Power Profiles

Sunwest Xpress – Bullhead City, AZ – Dec. 27, 2004


1017 Highway 95
Bullhead City, AZ 86429

Joe and Patti Morabito

6,000-sq.-ft. building plus 6,500-sq.-ft. covered outside showroom on 40,000 paved sq. ft., across the Colorado River from Laughlin, Nevada; founded in 1998. The Morabitos started with Sunwest Sports in Corona, Calif., but have now sold that to their son Jeff. Carries Bombardier ATVs; Sea-Doo watercraft and jet boats; Polaris ATVs and Ranger utility vehicles; and Kawasaki ATVs, Mule utility vehicles, Jet Ski PWC, dirtbikes, and streetbikes. Largest-selling segment is ATV. Sunwest Xpress is a Sea-Doo Platinum Certified Dealer and the number-one Polaris Ranger Dealer in the Southwestern United States. “In 1998 Laughlin had 3.4 million water visitors every Summer,” says Joe Morabito. “I joked to my wife, ‘If we just sold a battery to 1%, we would sell 3,000 batteries per year!’ Normally a dealer sells 100. Now we have 5.6 million visitors per year, plus residents.” 20 employees.

Joe Morabito’s greatest concern: too many dealerships. “Some dealers have absolutely no way to make a living. These are the ‘giveaway guys,’ and some OEMs seem to reward them. Yamaha has set up six or eight new dealers in California alone. Yet the dealers already in business can’t make money. Plus the manufacturers constantly ask us to upgrade. We love improving, but why should we when our manufacturer, our partner, is undermining us?” Morabito gives high marks to Bombardier. “From the president on down, they’ve been out to visit. Every time they thank us for the business and say, ‘What can we do to make it better?’”

Currently Polaris builds four Ranger models: two different two-wheel-drives, a four-wheel-drive, and a six-wheel drive. “The Ranger 4×4 is by far the most popular,” explains Morabito. Are companies buying these for utility work? “No, we’re selling them to people who want to launch their PWC on the beach. A Ranger is far less expensive than a truck and does the same job.” Sizzling ATVs at Sunwest Xpress: the restyled Bombardier Rally, the Polaris fuel-injected Sportsman 700 (“perfect for customers who live at high altitudes in Utah and Arizona”), and the new Kawasaki Brute Force 750. “Kawasaki’s 700cc twin hotrod KVF 700 is a very popular two-wheeler, but our motorcycle business is nothing. We have so much dirt, people ride ATVs.” In PG&A, “We move tons of stuff: anything to do with safety, Bell helmets, and Polaris’s well-priced Pursuit helmet. By carrying a lot of genuine Polaris off-road accessories we don’t compete directly with mail-order.”

The typical Sunwest Xpress customer is a Baby Boomer or pre-retirement. “They are in their 50s and have sold the house in California or elsewhere and made a lot of money,” explains Morabito. “They come to Arizona because life is easier, then build a weekend or future retirement home. They have grandchildren, so we sell a lot of ‘cool toys’ to the grandparents. Our people have always ‘wanted’ and now they ‘can have.’ Many people bring cash; a lot are refinancing their homes. They’re doing all this before they get old. Even people who live year-round in California come to Arizona to buy from us because they like the way they’re treated. Some California mega-dealers have absolutely no personality. We share stories with our customers and tell them how to get to the launch or the trail, where to ride, what’s legal and what’s not.”

Sunwest Xpress is near the Colorado River (one block), Lake Havasu, and Lake Mojave. “They just reopened the lake to PWC,” explains Morabito. “Two or three years ago the Blue Water Network was closing all the lakes to PWC, and that was pretty devastating. Right now we have access to the dirt, the hills, and all the water. I consider myself an environmentalist. We tell people, ‘Don’t leave trash and ride on the trails.’ We love the environment, we don’t hurt it. As opposed to the so-called environmentalists who say, ‘You can’t go there and we don’t want to.’”

“According to our Sea-Doo CSI scores, 80% of those who visit our service department do so because of convenience,” explains Morabito. “Customers drop off their boats at 5:00 p.m. for service, go to the Laughlin casinos to gamble, and by 10:00 the next morning, their craft are running and back in the river. So we’ve made quite a name for ourselves. For our local customers, we pick up their boat at their dock, service it, then return it to their dock. The service department works 16 hours per day all Summer. We are closed Sundays, but our technicians work 70 or 80 hours per week. As for parts, since we’re in the middle of nowhere, there’s no such thing as overnight delivery. So we have to carry a decent stock. Adding an 1,800-sq.-ft. service building gave us 1,500 additional sq. ft. for accessories.”

Beware of the Trader-type magazines, advises Morabito. “Every dealer reads every word and knows exactly what their fellow dealers are doing. Don’t believe it. If a customer walks in with one, we tell them ‘You really ought to put that away. You’re not in California anymore.’ We want to conduct business on a different level than just price.” His second piece of advice: Retain your enthusiasm. “When the Sea-Doo 3D when came out, we had people who’d never ridden a stand-up getting soaking wet. We try to get people excited.” And themselves: “We went to Bombardier’s Spader service class, the most awesome thing all year. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I talked to dealers at that class who’ve been in business five years and didn’t learn anything. There’s so much to be gained until you think you know everything.”

—Julie Filatoff


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