Power Profiles

Larry’s Motor Sports – Jefferson City, MO – May 14, 2007

Larry’s Motor Sports
5217 Business 50 West
Jefferson City, Mo. 65109
Larry Neill
Larry Neill has a hand in a multitude of projects, which is the way he likes it. Not only is he running a dealership that carries lines from all four major Japanese OEMs, but Neill, at age 73, is the president of the Missouri Powersports Dealers Association (MPDA). He also was a key proponent of getting a local community college to offer powersports technician training and has moved to provide riding access for his community. He didn’t have an easy time getting to where he is now, either. After spending time in the Navy and more than 25 years in the computer business, he decided to do something for himself in the mid-1980s. Since he was 51 at the time, OEMs and the bank were reluctant to back him, insisting he should have key personnel run the day-to-day operations of any dealership he would open and that he would merely sign the checks. He went along with their advice for a couple years, opening a Honda-only dealership in March 1986. But he soon found his dealership struggling to stay afloat. Instead of letting it go, as others suggested he should, he took control of the everyday goings-on and began the slow process of righting his business. In 1990, Neill added Kawasaki and Suzuki products. Yamaha was added to the mix in 2003. The current incarnation of Larry’s Motor Sports has about 30,000 square feet. The dealership retails ATVs, motorcycles, scooters and utility vehicles, as well as California Sidecar Trikes. Larry’s sells between 20 and 30 trikes a year, Neill said.
When it comes to concerns, Neill tends toward being proactive. Public riding land access is a troublesome spot across much of the country, so Neill secured access for off-road motorcycle and ATV riders around the Jefferson City area. Along with Larry’s Motor Sports General Manager Travis Knorr, Neill formed a separate LLC and acquired some land outside of town. There, they built a motocross track and a riding trail through the surrounding woodlands. For $7 a day and a signature on a waiver form, enthusiasts can ride. Neill figures the move might have even helped the dealership’s sales. Another concern Neill held, but is working on changing, is a technician shortage. A survey the MPDA facilitated showed many of the state’s dealerships needed more technicians. The findings encouraged a local community college to add recreational technical classes. Students must have a sponsoring dealership. The students, who are required to take subjects like math and English in addition to their technical classes, spend eight weeks in the classroom and eight weeks at a dealership, alternating throughout the year. Larry’s is host to three students in the program’s first class of 17.
By far, street bikes are the hottest sellers. Mid-sized street bikes in particular are flying off the floor. Yamaha’s 750 Shadow and Suzuki’s C50 cruisers “look to be a great buy for the money,” said Neill, who is an avid rider. “For under $8,000 you get a fully dressed bike that looks like a Harley.” Neill also likes Kawasaki’s new 900 and Yamaha’s V-Stars. Beyond bikes, UTVs are the new frontier for the ATV market, Neill said. Larry’s recently added Mules to its UTV offerings, which previously only included Rhinos.
“We are seeing more and more customers come in [because of the Internet], many times from quite a ways away,” Neill said. “And they’re watching our Web site for specials in parts and accessories and used bikes. They’re also buying parts and accessories online. It’s another competitor out there.” The net is also helping people learn more about products before they visit the physical dealership. If a customer is buying a new bike or ATV, they have likely already researched four to six brands and will sometimes know more than the salesman, Neill said. “I tell [the salespeople] to listen; customers will tell you what they want to buy.”
Larry’s has five dedicated parts and accessories people. In addition to in-store parts sales, the dealership also runs a wholesale parts business. The side project increases the store’s parts volume. The service department recently added a new service manager with more than 35 years of industry experience. One of his main roles is to mentor the three aspiring techs participating in the community college program.
The annual Moonlight Madness event at Larry’s Motor Sports is the highlight of the dealership’s marketing efforts. On a Friday night, the company gets a World War II spotlight to roam the sky and draw in people who might not be aware of the event. “On a hot summer night, it draws people like a moth to a flame,” Neill said. The dealership stays open until midnight or later, showcasing product, offering bike washes and holding a bike show some years. Last year, the dealership hauled in 30 loads of dirt and had two professional bike jumpers put on a demonstration. Neill always makes a point to evaluate events after they happen so any necessary adjustments can be made for the next time around.
“You’ve got to buy your own real estate,” Neill said. After leasing his land and building for five years, he was able to purchase both because of an option-to-buy included in his original lease. It was one of the best decisions he ever made, Neill says. “Otherwise you can get taken advantage of. Get plenty of land around you, too, so you have plenty of space for parking and semis.”
— Lisa Young

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