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Building for tomorrow’s customers

Village Motorsports in Grand Rapids, Mich., adds lifestyle section to attract ‘the piercings and tattoos’

Brad Schroeder, manager of Village Motorsports in Grand Rapids, Mich., considers himself a watchful observer of the media. Even so, he says it doesn’t take much to notice that sports culture is changing.

“Did you know that more people watched the X Games worldwide than watched the last Winter Olympics?” he asked in a recent phone interview. “You’d be amazed at how many people in Generation Y [19- to 35-year-olds] can tell you who [snowboarder] Shaun White is, but they wouldn’t be able to tell you who the MVP of the Super Bowl was last year.

“Our society is evolving, and whether it’s for the better or worse is neither here nor there,” Schroeder added. As a veteran powersports dealer, he’s interested in the Gen Y, X-Games fans. And he can spot them from afar.

“[They’re the ones] with the tattooing and the piercing and this and the other. You can say what you want, but the fact of the matter is they are tomorrow’s customers. They are today’s customers.”

Schroeder sees action sports fans as future powersports enthusiasts, and with his dealership’s move last October, he’s finding ways to recruit the Gen Y market. The new, larger store continues to carry Village Motorsports’ traditional lines of motorcycles, snowmobiles and other powersports equipment, but it also offers a new “lifestyles” section with skateboards, snowboards, accessories and clothing from lines such as Burton and Volcom.

Schroeder says this marketing strategy has long-term implications. He imagines a Gen Y skateboarder or snowboarder “who then wants a scooter, or a sport bike, but then he or she gets married — well, now they need a cruiser. And then they buy some property and now they need a side-by-side. … I want to grab these people and make them customers for life.”

A big part of that, in Schroeder’s opinion, is fostering loyalty. Before he joined Village Motorsports in February 2011, Schroeder had spent more than six years working as a Harley-Davidson dealer.

“There’s a whole different level of connection” between Harley riders and their dealers, Schroeder says, and while devotion to Harley is legendary for a lot of reasons, Schroeder believes he can take Harley-Davidson’s best practices “and apply them to our environment in a way that makes sense.”

Brad Schroeder, manager of Village Motorsports in Grand Rapids, Mich., maintains the dealership’s heritage while welcoming young customers to the store.

Schroeder’s goal is to give the store a strong identity within the community, and the key to that is sponsoring events. Coming up with creative ideas for events is another area of expertise that he carries over from his previous experience.
“One thing that Harley-Davidson has done very, very well is they make their stores destination points,” he said. He plans to do the same for Village Motorsports.

For example, during the dealership’s grand opening weekend, stunt riders and live bands were featured. The store’s new location previously was a bowling alley, and the dealership purposely kept one lane operational, not only out of respect for the neighborhood institution, but also for special events.

Schroeder imagines a future bowling event at the store with local celebrities from radio and TV. “For every pin they knock down, we’re going to donate X amount to this charity or that charity.” He also has plans to sponsor a ride for breast cancer by a local motorcycle club.

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Schroeder tries to avoid the feeling of making the event a sales pitch. “In my mind, events make you a good neighbor; they make you evolve in your community. Everyone’s welcome, not matter who they are or what they ride.”

Of course, there is a residual benefit, he adds. People attending an event might not be in the market for an item that day, but when they do get interested, Schroeder wants them to remember “that Village Motorsports had an off-the-hook event. They had a stunt team there. They had skateboards. … My goal is not just to bring people in immediately but also to create identity.”

Village Motorsports has a unique marketing strategy. It’s one that evolved gradually not only from Schroeder’s observations of popular culture, but also from conversations with the dealership’s owners as they discussed a marketing plan for the new store. In developing their plan, they acknowledged the influence of the Internet and online shopping.
“It used to be that price was the great differentiator,” Schroeder says, “but the Internet has totally changed the playing field, so that price is no longer number one. Particularly with new products, we all pay the same.”

So, they asked themselves, “What are the factors that influence where a customer is going to buy?”

The answer the dealership came up with is three-fold. It includes the revamped facility with the new product lines. It also includes the corresponding events that create identity and customer loyalty. But Schroeder cannot stress enough the third and final piece — a strong staff.

“To be honest, while we’re excited about our facility, it’s just the frosting on the cake. It’s not a substitute for having great people, having great processes, having great procedure,” he said.

He thinks of his sales staff as entrepreneurs in their own right, running their own businesses “within the shell of my dealership.” Schroeder sees his role as simply to mentor and provide tools.

Those sound like familiar words from someone who began his professional life as a high school teacher and football coach. Schroeder’s family owned and operated an RV dealership for 51 years in his hometown of Grant, Mich. When Schroeder saw his younger brother making triple his salary as a Toyota dealer, Schroeder left teaching and returned to his roots, making his way into powersports in 2000.

Today, Schroeder sees many similarities between his early start and his present occupation. It all boils down to “interpersonal skills and relationships.”

As much as Schroeder believes in keeping up with social changes, he never forgets “people are people are people.” And the earlier he can get in touch with them, the more his dealership will thrive.

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