Power Profiles

AT Motorsports – Signal Hill, CA – April 25, 2005


3001 East Pacific Coast Highway
Signal Hill, CA 90755

Greg Darling

The 90,000-sq.-ft. property on Pacific Coast Highway includes a 17,000-sq.-ft. showroom and a 9,000-sq.-ft. shop. Darling founded the Polaris dealership as Aquatek in 1989 (an Ehlert Watercraft Dealer of the Year honoree). Now carries Polaris ATVs, Ranger utility vehicles, and Victory motorcycles, plus marine products. Largest-selling segment is ATV — “you’re going to sell more $3,000 ATVs than $18,000 Victories,” notes Darling, “ but profitability on Victory is so much better.” In 2001 Darling bought a nearby abandoned car dealership. “A large section of roof collapsed when we started the remodel, so it became an earthquake retrofit that took three years and $600,000.” Nine employees.

“A minor concern is the price of fuel, because that affects people’s decision to buy and use our vehicles,” says Darling. “The biggest issue is the unlevel playing field. So much junk merchandise is sold through sources other than legitimate powersports dealerships-such as auto parts stores. Those countries have a right to make product, but I believe they should comply with the same regulations in production quality, certification, safety training, and recall ability as the manufacturers that I represent. That is a threat to our whole industry. Other than that, there’s the age-old issue of manufacturers dictating to dealers what we sell, and not responding to our needs-getting us the product we want in the timeframe we want. Eight Hammers will go through my hands this year, but I probably could have sold 600 in the last 90 days. It’s frustrating.”

“‘Buzz’ isn’t the right word for the new Victory Hammer — it’s an avalanche of interest,” says Darling. “The 2003 Vegas, the 2004 Kingpin, and the 2005 Hammer were all new models that have generated huge amounts of attention. Victory is now accepted among even the hardcore Harley enthusiasts as a ‘righteous bike.’ Harley guys who have spent large sums building big-cubic-inch motors tell us that a well-done Vegas or Kingpin rides right by them. Polaris/Victory has done a sensational job of creating a world-class product, and I’m really excited to be a Victory dealer.” But what about PWC? “The second that Polaris announced it was exiting the watercraft market, Yamaha wanted us to become a WaveRunner dealer. I’m a Honda outboard dealer, so Honda asked me to carry its watercraft. But there’s the commitment that the OEMs want and the condition of the market. Everybody is struggling to sell them (and make any money when they do), and inventory carrying charges are humongous. As excited as I was about watercraft in 1995 through 1997, I’m not all that unhappy that I don’t have a watercraft line today.”
Darling says his ATV sales volume will never be that of inland dealers. “It’s one to three hours to any place customers can ride.” Those include the Imperial Sand Dunes in Glamis (380,000 acres of the pure, white, undulating sand dunes), Pismo Beach (where folks can ride along the surfline and up and down wet sand dunes), and the Big Bear mountains. “What I like about riding an ATV in California is that variety. And we can ride those same areas — on the roadway — on Victory motorcycles.” As for accessories, “Some people will buy a fairly basic bike, then build it up over time. But we’ve been hugely successful in accessorizing vehicles as part of the original sale. Nearly 80% of the bikes have a minimum of $2,000 worth of accessories, and $4,000 to $5,000 is not unusual. My salesman, John, has worked hard to keep abreast of every Victory part available and is a true authority.”

“We’ve been at the forefront of anti-powersports issues for the last two decades with ATVs, then watercraft, and now ATVs again,” says Darling. “While at the Del Mar Boat Show we read in a San Diego newspaper’s front-page article that supposed ‘family people’ are lobbying Congress to make it illegal for children under 16 to ride a full-size ATV. It is a problem-I’m sympathetic to that. But the units are stickered and we have very specific rules as dealers to guarantee that the unit is for use by an adult. If an adult allows an underage child to use their ATV, it isn’t the industry that should be blamed for the result.”

At Motorsports has three technicians and an apprentice. “We service all brands of watercraft. Although we no longer sell PWC, we’re still known for that because of all our years in the business. We haven’t seen many Honda PWC in for service, despite being a Honda outboard dealer.”

Darling says he used to spend “capricious sums of money on the most interactive website you could find. We spent a lot of time answering inquiries from people who were a long way out of our market area and who never rang the register. Now our website is nothing more than a link to my manufacturer’s website. This has not affected my business negatively.”

“We’re still surrounded by ego-driven dealers who want to brag about the number of units they sell, rather than how much money they actually make when they sell them,” notes Darling. “There are a lot of dealers who give this stuff away. I love this product and dealing with the customers. They’re great friends, and I really like boating or ATV riding or Victory motorcycling with them. That’s the dimension to this business that you can’t put a value on. But with the government regulations that are continuing to build, were I to do this all over again, I would not. There’s a joke that might apply: ‘Do you know how to make a small fortune in the boat business? Start with a large one.’” psb

— Julie Filatoff

If you would like to share your story with the readers of Powersports Business, please contact Julie Filatoff at filatoff@cybermesa.com.


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