for use in most states on public roads with posted speed limits of 35 mph or less. Dealers can also carry Freedom personal golf cars.
“The E-Z-GO value proposition works so well inside that dealership because it is an incremental line of business that they don’t get today,” Collins said.
Though some early adopter dealers have been those who are within a market that includes a community or group of communities that have fully embraced the PTV lifestyle, TSV sees opportunities for PTV sales in nearly every market in the U.S.
“That PTV business is not something powersports dealers think about, but you go to any race event, any weekend event, any lake or beach, and what do you see? You see this PTV product everywhere,” Collins said. “It’s not just these green golf cars running down the assembly line. It’s an orange Valor, and it’s a British racing green Terrain 250, and it’s a red Freedom, and those are not going to golf courses; those are going to individual consumers.”
As TSV has begun reaching out to dealers, looking to recruit more into its powersports network, it has received a positive response from many. One 41-year dealership veteran told TSV that he had been thinking about the PTV channel for a few years, and as soon as he heard what E-Z-GO and Bad Boy were offering, he signed on. Another dealer from Wisconsin recently visited the TSV factory, and after seeing all the consumer-ordered PTVs, added the E-Z-GO brand, even though he had planned on only adding Bad Boy.
“They see what’s going on in their market, but when we go in and sit down and have the business conversation, and you lay it out in front of them, they start seeing the dollars,” explained Philip Jhant, director, Channel Development and Recruitment. “They understand this is an opportunity that they really have not been able to tap into, and quite honestly, never thought about it. It’s never been front of mind until we go in and have that conversation, and once you start having that conversation, and they start thinking how many places just in their market that they see this vehicle being used today, they understand it.”
Jhant and four others at TSV are currently in the recruitment stage, looking to add dealers across the U.S. So far, he says, both brands have gained traction throughout the country.
“We’ve had some very good success stories early on where they brought this product in and immediately saw a different customer come into their store,” Jhant reported.
Reaching new customers
When TSV decided to begin distributing its PTVs through powersports dealerships, the company did so because PTVs draw in different customers than traditional powersports vehicles.
“The value proposition we believe we bring to a powersports dealer is we’re going to bring them a customer that they don’t get today, and we’re going to allow them to sell a product that they don’t have today but is widely wanted and is desired in the marketplace and is absolutely growing, that consumer PTV space, and at the same time give them access to Bad Boy that has, I think, a good set of current products and has a very aggressive plan for product expansion and market share growth,” Collins said.
Though many dealers already bring in the hunting crowd, Bad Boy has experienced growth in that market, as its electric motors reduce the field of disturbance around the vehicle. Ranchers and those who deal with livestock also like Bad Boy side-by-sides because they don’t scare the animals.
On the other hand, E-Z-GO PTVs attract families looking for a safe but fun ride for their children or something to run around town in, as well as retirees looking to move around at the lake or a campground, along with other customers who may not be interested in the go-fast lifestyle powersports dealers usually offer.
“Today, if you look at the average buyer of an E-Z-GO PTV product … they make over $100,000 a year. It’s over 55 years old, white collar, affluent, and it’s a set of customers that a lot of times the powersports dealer is not getting,” Collins said.
PTVs can complement other non-powersports product dealers are carrying as well, such as boats.
“You’re starting to see a lot of powersports guys that are carrying the high-end wake boats; they already have personal watercraft, so from a usage standpoint, customers are already buying the product there that they’re going to recreate with on the lake or wherever they’re going with it; this product is just the perfect bolt onto that because … they have a need for that because they have the boat; they have the lake house, and this product fits right into that space,” Jhant said.
PTVs also offer a rental opportunity for dealers looking for yet another revenue stream.
“If you took a Chamber of Commerce calendar where this dealer is, and you start seeing the car shows and the rhododendron festival and the Fourth of July celebration and all these different types of activities going on, what the PTV offers them is it gives them a great rental opportunity because they don’t rent vehicles that go 55 miles per hour, gas vehicles, just from the safety factor in crowds like that, and a lot of dealers have jumped on this and understand that ‘I can put this rental fleet of 30 units in and rent them to weddings or any type of activity that goes on in that area.’ It’s a great revenue stream for them that they never could touch with product they have today,” Jhant said.
Parts and accessories
Just like other side-by-side brands, Bad Boy is seeing its customers accessorize its vehicles with products that can total into the thousands.
While Bad Boy customers are adding winches, racks, LED lights and gun boots to their side-by-sides, PTV customers are more focused on aesthetics.
PTV owners tend to personalize the looks of their units, adding new tires and wheels, stereo systems, roofs, windshields, new cowls and variety of products to their vehicles. Many PTV customers also create themes for their vehicles, focusing on anything from their favorite college football team, NASCAR racer, or hobby for inspiration.
“Especially when you’re looking at that neighborhood-type vehicle, it kind of becomes he who has the better toy wins. And it gets to where Mr. Jones got this vehicle, and he put on this, so his next-door neighbor, he goes in, and he goes, ‘I can do better than that.’ So he gets two subwoofers put on it and not a 12-inch wheel but a 14-inch wheel put on it for a higher lift,” explained Justin Brennan, vice president, Parts & Service.
Brennan said it’s not uncommon for an E-Z-GO PTV buyer to spend $1,000 or more on parts and accessories at the time of purchase.
“You see anything from somebody walking out the showroom floor with a very minimal purchase of putting the top and the windshield on the vehicle to people putting the stereos and the tires and wheels and undercarriage lights on the vehicle to anything that you can imagine,” Brennan reported.
The dealers who have been most successful with E-Z-GO parts and accessories have been the ones who display the P&A well. A couple of dealers, who built what they thought were ridiculously over-accessorized units to show the possibilities with E-Z-GO, sold their pre-accessorized units — appropriately marked up with parts and labor considered — off their floors quickly.
“The successful dealer, he has the model on the showroom floor that’s got it all — this is every kid’s wish list right there sitting on the showroom floor — but then he’s also got on display the stuff that’s on that vehicle,” Brennan said.
TSV carefully considers parts and accessories before ever bringing a vehicle to market. In fact, TSV has developed Parts & Accessories as a department that has its own VP and staff, just like the other departments — Consumer, Commercial, Golf and Ground Support Equipment. The company has a dedicated team of R&D employees solely tasked with producing P&A, and it has a P&A sales force that works with P&A managers separately from the vehicle sales team.
“When we were much more golf-focused in our approach, we didn’t invest a whole lot in parts and accessories development,” reported Brandon Haddock, director of communications. “Today that mindset has shifted completely where if we’re going to introduce a new vehicle, a new whole good out into the market, there’s going to be a wide breadth of accessories available for that vehicle on the day and date when that vehicle shows up in the dealer’s showroom. There’s going to be a wall of accessories available the same day.”
A focus on P&A increases the margin made during new vehicle sales, provides customers a reason to return to the dealership again and again, adds work for the service department and gives dealers a way to resell and newly personalize pre-owned E-Z-GOs, Brennan explained.
“That’s one thing that I think that we’ve really done well over the past couple of years is figuring out ourselves how to really design those products that our consumers and our dealers really need and what would really benefit them,” Brennan said.
Becoming a better partner
TSV’s recent dedication to parts and accessories is just one of the many pushes the company is making to become a better business partner and to more seamlessly integrate itself into the powersports market.
The company recently launched TSV Connect, a Salesforce-based dealer resources portal that allows dealers to access vehicle manuals, order parts, look up schematics, check shipment statuses and more. It also serves as a social network for TSV dealers to share best practices and ask for help from each other.
“We made that investment because as we looked to go into this powersports channel, we learned very quickly that there’s an expectation both around the level of systems and service and support that you offer,” Haddock said. “We know to be successful with that channel and with that space, we’ve got to up our game in terms of the level of our systems and the processes and the level of sophistication that we have around being easier to do business with.”
To teach its dealers’ technicians how to service electric- and gas-powered Bad Boy and E-Z-GO product, TSV offers factory service classes both on-site in Augusta and in the field at dealerships both domestically and internationally. The on-site facility is built like a classroom, with gas and electric engines inside for hands-on instruction. Off-site, TSV asks some of its dealers to host classes, so TSV dealers from the region can join in and take a class closer to home.
“We’ll go to one of our dealer locations and host a class there, and they’re very good about opening their doors. We’ll bring in dealers from all over the area, and the guys that are smart, and they understand, they’ll open their doors up because they understand it’s a best practice sharing opportunity where the service manager from this dealership, he might have figured out a better way to troubleshoot something,” Brennan said.
Fortunately for TSV, the company has been working with dealers for decades, so it has already built systems for a dealer network and expertise in forming relationships with dealers. However, the company is continuing to improve itself as it begins to work with more powersports dealers. After all, Haddock said being a better business partner is one of the seven tenants of Textron Inc.
He said, “Becoming an easier partner, a better business partner, is bottom-line performance to us, in terms of how we measure ourselves and how we gauge what we do.”