Fred Cummings Motorsports – Bakersfield, Calif. – Aug. 10, 2009

More than 40 years ago, Eugene and Fred Cummings bought a then one-brand dealership, Honda Center. During the years, it has outgrown a few facilities and now has seven product lines, including Honda, Suzuki, Sea-Doo, Can-Am, Vespa, Piaggio and SDG. Vic Hagan, general manager, says the dealership is not opposed to adding more lines, believing now is the time to be looking. “Good business people look for opportunities in (down economic) times,” he noted. “A lot of people get into business when things are flying, and that’s when you’re paying your premium. We’re always on the lookout for that.” A unique feature of the dealership is its employees. “I’ve been extremely lucky in having an exceptional staff storewide,” Hagan said. “Going into a slow time, a recession, I have very well-qualified people who understand what we’re trying to do. They’re not going to bail on me because the grass is greener somewhere else. This is a home and we’re trying to create careers, not just jobs.”

The emphasis the media and others are putting on the down economy is a large concern for Hager. “They’re sucking the energy out of everyone,” he said. “Everyone is tired of hearing how bad things are. In other words, the money aspect of things hasn’t changed as much as everybody’s fear of buying something.”

“It’s a tossup between the CBR Honda and the GSX-R Suzuki,” Hager said, referring to the most popular bikes at the dealership. However, even those bikes’ sales aren’t the same volume as they used to be thanks to the down economy.

Unfortunately the trend at Fred Cummings Motorsports is the decline in sales. “What we used to bank a lot on was the off-road stuff,” Hager said. “We have a lot of agriculture in our area, and we did 20, 30, 40 units at a time with these big farms. They’ve cut way back and been very conservative with their spending as well. There isn’t any trend, it’s just slower.” Hager also mentioned people breaking out their older motorcycles that have been sitting in their garages. “Certainly in my generation people are used to having older motorcycles. My generation still looks at those as being classics,” he said. “When gas bumps up, we’ll bring them out. Along with that, we’ve seen people who aren’t trading things in as quickly, and they’re hanging onto them longer.” Riders keeping their bikes longer isn’t all bad because Hager says their service department’s business has risen.

Fred Cummings Motorsports’ parts and service departments have done well, which Hagan says is compensating for some of the new unit sale losses. “In my experience, the tendency with dealerships has been sales are the giant focus. Parts and service in a lot of ways was something they had to deal with to have a dealership,” he said. “I remember going to dealer shows and hearing different dealer owners or GMs say, ‘If I never had to have a service department, that would be great.’ I never took that approach. I always thought there was a lot of potential in the service department for both loss and gain. We work really, really hard getting some very experienced, long-term employees. I’m very lucky to have an outstanding staff in (the service) department.” Having that strong staff in place, Hagan says has proved helpful since many people are riding their older bikes again.

Moving away from traditional advertising, Hagan says the dealership has been doing more hands-on promotions lately. The dealership does cross promotions with the local Honda and Suzuki car dealerships as well as cross promotions with a California State University athletic department. A key in making the hands-on approach successful is being consistent with it, says Hagan.

“Surround yourself with qualified, enthusiastic people,” Hagan said. “Once you do that, you have loyalty and all the stuff that goes with it. If you’re going to go into a fight, you want to have qualified people around you.”
—Karin Gelschus

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