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Dealers develop destination locations to enhance customer experience

David and Alex Isaacs run two dealerships in Tennessee while they raise their 16-month-old toddler and newborn baby. The spouses know a thing or two about the importance of a work-life balance.

“For us, [a work-life balance is] important and we want to set up our dealerships and our lives so we can have both,” David Isaacs says. “We’re aware that [our employees have] personal lives and they’re probably interested in the same things that we are. They’ve got families and friends and things they want to do outside of work. A lot of the decisions we make personally also benefit them in regard to work-life balance.”

Alex was recognized for her leadership and decision-making skills at the 2023 Powersports Business Accelerate Conference. Photo courtesy of Mid Tenn Powersports

The couple explains that they have made decisions concerning working hours, staffing, benefits and pay plans intended to maintain this balance. “This has helped increase employee satisfaction and decrease turnover, which translates to our customers and ultimately, the bottom line,” they share.

Entering the powersports industry

Alex had always been interested in the business structure of a dealership since she watched her dad, Eddie Collier, run his automotive businesses. “My dad has been in the car industry for 30 years probably,” Alex Isaacs says. “He owns a car dealership about a mile up the road from one of our existing powersports dealerships. He saw a need in the market and called me up. I was a teacher in Louisiana looking for another career path and he asked me if I was willing to move to Tennessee to open a dealership in Columbia.”

A week after he called her in October 2016, they attended AIMExpo and met with multiple OEMs. They acquired Columbia Powersports in July 2017. Alex became a partner and general manager of the dealership while Collier remained a partner and the general manager of his automotive business, and opened a second automotive location.

Collier had recognized that there was an opportunity to combine processes in the automotive and powersports industries to ultimately improve the customer experience, so the business management structure and many of the processes at Columbia Powersports resembles an automotive dealership.

After three years in business at Columbia Powersports, David left Polaris and joined Alex and Collier as partner and general sales manager in 2019. In 2021, he and Alex got married.

Strategic expansion

Multiple OEMs approached the owners about opening a second dealership in the Mid-Tennessee market following Columbia Powersports’ success, so the owners purchased an 18−acre lot on Interstate 40 to build a new facility. At the same time, an existing Yamaha and Honda dealership in Nashville went up for sale. They purchased the 10,000 square foot dealership, known for 50 years as Howard’s Honda, and renamed it Mid Tenn Powersports. They conducted business out of this location until the beginning of April, when they relocated to the 70,000 square foot facility built on their 18−acre lot.

Alex was recognized for her leadership and decision-making skills at the 2023 Powersports Business Accelerate Conference.

To make this move a reality, the Isaacs share that staying organized and having a strong team of employees in place were key. “We have an existing operation, so relying on employees to step up beyond their normal jobs to help with the move is a challenge,” David said before the move took place. He used the addition of the Bennington line to the new facility as an example. “We have boats showing up at the new location but we’re still operating out of the existing location. At times, there’s a couple of us running over in the middle of the day to receive a boat and then we come back to work. I could never do that without the employees I have up there to help me do it. We couldn’t do it without them.”

Possible with a team

About 40 employees work at Columbia Powersports and, as Mid Tenn Powersports becomes established at its new location, the owners plan for its team to grow to that size too. They share that having a reliable management structure is necessary to lead 40 employees and to keep up with the demands of the dealership.

“We’ve been fortunate. I feel like we did get a head start with the existing dealership in terms of hiring,” David says. “I’ve got a lot of really good people already in place in key management positions.”

He says that the move and expansion will be a more significant change for the existing Mid Tenn employees than the owners since they are already comfortable running a larger dealership. So, before the new store opened, David and the Mid Tenn team met for lunch in the new facility.

“They’ve seen pictures and they’ve heard me talk about it, but we actually went and set up lunch there and had lunch in an empty 70,000 square foot store,” he says. “That was really cool. We took pictures, toured the facility and it was just a moment on an off day for them to take it all in… Our hope is that it makes them feel like we’re all one team and they’re a part of it. It’s not just me, Alex and Eddie. We wouldn’t be able to open giant dealerships if it wasn’t for them.”

Promoting a lifestyle

The spouses credit Catherine Collier, marketing director and Alex’s sister, for the execution of the dealership’s marketing strategy to “Promote the lifestyle and get to know us.” David says social media is used as a traffic driver, not as a means to bombard customers with sales ads.

“We do not allow any OEMs in the backend of our social media,” Alex says. “To us, that degrades our social media. It looks like we’re not involved in the post. It doesn’t show our customers what they’re walking into when they come to our dealership.” She says the dealership’s social media reflects its fun environment and showcases its employees and customers.

“We opened Columbia in July of 2017 with only social media advertising at the time and sold eight units our first day,” she continues. “We didn’t do anything, we just blasted social media and our grand opening was pretty packed. The lifestyle of the dealership has always been our driver. And having a full-time marketing manager, to me, is one of the best things you can do for your dealership.”

David and Alex are the parents of Declan (pictured), who is 16 months old, and Aiden, who is 6 weeks old.

The future powersports industry

“Just looking at what is happening now in the industry with all the consolidation, you’re seeing all of the smaller and older dealerships get acquired and become part of a larger group with more resources,” David Isaacs says. “Or like our group buying Howard’s Honda and bringing it into a bigger store with all these other brands, I think that’s where I see the industry in 20 years… Less small locations and more destination powersports locations with all the top brands under one roof.

“The customer expects more today than they did when the powersports industry began years ago and delivering the experience they want is becoming too expensive for the traditional momand-pop style powersports stores. To afford that experience, along with the growing list of merchandising and floorplan requirements of each OEM, dealers will have to operate larger square footage, multi-line operations with top brands to support that.”

The spouses agree that incorporating processes used in the automotive industry is beneficial and improves the customer experience. Alex says that the car industry offers customer surveys so dealers can receive feedback about certain aspects of their business for example, and this is a great process for powersports dealers to adopt.

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