6217 Two Notch Road
Columbia, SC 29204
3750 Fernandina Road
Columbia, SC 29210
Columbia Powersports opened in 1978 as a single line Kawasaki dealer. After two years in business, the original owner incorporated the business and brought in partner Wayne Wilkes, the current owner. In late 1986 the company opened a second location at Top Notch Road under the Columbia Yamaha Suzuki banner. That store still exists, but the original location moved to a 13,000 square foot facility on Fernandina Road. The original owner has since retired, leaving Wilkes at the dealer owner. Sells Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, BRP and Eton. Sells mostly motorcycles, including off-road bikes. Next come watercraft, then ATV. Also carries PWC and ATV trailers from Triton and Wesco. Employees vary seasonally; currently the staff is at its lowest point of the year with 15.
“Making a profit,” says general manager Bill Bigham. “Competition is pretty stiff and unfortunately, there are a lot of smaller dealerships that come closer to wholesaling. It makes it difficult for us to compete. And shipping costs, too.”
“Sportbikes, as a rule,” says Bigham. “Cruisers are picking up a little bit, they tend to do better in fall. The biggest demand is in sportbikes right now, for us.” Bigham says that nothing really stands out in parts.
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
“What I would say is typical is more affluent,” says Bigham. “It seems like between 20-30 [for sportbikes] and then between 40 and up for cruisers and ATVs and watercraft. As for customer behavior, Bigham says that customers are much more knowledgeable and shop around a lot more now, as well.
“Not at this point,” says Bigham.
PARTS AND SERVICE
Service contributes about 30% to the overall business. Columbia has two manufacturer trained techs and two service writers, one of which takes some service management responsibility. “Unfortunately, in our business it’s very seasonal,” says Bigham “It makes it difficult to maintain technicians. Sometimes you have to carry them when business drops off. It’s feast or famine and then you get backlogs and problems.” To help with the work flow in the service department, Columbia recently turned to a dealer management system. “We have been involved with the Spader System,” says Bigham. “That has helped kind of streamline things. They teach you how to budget and how to show your costs and profits and track them so you know where your weaknesses are.”
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Columbia Powersports does radio and television advertising, and also takes advantage of manufacturer co-op ad money. “We do have some poker runs and those types of things, but not anything [in store] any more.” Bigham says the dealer found that tactic to be ineffective for the money and effort going into those types of events.
WORDS OF ADVICE
“It used to be, the emphasis when you opened up a business was in the sales,” says Bigham. “I think the emphasis needs to at least split into service and sales instead of just sales or mostly sales. When we first started in the ‘80s it was 75% sales, 25% service and you wouldn’t think you could necessarily make money (in service), it’s just a necessary evil. And that has shifted tremendously. But now, it’s probably 50/50. I think that’s where most places fall down. If they’re going to fall down, it’s in the service area. And that’s what I would recommend. You need to put as much emphasis in that as you do anything.”
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