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Dealers prioritize work-life balance for loyal team of employees

“Our journey starts all the way back with our previous employer,” John Jennerjohn says about himself and his business partner, Brody Meier. Meier was the sales manager at a powersports dealership in Iowa and hired Jennerjohn in the sales department in July of 2009.

On January 1, 2011, Jennerjohn became the used-bike sales manager and Meier became the new sales manager. “And we were off to the races,” Jennerjohn says. “We were always competitive.”

By 2018, both Meier and Jennerjohn held the general manager position at two different locations under the same ownership. Jennerjohn had made a goal to become the general manager, specifically of a Harley-Davidson dealership before he turned 30. He accomplished this at the age of 27. “The owner challenged me and brought up that I achieved my goal and asked me what my next goal was.” He set his eyes on becoming a dealership owner by the time he turned 40. In 2020, Jennerjohn resigned from the company to pursue his dream.

Becoming an owner

Jennerjohn considered acquiring a couple of locations before Harley-Davidson informed him of an opportunity in La Crosse, Wisconsin, close to the Northeastern part of Iowa. He met with Patty Nordheim, owner of La Crosse Harley-Davidson of Wisconsin, and Waukon Harley-Davidson and Waukon Powersports of Iowa. She prioritized finding a buyer who would maintain the family-owned atmosphere within her businesses.

John Jennerjohn and Brody Meier are joined by their families during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the closing of their two businesses in the Spring of 2021. Photos courtesy of Iron Hill

Meier became partners with Jennerjohn at this time and joined him during his second meeting with Nordheim. After a three-hour meeting, they closed on the Waukon locations, which were consolidated into one building, on March 22, 2021.

“It was exhilarating. It was an accomplishment,” Jennerjohn says. “We had ribbon-cutting ceremonies. It was amazing the way the community accepted us overnight. All of our families were here and it was a special moment.”

They closed on the La Crosse location on April 12. Jennerjohn was 34, accomplishing his goal to become a dealership owner six years ahead of schedule.

Rebranding and remodeling

Jennerjohn and Meier rebranded the three businesses with new names and new logos. In the early 1900s, Waukon was home to the only iron ore mine in Iowa. The mine is about four miles away from the Waukon facility, so the owners renamed the two businesses, located in the same building, Iron Hill Harley-Davidson and Iron Hill Powersports. The logo is made of a skull with a beard and pick axes.

The Mississippi River runs through La Crosse, so the dealership in that area was renamed Great River Harley-Davidson. The logo has an eagle swooping towards the river as if to catch a fish. “Dealers, especially in our industry, lose sight of what a logo can do for the company,” Jennerjohn says. “It’s something iconic, it’s specific to us. In both of our stores, our custom t-shirt backs with our logo are our number one selling shirt.”

Choosing to rebrand “was a flip of the coin gamble,” he says. “Although we retained over 90 percent of the staff upon take over, we are different owners and we wanted that message to be out there.” He shares that in their first year of business, the dealerships advertised on social media, in local papers, on the radio and at events to promote the new ownership. “Business ramped up tremendously. In our first year, we doubled the amount of business that the previous owner was doing, and it was just having new energy in the store,” he says.

Harley-Davidson launched its Fuel Facility Program, dedicated to upgrading the interiors and exteriors of Harley-Davidson dealerships, and “We raised our hand to this process,” Jennerjohn says. The facilities have not been updated since the early 2000s, so the owners were excited to make changes to their facility during their rebranding process. Upgrades to the Great River Harley-Davidson facility will begin in April of 2024 and upgrades to the Iron Hill location will begin in April of 2025.

Great River Harley-Davidson
Upgrades to Great River Harley-Davidson will begin in April of 2024 to transform the facility to resemble this rendered image.

“We’re super excited to go through these remodels,” he says. “I think it will put the last checkmark in our box of what we wanted to achieve in rebranding our stores.”


Employee benefits

“We ended up having 13 employees follow us from our previous employer to our new adventure,” Jennerjohn says. “It’s humbling to know you have a team of people who would run through a brick wall with you.” A staff of 40 are employed between the two locations, and all attend a meeting every Friday.

“I’m full-time at the Waukon store and Brody is full-time in the La Crosse store, and it gives us the opportunity to celebrate wins for the week and give updates from any of the manufacturers to the team. We talk marketing and give an update on events.”

He shares that at the end of every meeting, an employee is recognized for their work. The La Crosse location built an award out of engine parts, and the Waukon location created an Iron Man award and they are given to employees who excel in sales, customer service or teamwork.

“In our annual holiday meeting, we recognize a top performer in each dealership,” Jennerjohn says. They created their own patches to put on workwear that says, ‘Top Performer’ to recognize one outstanding employee of the year.

“By human nature, we like to be recognized in front of peers,” he continues. “We both believe that if we are going to praise somebody, we are going to praise them in front of their peers. If we’re going to have a closed-door conversation, that’s exactly what it’s going to be.” He shares that recognition and action plans of correction hold employees accountable.

Work-life balance

Providing a healthy work-life balance keeps employees satisfied, so the dealership is open Tuesday through Saturday. “If I like having two days off in a row, I know that my employees enjoy having two days off in a row,” Jennerjohn says. “On the business side, we always get to have our A team players in front of our customers. It’s definitely increased the business side of things.”

The dealerships have not been updated since the early 2000s, so the owners are excited to make changes to the facilities during the rebranding process. Upgrades to the Iron Hill location will begin in April of 2025.

Employees are also encouraged to use their vacation days, and some have taken a demo unit to ride on their days off.

The owners see every position as equally important within the dealership. “Last year we rolled out for the first time a total bonus to all the employees,” Jennerjohn says. “We gave every employee the exact same dollar amount for a job well done throughout the year.” And for every year an employee is at the dealership, the owners will add another $100 to their yearly bonus.

“It’s one of those humbling things that might cost $30,000 to $60,000 as we advance in our ownership. I hope that someday we’re writing over $100,000 in checks to our employees because it just shows the longevity of our employees.”

Jennerjohn says that to keep long-term employees, he must pay them more than competitors can and they must have time off. “You have to have a time-off plan that allows them to have that work-life balance,” he says. “With our five-day workweek and our generous vacation time along with our pay plans, we’ve retained employees. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot more you can ask for.”

He explains that many dealers look for employees who are above average across the board. “The way we look at it, we want all the other positions,” he says. “We want specialty. We want people to be great at what they are specialized in.”

Throughout the dealership, positions are not blended, and he says this creates a special experience for customers. “Customers come to the dealership for expertise and it’s the dealership’s responsibility to hold up their end of the bargain.”

Family owned

Jennerjohn’s oldest son, Kale, is 17 years old and started working at the dealership last year. “He’s the first of our kids who is going to start working in the dealership,” Jennerjohn says. “He graduates this year, and he wants to go to tech school and become a mechanic inside the store. It’s cool that in the next few months, we’re going to be generational.

“Brody’s youngest son, Lincoln, is 10 years old and throughout the summer he works Saturdays,” he continues. “He can cash someone out in the Motorclothes department. Customers love him and they think it’s the coolest thing in the world. It’s super cool that our kids have interest and are already active inside of the stores.”

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