After just three years of operation, Southern Thunder Harley-Davidson was awarded the Harley-Davidson Silver Bar and Shield Award, placing it in the top 75 Harley dealers nationwide. It also will become only the second Harley dealership in the country to occupy a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building when it opens in February 2010. LEED certification is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. “In Mississippi, at this time, there are no financial incentives or tax advantages to becoming LEED certified,” said Lisa Rossmeyer Wade, dealer principal. “But I’ve always believed that you do well by doing good. Also, the fact is that we sell a product that despite being very fuel efficient, does contribute to carbon emissions. We saw LEED certification as a small way to pay it forward.” Building a LEED facility is by no means easy, says Wade. “It is an intensive process from beginning to end,” she said. “It can also carry additional costs. The fee alone for the consultants who are guiding the certification process is $90,000. However, I saved at least that much on right sizing the HVAC system and through the energy modeling that takes place as part of the process. Our current energy model anticipates about a 35 percent annual utility savings over a conventionally constructed building, and this is money that goes straight to the bottom line every year.”
“The biggest challenge we have right now is the availability and the cost of money for our customers,” Wade said. “When even credit challenged customers can buy a new convertible for 0 down and 0 percent interest for five or more years, buying a motorcycle with a significant down payment at an interest rate well above prime becomes a less attractive option for many.” Another concern Wade mentioned is the disinterest in back-end products. “More customers are bypassing financing through Harley-Davidson Financial Services,” she said, “and as a rule, other lenders tend to make less money available, and in this environment, that means fewer customers purchasing F&I products.”
“Street Glides, Ultras and Heritages are our top-selling models,” said Wade. “Trikes also are very hot right now. As more riders see the new H-D trike and understand the value of having a bike manufactured as a trike vs. a kit, demand is growing exponentially.”
CUSTOMER BUYING TRENDS
Both new and used units are strong in the dealership’s area, says Wade. “Sales growth has slowed somewhat, but sales are still ahead of last year,” she noted.
PARTS AND SERVICE
“Since purchasing the dealership three years ago, our service business has more than quadrupled,” Wade said. “Frankly it could have grown even more if we were not so limited in our space.” The current facility is slightly more than 15,000 square feet, but they plan to move into a 54,000-square-foot building. The dealership has an aggressive quality control program. “It helps keep comebacks to a minimum and has the advantage of putting at least three sets of trained eyes on a bike before it leaves the shop,” she said. “But we are only human and when things do go wrong, honest and frequent communication with the customer is our standard.” Wade says P&A should grow about 10 percent this year in part due to customers hanging onto their motorcycles longer. The dealership also has a “customer path” for new and used bike buyers to follow. It includes an introduction to the parts department and a consultative visit with a member of the parts team to talk about how they can assist with customization and/or performance.
PROMOTIONAL HOME RUNS
Southern Thunder Harley-Davidson does a lot of the traditional advertising, including yellow pages, billboards, radio, newspaper and events. “Repeat business and word of mouth has been the biggest contributor to our growth,” Wade said. “Every member of our staff understands that we sell nothing that anyone has to have and nothing that anyone can’t purchase 20 minutes away or sitting at home in front of a computer. We sell ourselves and the knowledge, care and service we have to offer in order to provide an exceptional purchase and ownership experience.”
WORDS OF ADVICE
“Staff and customers both take their clues from the dealer. So if you don’t love what you do or it’s just not fun anymore, it may be time to find a new passion,” Wade said. “These are tough times, but being successful has always been tough. As my uncle says, ‘If it was easy, anyone could do it.’” If a dealer is considering becoming LEED certified, Wade suggested, “Hire a LEED consultant before you even hire an architect. They will help you evaluate just how green you want to be, alternatives for achieving your goal and help you understand where your green costs and your savings will come from. ‘Greening’ your design once you have a plan in place can be time and cost prohibitive.”