May 14, 2007 – New APS leader focuses on improving internal operations

Jim Bower left a bigger company in a bigger industry to captain a prominent powersports business group that is transitioning its focus from acquisitions to operations.
That’s not to say Bower’s new company, America’s PowerSports (APS), has stopped growing. In fact, Bower says there’s no intention to keep APS, the second largest dealership group in the United States, at its present 19-store count.
But the former Sonic Automotive executive spoke extensively in an interview with Powersports Business about his new company’s efforts to improve its operational side.
“We’re going to look real hard at our market share and what kind of job we’re doing for manufacturers,” Bower said, “because we truly want to be in a partnership with them and we want to be the company that they come to if there’s an opportunity out there.”
But as evidenced by his attendance at a Harley-Davidson dealer acquisition conference held in early April, Bower and his staff won’t be solely looking at internal functions.
Although Bower won’t discuss if APS has set a goal to grow its dealership number by a certain number, he did say the organization is certainly looking to increase its store count.
“If it’s an attractive acquisition, we’re definitely going to go after it,” he said. “The most attractive acquisitions for me would be to have good stores in places where we already are, where we can take advantage of economies of scale and existing management that is ready to take on new responsibilities.”
Two such areas could be in the Southeast, where APS has several stores located along Interstate-35, stretching from Oklahoma City, Okla., down to Austin, Texas, or on the West Coast as APS has a couple of Southern California dealerships.
“We’ll also look at new markets,” Bower said, “but we’re going to scrutinize those a little bit more. The most attractive acquisitions (for APS) is to stay concentrated in the places where we are right now.”
The Switch
Bower himself made quite a move at the beginning of the year, switching from being a vice president with Sonic, a Fortune 500 company, with responsibility for 25 stores generating nearly $2 billion in annual revenue and its 2,000 employees to APS and its smaller group of stores and smaller employee base.
Why the change?
Bower said he was given a generous financial package to come to APS, but he primarily made the move because he had “a burning desire to write the playbook.”
“This is my opportunity to start over in a very, very similar business with almost an identical model,” he said.
“When I came (into the powersports market), I was expecting not to see any business disciplines at all. I was expecting mom and pop organizations, and that’s not a shot on the powersports industry. I saw a lot of that in my dealings with consolidating dealerships on the auto side.”
Bower says he’s been “pleasantly surprised to see some pretty sophisticated business people over here.
“The biggest whirlwind for me has not been a change in the industry. This is really a people business. Getting to know the people that are associates of America’s PowerSports, getting to know the people that are our vendor partners, our manufacture partners, that has been the biggest whirlwind.”
Better Operators
Four months into his new job, Bower says he and his staff are concentrating on becoming better operators, something he believes will eventually create more acquisition opportunities. After all, dealer principals who are considering selling are more apt to approach the industry’s better operators about a possible franchise sale.
“When APS started, they were basically an acquisition company that operated powersports dealerships,” Bower said. “They spent the better part of seven years looking for dealerships, and they did an admirable job. As somebody who has done a ton of them myself in the car business, buying 18 stores is a huge feat. It takes a lot of work.”
Now, APS is more focused on improving its internal functions, from improving relations with manufacturers to creating a better retail environment for the consumer. Bower noted the company will “dissect the CSI reports” it receives from manufacturers.
“What we’re going to focus on this year is managing our market share and making sure we’re doing a good job of selling bikes and partnering with manufacturers,” Bower said. “We don’t want an adversarial role (with manufacturers). What they want, we want. We want to sell more bikes. They want to sell more bikes.”
Bower also wants APS to try and develop a better reputation in the industry for growing future managers.
“If you want to work in the powersports industry, we want America’s PowerSports to be the first place you want to come,” he said, noting the company will have measurable goals for associate satisfaction, with particular emphasis on improving its turnover and internal promotion rates.
As far as business growth, Bower sees e-commerce as a growing area for APS and the powersports industry.
“America’s PowerSports is well behind the technical sophistication and our Internet effort compared to where I was with Sonic Automotive,” he said, noting the auto retailer spent “millions and millions of dollars” developing its online part of the business. “That’s a huge opportunity for (APS) going forward, and we’re going to put a lot of work into that.”
It’s all part of an effort at elevating internal growth while keeping a watchful eye on aquisition possibilities, Bower said. “The most important thing for America’s PowerSports right is now that we’re good operators.” psb

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