Untraditional powersports dealers partnering with a brand in its infancy in the U.S.? Why not? It has worked magically for the top three selling Hisun dealers in the U.S. In fact, it’s worked out so well since the brand’s 2014 launch at AIMExpo in Orlando that all three of them were treated to an incentive trip to the Hisun manufacturing plant in Chongqing, China, in April, as the brand’s top selling dealers for 2015.
I was the one lucky enough to tag along and learn more about what makes a Hisun dealer successful, and we’ll be sharing those stories throughout the year on these pages. But for now, know that some of them didn’t even have 12 months to put up their numbers — they flourished against more established dealers despite carrying the brand for less than a full year.
The honored dealers were Dave and Christine Ballard, owners of Ballard Golf Cars and Powersports, Couer d’Alene, Idaho; Dave and Dawn Luce, owners of TNT Automotive Sales, Inc., in Billings, Montana; and Javaughn and Bridgette Spencer, owners of Lowcountry Powersports in Beaufort, South Carolina.
They each bring a distinct — and diverse — approach to selling Hisun. Ballard turned a mobile golf car service business into a powersports operation that still includes golf cars in the lineup. He moved his operation into a former dealership location in town. Luce sells just about everything at his two locations, one in Billings and another in Bozeman. He works all day at one location, and often finishes up the night after driving to the second store. He could be heard in China racking up extra phone minutes as he coached his team onto strong sales. He’s an auto dealer. And an RV dealer. And a marine dealer. And more recently a tractor dealer. Not to mention powersports. Spencer’s might be one of the coolest stories out there. The first thing you see on Lowcountry’s website is “Get Approved or Get $50.” His 28,000 Facebook followers might as well be family. The dealership typically replies to Facebook queries within an hour, even if it’s with an apologetic “We’ve been abnormally busy, but we’ll get back to you.” He got so tired of selling pre-owned Spyders and seeing them all over the region that he went out and bought himself a Slingshot. Just because. You will hear plenty more from young Mr. Javaughn Spencer in this industry.
After 30-plus hours from driveway to hotel room for most, we gathered at the Country Garden Phoenix International Hotel in Chongqing for the first leg of the trip. Nearby the factory, it appeared to be a cousin of the Venetian in Las Vegas, and the first place where we had a hospitable stay. Ryan Daugherty, vice president of sales and marketing at McKinney, Texas-based Hisun Motors USA and the host/go-to guy for the incentive trip, knows China as well as anyone in the industry. He’s approaching six dozen trips made to China.
The blue sky day in Chongqing allowed for some testing of new ATVs and side-by-sides on the factory test track following a tour of the 7.1 million-square-foot facility, where dealers were free to watch, ask questions and otherwise get to know all they ever wanted to know about Hisun. On display was the manufacturing process in the CNC machining plant, the engine plant, the die casting plant, the stamping and welding plant, the injection molding plant, the coating plant, the assembly plant, the R&D center and more. And watching some of the 200 engines per day that roll off the assembly line was mesmerizing.
A return trip to the factory the following day allowed the dealers to hold court in front of about 25 designers, engineers and sales executives. The open dialog session was off-the-record for my purposes, but it was awfully interesting to listen (with the help of interpreters) to the dealers and the factory personnel share their ideas for product enhancements, design and engineering feedback and other ways that reinforced their partnership as OEM and dealer. Or, as one dealer said at the conclusion, “I’m gonna sell ’em either way.”
Next up was a stay at the JW Marriott in Jiefangbei, the Central Business District of Chongqing, which happens to have a larger metropolitan population than Beijing. The afternoon was “free time” for the group, with some opting to enjoy the luxurious hotel while others did some exploring. A group walked to the nearby Hongya Cave along the Yangtze River, which brought some familiar Western spots, but none as welcome as the BBQ buffet at the hotel for dinner.
The following day, an English-speaking member of the Hisun sales staff took the dealers to her hometown about an hour’s drive away, where they enjoyed a traditional lunch and shopping. I ventured off to visit the Harley-Davidson and Ducati dealerships. Following a traditional hot pot dinner (ox stomach, anyone?), it was off to a nighttime cruise on the Yangtze River to see the City of Lights. That was awfully cool to see.
An early morning trip to the airport led us onward to Beijing, where another JW Marriott kept us in the lap of luxury. There was no rest for the weary, as we toured Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City after burgers, chicken strips and the like for lunch near the U.S. embassy. Dinner allowed for some exploring, but in most cases it was case of exploring the menu in the hotel restaurant. A small group of us managed to find a decent pizza joint in the Sanlitun district.
The following day was a journey to the Great Wall, with a stop at the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium along the way, followed by shopping at the Pearl Market mall. The dealers (their wives?) were in serious bartering mode and had the bags to show it. With the clock ticking on our stay in China, the superb menu at the JW Marriott attracted most for dinner, with others landing at that home away from home — Subway.