DealersKawasakiLatest NewsNewsPrevious Top Daily StoriesTop News EnewsletterTop Stories

Dealer shares startup journey as he readies for retirement

From garage doors to dealership doors

Larry Hauber and Bob Carolan of Decorah, Iowa, both grew up in the motorcycle industry. They became enthusiasts, then mechanics working out of their own garages. “A lot of our friends told us we should start up a business,” Hauber says. “One day I decided to give Bob a call. I said, ‘Let’s go to lunch and kick an idea around and see what you think,’ so we did.”

As mechanics, they recognized there were no dealers in Decorah, a town of 9,000 people, or the surrounding areas, and decided to become business partners in 1999. “We looked at what companies we would want to represent and Kawasaki was the one that came to mind right off the bat. Kawasaki has great products and support,” Hauber says. “And used motorcycles. We thought we’d get used motorcycles and ATVs and see where it goes. At the time, I was around 49 and Bob was 44.”

Pictured left to right are Bob Carolan, Kawasaki Representative Jason Stuart, and Larry Hauber. The partners accept a plaque recognizing their 20 years as a Kawasaki dealer. Photos courtesy of Decorah Kawasaki Sports Center

They were approved by Kawasaki and opened the doors to their 4,000 square foot facility on Decorah’s main highway in 2000. “I had a lot of background working for CNH Industrial (a farming construction manufacturer). I had a lot of experience setting up businesses and parts and service and accounting. Bob said he’d be the working side of the business, parts and service, if I’d be the general manager and handle the accounting side of the business.” Hauber’s wife, Roxanne, is also a partner and has helped with office work, day-to-day duties and inventory management since day one.

They named the dealership Decorah Kawasaki Sports Center, and the partners hired a few employees to get their business up and running. “I remember, in our first year of business, we sold 99 new Kawasaki ATVs, 12 Kawasaki Mules and over 30 bikes. People welcomed us with open arms. Our service business skyrocketed overnight,” Hauber says.

Location and market expansion

In 2002, the partners took on Suzuki. “They had products that fit in between what Kawasaki offered. We decided that both companies were strong with their racing dirt bikes and we wanted to support our customers who raced.”

In the same timeframe, the partners dialed in on customers in need of outdoor power equipment. Simplicity and Ferris were added to the dealership’s lineup, then Wells Cargo trailers.

“We found a niche and helped people build concession trailers,” Hauber explains. “We sold quite a number of specialty builds.” Trailers were sold to independent customers and schools. Today, the dealership also carries Haulmark and Bear Tracker trailers. And, because women ridership increased in the three-wheeled motorcycle category, the dealership became a Motor Trike dealer for Honda, Kawasaki, Victory and Indian Motorcycle.

In 2015, Decorah Kawasaki Sports Center was relocated to the opposite side of town to a 10,000 square foot facility with an additional 1,000 square foot building. “We were able to remodel and grow our service department by four times,” Hauber says. The dealership sits at a better location on the main highway, according to car counts from the state of Iowa.

Decorah Kawasaki Sports Center has served Northeastern Iowa for going on 24 years.

Three years ago, the owners bought out a lawn and garden business. “By doing that, we’ve hired their help, bought their parts department out, all remaining inventory and we moved it all to our location,” Hauber says. The acquisition was well timed with Hauber’s retirement at Case Corporation, a construction equipment supplier, so he could focus on growing the dealership. (During his first 20 years of ownership, Hauber worked 30 hours a week at the dealership outside of his full-time job).

Working harder, together

After taking on employees from the lawn and garden business, the dealership now employs a team of 10 with additional part-time help during the summer.

“We keep our employee base down to help keep our overhead down. We all work a little harder and we work together,” Hauber says. To stay in tune with employees and to encourage them to communicate, an hour-long staff meeting takes place once a week.

“Every employee in this meeting has a voice,” he says. “We believe in good communication and we don’t hold many secrets in this place. That molds for a lot better employees. Everybody has a voice – no matter if it’s a big issue or small issue.”


He has increased the number of employees in the service department, which is up to five technicians, and is focused on the continued growth of the service and parts department this year. He increased the dealership’s technicians to offer customers a service center as much as a sales center.

About the owners

Hauber’s youngest son, Christopher, works at the dealership part-time. He manages the dealership’s Facebook account, website and all things digital to expand the dealership’s reach online.

Roxanne Hauber is still involved in the business and divides her time between the dealership and with grandkids. “She’s really good with the employees,” Hauber says. “She’s sort of like the glue with the employees. She gets along well with everybody. Bob also gets along well with them because of his working relationship with them.”

Pictured are Roxanne and Larry Hauber, who own the dealership with business partner Bob Carolan.

Carolan was a building and cement contractor while he serviced machines out of his garage. He has always been an outdoors enthusiast who loves to hunt, fish and race vintage snowmobiles. Hauber says that when he competes, he usually gets first or second and he is a national champion in the 50 and above group and the 60 and above group.

“We talk about everything. It’s funny how much we think alike,” Hauber says about Carolan and himself. “We arrive at the same decision, but just take different ways to get there. We’re both a little conservative and we don’t make hasty decisions. We like to talk about scenarios and run the numbers. After work, we have our ‘parking lot corporate meetings,’ we call it.

“Over the 23 years, we continue to support St. Jude Children’s Hospital, our local Shop Decorah Program, the St. Benedict school and all our local promotions,” Hauber adds. “We like to support those that support us.”

Taking on ’24

“We are always regulated it seems by what our economy is doing and what the weather is doing. This last year, we went through six or seven weeks of no rain, so the lawn business trimmed down pretty fast. During this time, the team improved the conditions of its used units.

“Going into January, we were ready to sell new motorcycles for spring.” He attended the Kawasaki Dealer Show and says, “With new products being introduced, people are always looking to trade up. So, we’re looking at that business to see how we need to trade in used units so we don’t get overloaded with that.”

While Hauber and Carolan are focused on growth during the dealership’s 24th year of business, they will also be preparing for retirement. “I’m going to be looking at putting it up for sale,” he says. “We’ve been planning this for a couple of years. For someone that’s looking for a great opportunity, it’s here.”

Reflecting on the Kawasaki Dealer Show

Hauber says that Kawasaki did their research before unveiling the all-new Ridge side-by-side. Although he was hoping to see a few more enhancements, he shares that he is happy with the product. Not to mention, he got a lot out of the Kawasaki Dealer Show.

Hauber says the machine has been accepted well by customers and that some have already called his dealership to put a downpayment on the new unit. He shares that customers who own side-by-sides from other leading brands have also called the dealership looking to trade in their units for a Kawasaki Ridge and that the price points are in line with other competitors.

Bob Carolan and Larry Hauber attend the 2024 Kawasaki Dealer Show.

Related Articles

Back to top button