Tennessee Power 50 dealership now carries 13 brands
As of Memorial Day weekend, country singer Carrie Underwood became the new owner of an Indian Classic, thanks to a gift from fellow crooner Miranda Lambert. Sloan’s Motorcycle & ATV, a 2013 Powersports Business Power 50 dealership, had the privilege of delivering that bike while Underwood was grilling on May 25. But the dealership didn’t need an event like that to put itself on the map.
Instead, Sloan’s has already built up quite a reputation in Murfreesboro, Tenn., which has helped the dealership grow from a one-line, 1,000-square-foot store, open nights and weekends only, to a 13-brand, 55,000-square-foot dealership operated by three generations of the Sloan family.
Like many powersports dealerships, Sloan’s was started out of passion. Founder Bill Sloan had purchased a Whizzer motorbike in 1936, soon upgrading to a Harley-Davidson Knucklehead. Enthralled with motorcycles, Sloan opened his dealership in 1960 to support his riding habit. His wife Sharon ran the books and the backend of the business during the day, while Bill Sloan would take over in the evening after his shift at the local bank.
The dealership was launched with the Matchless brand imported from the U.K. by Indian. As Sloan’s added BSA, camping trailers and later Yamaha to its lineup, the dealership moved to a 2,000-square-foot store in 1965, adding another 1,000 square feet when Honda was added. In 1972, Sloan’s again moved and added Kawasaki. Then in 1980, the family built a 15,000-square-foot facility at its current address.
Since then, Sloan’s has continued to grow. That 15,000-square-foot store is now the base of the dealership’s 55,000-square-foot space that houses motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides and scooters from 13 brands. And while the dealership has continued to flourish in its 54 years, family has stayed at the heart of Sloan’s, where the second generation includes Curtis Sloan and his sister Julie Sloan Link, and the third generation has already stepped in as Matt Sloan serves as sales manager.
“We are a family business, so that’s part of what we still capitalize on to differentiate us from a lot of absent owners,” general manager Curtis Sloan said. “We have really worked hard and continue to work hard having 13 brands.”
Indian, European brands stand tall
Though Sloan’s business is about two-thirds ATV/side-by-side and one-third motorcycle/scooter, the on-road segment has been a highlight as of late. Taking starring roles have been Indian, along with Moto Guzzi, Aprilia, Piaggio, Vespa and KTM.
“It’s not unusual to have months where we sell more of our European brands — and I’m talking just motorcycle brands right now — we sell more of our European brands than our metric brands,” Sloan reported to Powersports Business.
What makes those brands stand out, he’s observed, is their uniqueness and the attraction to buyers looking for something eclectic. Sloan sees the appeal when he goes to bike nights on European or American bikes.
“You go there to socialize and to see and be seen, and when I go bike nights on a Indian or an Aprilia Caponord or a Moto Guzzi … I get noticed,” he said.
Though Piaggio’s brands, along with KTM, have garnered attention over the past few years, Sloan has also been happy with the addition of Indian, which the dealership took on last fall.
“Indian has gone from zero to hero in our store, and really it has made the motorcycle business fun again, and that’s coming from someone who’s done motorcycle all of his life,” Sloan said.
Though the dealership, like all other Indian stores, had to make an investment into upgrades for the Indian line, Sloan was happy to do so, as it led to the first refresh of the entire store since the recession hit.
Also, Indian sales have been worth the effort, with an excess of 10 units sold every month since the units hit the showroom.
With Indian leading the pack, Sloan’s has been having a positive year in motorcycle sales so far, something it wouldn’t have without the new brand.
“When we do our sales analysis each week, each month through this year, we always take out Indian, so we can compare same store business, and if you take out Indian, on the motorcycle side, we’d be having a down year,” Sloan reported.
Due to Indian and contributions from throughout the dealership, Sloan’s is at or slightly above forecast for the beginning of 2014.
“When you go back to the pre-recession days, we’re still nowhere near that, but I think like a lot of us, we’re learning to live with less and on less and in a lot of cases we’re making more profit on less revenue,” Sloan explained.
Leaning on all departments
Though overall unit sales are doing well early in the year, Sloan’s has learned over the decades that a dealership cannot thrive on one department alone, so it treats each department equally.
Finance has been one such area that has delivered a strong performance as of late. Despite two of its major brands giving away extended warranties, the F&I team has managed to overcome those challenges and still deliver profit to the store.
PG&A has also been on the upswing recently, especially growing in Polaris, Indian and Victory products.
“[Polaris has] done a masterful job of designing the accessories and apparel, the brand apparel that people want and will actually wear, so kudos to them, at least that’s a profit opportunity for us,” Sloan said.
Though he oftentimes gets grief from his 20-group for having a staff of about 50 on hand, Sloan says keeping each department well-staffed is key to taking care of customers and optimizing the use of obsolescence programs and merchandise exchanges with distributors and manufacturers.
“It takes a lot of focus to support people, to really take care of the details to support people,” Sloan said.
Though Sloan’s once ran a second store, the family has decided to keep its focus on one location and delivering the best customer experience from there.
“I’ve got friends that have got three stores, five stores. I used to have a 20-group friend who now has 28, 29, 30 stores. That’s cool if that’s what you want to do, but I’m finding a great deal of contentment in just having a well-run single location that generates enough volume that I have about 40 families that we can support by doing what we do and sleep well knowing we treated everyone well today,” Sloan said.
After all, with 13 brands, Sloan says, its one location offers customers access to product from North America, Japan and Europe, so they have little reason to stop anywhere else. However, to draw in those customers, the dealership works hard to cast a wide net to attract prospects.
“We do have a substantial advertising budget, and we utilize every dollar of the manufacturers’ co-op and usually have to ask for a little bit more. As long as the sales revenues are there, usually they’re accommodating. And the budget is heavy on radio and heavy on pay-per-click, search engine marketing,” Sloan said.
The dealership is also event-friendly, with frequent rides, seminars and other activities designed to draw customers in time and again.
“I think events are hugely important. I think hosting events and participating in events is one of the things that the brick and mortar dealer can do to differ himself or herself from an Internet supplier,” Sloan said.
With 2014 already on the right track as summer has just begun, the Sloan family is confident that without unforeseen circumstances, the year should end on a positive note.
Sloan's Motorcycle & ATV
Location: Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Employees: About 50
General Manager: Curtis Sloan
Brands Carried: Aprilia, Honda, Indian, Kawasaki, KTM, KYMCO, Moto Guzzi, Piaggio, Polaris, Suzuki, Vespa, Victory, Yamaha