When’s the right time to buy dealership No. 2?

Is your dealership ready for a second store? Is the time right to make an offer to the dealer principal in your neck of the woods who is ready to sell? Are you anxious to put a For Sale sign on your dealership, or are you keeping an eye out for potential additions to your portfolio?

It’s a complicated decision, especially as we continue to battle a slowly improving economy. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Al Ison had decided that the time was right to increase his dealership count from one to two.

Ison, from the Rhinelander area in northeast Wisconsin, has been the proud owner of Bald Eagle Harley-Davidson in Marquette, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula, since 2003. When Northern Lights Harley-Davidson in Arbor Vitae, Wis., became available, Ison and his wife, Darlene, didn’t exactly jump at the chance. But they bought it, changed the name to Northwoods Harley-Davidson, and are now the proud owners of two dealerships.

Ison has been part of dealership transactions previously. He was once part owner of a John Deere dealership, and sold those stores in 1999.

A lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, Ison first purchased the 16,000-square-foot Marquette store from a friend in 2003. As for the recent acquisition, “I wasn’t really looking for this one,” Ison says. “It was one of those deals where the owner called me with the opportunity. He had owned it since 1998, and it was just time to move on.”

That’s right, the dealer down the street came calling, asking for an offer.

“It caught me off-guard a little bit, yeah,” Ison said. “I wasn’t looking. When he asked me if I was interested, I told him I’d see if we could put a deal together.”

That was in August, and by March he was already booking his spot at the new dealer meeting in Milwaukee alongside fellow new owners.

“It helps being a dealer already, but they have to approve it just like they would for anybody else for this location,” Ison said.

The two stores sit 145 miles apart. The Marquette store has been a poster child for growth. “Through the bad times we had some of our best years,” Ison said. “We get younger employees and it’s a team effort. Nobody’s standing alone by themselves. They like working there. They’re happy. It’s a family atmosphere.”

The 22,000 square-foot Wisconsin store will be a bit of a project that Ison is eager to take on.

“There are a lot of improvements I’m going to make to go after the younger customers,” he said. “We’ll have goals for each of the departments. We’ll make sure they attain those goals, and we’ll reward them when they do.”


Much of the success of the Michigan store has been related to its ability to attract young buyers. In the Harley-Davidson marketplace, more and more that’s taking on a new meaning, as in 30 or under. Ison scours Northern Michigan University, located in town, to prospect for sales staff.

“If you’re part of that group, they are able to bring that kind of business into the store,” Ison posited.

Selling to ‘youth’

Ison’s approach to getting the under-30 crowd to purchase Harley-Davidson bikes seems logical enough, with college-aged enthusiasts selling to their like-minded peers. Similarly, Honda plans to reach that same crowd via its newly launched Grom. You can read more about the Grom elsewhere in this edition, but it seems on its way to being a success for dealers. We’ll find out more about how sales of current models are faring later this month when we send out our Q2 Dealer Survey.


Senior editor Tom Kaiser sat down with Kirk Zack to get the scoop on his growing company, HMK, for a story in this edition. Zack has Midwest roots, so I was glad to learn more about his snowmobile apparel company over lunch while he was in the area.

One thing that surprised me is the importance he places on actually getting into dealerships. He admits to having let that process wane in recent years, so he’s piling up the frequent flier miles in order to build the necessary relationships with the company’s dealer partners. Based on the feedback he’s received over the past year, he wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s been a crucial part of the company’s growth pattern.

Do you manufacture a product that reaches dealers via distributors? How important is it for you to make dealer visits? What value does it bring to your brand? Are you a dealer who relishes the chance to meet with executives of apparel or other companies? How much value does that time bring to your store?

Digitally connected

Managing editor Liz Hochstedler once again puts her list of industry contacts to work in this edition with a lineup of stories in the Focus section that will help you become a more effective digital dealership.

Industry loses a friend

It’s with sadness that I report the passing of industry friend Mike Paulson of Dealers Auto Auction Northwest, the Washington-based auction company. You might have met Mike at our Profit Xcelerator dealer education event in Las Vegas in 2011. Paulson, 46, was a longtime member of the DAA family and had been the company’s motorsports manager.

Deadline passes

The deadline for prospective presenters at the inaugural Powersports Business Institute @ AIMExpo has passed, and we’re looking forward to working with you as dealers and the presenters as educators to develop a seminar lineup that will allow your dealership to become a better store.

Similar to previous dealer education events that we’ve hosted across the country, we’ll make sure the Powersports Business Institute in Orlando this October is worth the time you invest in it.

Another deadline nears

As part of the inaugural AIMExpo in Orlando, we’ll be presenting our first lineup of Power 50 dealers, representing the best dealerships in North America. The deadline for applications for the Power 50 is July 15, so make sure your dealership’s general manager or dealer principal completes the online form today. It’s a no-brainer considering that the competition might have already submitted their application. We’ll have plenty in store in Orlando for the winners, so send me an email today for a link to the online application.

Dave McMahon is Editor in Chief of Powersports Business. Reach him at or 763/383-4411.


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