by Steve Bauer
BOISE, Idaho — With several years of double-digit growth, an expanding distribution network and a growing network of dealers, Western Power Sports (WPS) has certainly made its mark as a top-tier distributor for the powersports industry. But even with its success, the company’s goal isn’t on surpassing its competitors, but rather maintaining its unique approach of dealer education, customer service and marketing strategy.
Although new unit sales of ATVs and certain segments of the motorcycle market have been stale recently, WPS has continued to grow at an impressive rate, with six straight years of an average of 20 percent growth. Craig Shoemaker, president of WPS, says despite the new unit sales downturn, the aftermarket industry benefits in the short term because consumers will spend money on parts and apparel rather than on a new vehicle
“I think (the downturn) is an OK thing, but I don’t know if it’s ever a good thing because of our dealers,” he said. “It’s win-win if they’re selling new units because they’re also strong in everything else. But I think it doesn’t hurt the aftermarket guys near as much, up front at least, if the new unit sales are down.
A different approach
Shoemaker says depending on how much focus a dealer puts toward aftermarket products, it’s certainly possible to lose money there, as well. He believes WPS’ unique approach of limited product and a dedication to educating dealers on those products can make the difference between product sitting on shelves collecting dust or quick turns and healthy products.
“We pride ourselves on giving really good service to the customer,” he said. “When it comes to our sales reps, we’re looking for people in the industry who know what they’re doing, who are salesmen and not just order takers with the mindset of ‘I’m going to come in and build a relationship with you.’ That’s important, but they’re supposed to be a partner to that dealer and help them make more money.”
Shoemaker says in many cases that means a rep will even show a dealer another distributor’s product if it will help them get better turnover and product off the shelf.
“Whether it’s our product or someone else’s product, our objective is to find something that’s going to help you get better turns,” he said. “If we do that often enough, it brings even more product to the table.”
The limited product range is something Shoemaker says the company prides itself on, as it gives WPS’ sales reps more knowledge of its products than competitors, and it also benefits the company’s vendors.
“With a lot of distributors, it’s like walking up to a buffet and deciding what you want. But we feel we offer our vendors a little bit better service because we can teach our dealers about that product and they can educate the consumer on it and get a better turn out of it,” he said. “We take the approach that it’s better to be knowledgeable about a limited number of products rather than trying to have a million things in your pocket that you know little about.
The best thing for dealers, Shoemaker asserts, is that they don’t need to rely on one distributor to fit their needs, and that in today’s world they need to have options and be flexible with the products they carry.
“I don’t believe that any one or two suppliers can take care of a dealer,” he said. “In our case, if we take on a product line and our supplier has really poor supplies or something happens for a little while, that’s the brand we sell so we have to just ride that out until things improve. The dealers have the option to change product quickly, or in many cases, get the same product from four or five different suppliers. As a result they might lose 2-3 days, and then they’re back in the game. But with us we might lose 2-3 months depending on what the situation is, like if something at the factory goes wrong. We just want to do the best with the products we carry. So if a dealership conducts one-third of their business with WPS, we want them to say that one-third does a really good turn for them, it’s profitable and we make good sales.
As WPS continues to grow on a national scale, Shoemaker admits that shipping becomes more of an issue, which is one reason why the company recently purchased 25 acres in the Northeast to build its largest warehouse to date. Although he wouldn’t provide specifics on plans for more expansion in the future, he says the company’s newest warehouse will open sometime in 2008.
“I think really what it is for us is giving our sales reps good opportunities, and once you cross that line from a regional distributor to a national one, it’s really hard to go back. If you’re not going forward, then you’re not going at all,” he said. “So we’ve gotten to the point now where our goal is to try and eliminate three-day shipping and try to make everything at least two-day shipping. And of course every time you add a warehouse and add some overnight shipping, that’s a good thing too. The Northeast is really the place we had that we found it was still difficult to get product to, and we can also carry snow product easier there than in Memphis.”
One thing Shoemaker says he doesn’t worry about is trying to surpass the company’s closest rival, Tucker Rocky. Although he says the company will continue to work hard to increase sales, the main goal is to remain financially healthy, not overtake the competition.
“I have no desire to catch Tucker and go beyond them,” he said. “I’m not saying we won’t, but when I wake up in the morning I don’t look in the mirror and say ‘OK, today we’re going to get this much closer to Tucker.’ My goal is to take care of my salesmen, employees and dealers. And by doing that maybe I need to add some warehouses or something to accomplish that whole picture, and because of that we’ll probably continue to grow. But it really has nothing to do with Tucker.”
Shoemaker says because WPS and Tucker utilize different business strategies, the diversity is good for the industry as a whole.
“To me it’s about being financially healthy, and I don’t go sneaking around trying to find out what Tucker’s numbers are like. I know our numbers and that’s all that counts. I think (Tucker) is doing some really good things, good for them, and we do some things different. There’s no doubt about it, and that’s OK. You have chocolate and vanilla, you need some of that.”
Shoemaker says the company will continue adding more sales reps, expanding to new markets and growing its dealer base, all moves that he expects will ensure the future success of WPS for the near future.
“We appreciate the growth that we’ve had with our dealers during the past several years, and the opportunities to do business with more dealers out there,” he said. “As we’re expanding into new markets we look forward to servicing a growing number of dealers. We’re adding more reps each month, we’re adding more regional managers, We should be able to announce our new national sales manager in the next couple weeks. There are lots of options available to dealers, and we want to make sure that we continue to be one of their first choices.”