Sept. 7, 2009 – Against all odds

By Steve Bauer
Contributing writer
Portland, Ore., lies in the heart of one of the country’s hardest-hit regions.
The unemployment rate is the second highest in the country and new unit sales plunged more than 40 percent in that region in June over the year-ago period, according to ADP Lightspeed same store sales data provided for Powersports Business.
Undoubtedly it would not be the first place where you would imagine a record for the most new motorcycles sold in a month would occur. And yet that’s exactly what happened earlier this summer when a dealership beat the odds in establishing a sales record for most motorcycles sold in a month by a Ducati North America store.
The dealership sold 61 motorcycles — a year after selling just 26 in the same month — when the on-road bike industry as a whole fell nearly 55 percent compared to the prior-year period.
What was the “magic formula” for Motocorsa General Manager Arun Sharma and his staff in overcoming such steep odds? Sharma points to the dealership’s unique approach to customer satisfaction, from showroom atmosphere to incentive programs and customer loyalty.
“People don’t want negativity when they walk into a powersports dealership. That’s what our whole industry has always been about, having a vehicle to enjoy to help forget about the negatives in life,” Sharma said. “You walk into most bike shops these days, and salespeople are telling customers how slow it’s been, how bad business is or how depressed they are about it all. Well, if I’m walking into a bike shop, I’m going in there to forget that stuff.
“You walk into our store and we’ve got music pumping, video screens showing racing, everyone’s very upbeat, high-fiving and having fun with each other. I believe those are the ingredients that have put us in the black every month this year.”

Customer communication
Sharma says Motocorsa’s sales approach is drastically different than what he’s seen traveling across the country. Despite Portland’s size and high unemployment rate, Sharma’s dealership continually ranks as one of Ducati’s top dealers, and has won more awards from Ducati than any other dealership in North America. The dealership had set Ducati’s previous monthly sales record in 2007.
“We have a great reputation for customer service so that gave us some momentum going into (the June sales program), but there are a lot of reasons we shouldn’t be doing as well as we are, and how others should be doing better than us,” he said.
Sharma says the first thing his sales team focuses on is intimate communication with potential customers, from an immediate greeting to building a rapport and finding out what type of motorcycle they’re looking for and how much they want to spend.
Another advantage he points to is that everyone in the dealership is 100 percent committed to riding and racing.
“I don’t hire anyone who doesn’t ride a motorcycle,” he said. “You don’t have to ride a Ducati, but you have to ride. We’re truly passionate about riding. We do a lot of events like Moto GP race parties, we have fashion shows, we host coffee and doughnut rides, we have race teams we sponsor. We had customers talking to others on the floor telling them what a great dealership this was to buy from and all the know-how that was available from the sales staff, and I witnessed that over and over.”

Unique incentives
The effort to beat the store’s previous record-setting effort was called “Progetto 51” and was aimed at selling 51 bikes in June.
Sharma says the dealership had no advertising budget for the project, and the only advertising done during the event was Ducati’s e-mail blast, along with an e-mail list that the dealership has accumulated through the years. Also, instead of discounting the motorcycles to boost sales, the dealership attracted customers with incentives, such as a trip to Italy for one lucky buyer and dinner with Ducati North America President Michael Lock.
“When you look at what we offered during this project in terms of incentives, my cost per unit was about $300, which is nothing in terms of cost,” he said. “When someone bought a bike that month, we gave them a free set of frame sliders, a free bottle of commemorative wine signed by Ducati North America President Michael Lock and we had a free dinner with Michael at a small restaurant in town. We had one trip to Italy to give away, but everyone who purchased a bike that month got a prize, from autographed photos to other Ducati collectibles that you can’t really put a value on.”
Sharma dismisses the idea that expensive advertising campaigns lead to more recognition and sales. In fact, he believes by taking his potential advertising budget and dividing it by how many bikes the dealership sells and then build value into the bike package, the customers themselves become walking, talking ads for Motocorsa.
“I think that is so much more effective than traditional advertising methods,” he said. “You can’t do this overnight, of course. We’ve been developing this approach to marketing since 2002, so going on eight years soon, but the results have been worth the wait.”

Customer referrals
One encouraging trend that emerged from Progetta 51 was that although at least one-third of bike sales were to returning customers, the dealership had 40 new buyers in a one-month span, most of them recruited by Ducati owners who had previously purchased a bike from the dealership. Sharma says the loyalty and commitment from past customers was mind-boggling.
“We even had current Ducati owners coming into the store saying, ‘We don’t really need a bike, but let us know if you’re really close to your goal and need us to buy a bike, we’ll purchase one,’” he said. “That’s how excited our customers were for us to accomplish this goal and the lengths they were willing to go to help us.”
Another unique idea that engaged potential bike buyers was a relatively simple idea of displaying each new Ducati owner on a large wall in the middle of the sales floor, something that became a bragging right for many customers.
“In the middle of our showroom we have two sales desks, and dividing them is a floor-to-ceiling wall,” Sharma said. “We put
51 pieces of red tape on that wall, and every time someone bought a bike we put what number they were in order and what bike they bought. And people were so excited to have their name on that wall. It sounds so simple, but it was really effective.”

Striving for the top
Sharma says the dealership has no plans to try and set a new sales record in the near future, but will continue to strive to reach what he considers the ultimate achievement.
“Overall our goal from day one has been to be the best Ducati dealer in the world,” he said. “And we’ve come such a long way and the great thing is that we’re not even at full capacity yet. I just had to hire four more people. We’re just going to try to get better every day.”
As for other dealers who are having trouble seeing an end to the sagging sales numbers, Sharma says being a powersports dealer provides the advantage that people come there to try to forget about how bad things are in terms of the economy.
“Even in bad times, there are plenty of ways for dealers to sell motorcycles or ATVs,” he said. “Do the best job you can to make your dealership an escape from the real world so people can forget about their troubles, at least while they are inside your doors.”

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