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An unbeatable dose of southern charm

By Kate Swanson

Southern Honda Powersports gives back

At Southern Honda Powersports in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it’s all about three things: price, transparency and selection. The dealership began distributing Honda motorcycles and ATVs in 2003 and since then, has sold more than 67,000 units. In fact, Southern Honda has gained many accolades for its commitment to taking good care of its customers.

In 2015, the Honda Finance Council of Excellence named the dealership No.1 in the nation. Casey Tuggle, chief information officer and brand manager of Southern Honda, said, “Honda’s Council of Excellence requires being well rounded, so it’s not just number of contracts, it’s number of contracts submitted correctly. We appreciate the Council of Excellence’s validation of our commitment to the customer.”

Tim Kelly, owner of Southern Honda, is no stranger to dealerships. A third-generation car dealer, Kelly got his start in the automotive industry and purchased a powersports store, when he decided to branch out on his own. After a few years of selling Polaris, Kelly bought a small local Honda store and never looked back.

Southern Honda Powersports features a large inventory of Honda ATVs, side-by-sides and motorcycles in its Chattanooga, Tenn.-based dealership.

Southern Honda Powersports features a large inventory of Honda ATVs, side-by-sides and motorcycles in its Chattanooga, Tenn.-based dealership.

“We were very early kind of adopters of a good, robust website, digital strategy and Google AdWords, and it just came together and just kind of took off,” Kelly said. “It’s hard to believe that we’re at 13 years, but we’re chugging along and looking into the future.”

The principles of price, transparency and selection, are carried over into everyday business at Southern Honda. “Honda has a huge variety of models, and it’s difficult for a smaller dealer to have one of everything. We don’t always have one of everything, but we try, so selection is a big deal,” Kelly said.

The dealership places emphasis on being transparent, that the price that the customers is given is the price they end up paying, without any hidden fees. “We realized we needed to have a very clear and compelling message. … When we quote you a price, that’s the price,” he added.

The decision to be a single-line Honda dealer also held purpose. Kelly said that growing up in the multi-line car business taught him that carrying multiple lines was like trying to speak a different language for every line.

“Not coincidentally, both stores that I have are both single line stores because singleness of purpose is a powerful thing,” said Kelly. “When a salesperson has to make their living with that brand, and it’s the reason to get up every morning, living and breathing that brand, it’s a very powerful thing.”

Southern Honda Powersports employs its unbeatable standards on price, transparency and selection.

Southern Honda Powersports employs its unbeatable standards on price, transparency and selection.

From a business standpoint, side-by-sides sales have experienced the largest growth as a segment this year, with the Pioneer 1000 being the clear frontrunner. “It’s side-by-sides for sure right now,” said Kelly. “Bikes and ATVs are doing okay. We’re obviously worried about side-by-sides cannibalizing ATVs, but ATVs seem to be holding on pretty well.”

In 2014, the dealership implemented several improvements to help with its overall success, including a reorganization of the sales department and switching website providers to Dealer Spike.

With the reorganization, Southern Honda added a sales manager rather than relying on one general manager to do everything. “From a management perspective, this store is large enough that we found it has to run with very strict policies and procedures. Having a sales manager focused on sales and more of an operations manager focused on operations has been an important philosophical shift here,” said Kelly.

“One the website side, our goal has always been to do something as unique as the store and yet still remain tied in to a lot of the functionality that’s kind of baked into the supplier connections,” said Kelly.

Tuggle agreed that Dealer Spike was a better fit for the dealership’s needs, allowing for more flexibility: “They had less of a focus on the parts catalog, but that was a secondary part of the business for us. It just made more sense.”

Southern Honda stays involved with multiple events in the Chattanooga community, including one of the biggest music festivals, Nightfall, which takes place Friday nights in May through August. Kelly said he first began sponsoring the event from an automotive perspective, but as more motorcycles began showing up, it became a great fit for the powersports dealership as well.

The dealership, located on the industrial side of town, engages in multiple community events to increase awareness.

The dealership, located on the industrial side of town, engages in multiple community events to increase awareness.

This year Kelly said there were around 500 bikes attending per night. “It’s kind of become a signature event for us and for riders in this area to come down on a Friday night. We love it, and I imagine we’ll support it for many years to come,” he said.

The dealership is located in the more industrial area of town, which makes its presence at community events like Nightfall so important; it’s a chance to increase brand awareness and to share a similar powersports bond.

“For a lot of people who are motorcycle enthusiasts in Chattanooga, [Nightfall] is their main touch point for us,” said Kelly. “We’re not trying to give them a sales pitch; we’re just trying to have a conversation with like-minded people and a chance to see us without having to driving to the industrial side of town.”

Back at the dealership, Southern Honda hosts many demo rides and riding groups within its building as a way to continue supporting the community. Often Kelly says families with small children will come by for some entertainment, and Tuggle adds that demo rides are always available to those interested.

“We have a lot of really strong connections to the community, so we’ve always had a commitment to event-based marketing from a philanthropic perspective as much as a marketing perspective. We feel like we’ve done a really great job if we can maintain really dominant local market share, as well as do a lot of business across the region and the country,” said Kelly. “We’re not overly aggressive about collecting leads; we just try to do a really great job of presenting our brand in the best possible light and letting people know where we are and what we do.”

 

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