Northway Sports expands to increase ORV space
After pulling on the dirt bike handlebar-turned front door handle, I walked into Northway Sports and immediately stared down four Slingshots — a display the dealership wasn’t able to accommodate months earlier.
To the left was a sprawling off-road showroom, complete with more than 20 Polaris units. It was shocking to think that area didn’t exist in 2016.
Northway Sports, in East Bethel, Minnesota, recently underwent an expansion that nearly doubled its space. In addition, the dealership adjusted to the discontinuation of Victory Motorcycles and added the Polaris Retail Experience display.
20 years in the making
Dan Richardson is celebrating his 20th year as owner of Northway Sports in 2017. He purchased an existing Polaris snowmobile franchise in 1997 and was approved to carry Polaris ORVs as well.
Since then, the dealership has expanded twice. “I built this building in 2004, which was a big expansion from what I had, but outgrew it quickly,” Richardson told Powersports Business. “Then the economy took the downturn, and we were glad we didn’t over-build. We’ve been waiting about three years — business has been good for about three years — and then just finally decided to add on.”
This recent expansion added 6,600 square feet to the former 7,700-square-foot space. In addition to showroom space, Northway also increased its office area and doubled the size of the service department.
The service department renovations are still underway, but once they’re complete, Richardson will be able to hire a third tech, who can work on prep and small service jobs. The service department was also able to add a car lift to work on Slingshots. And, the service writer space will be expanded to give the two advisors more room to work together.
The showroom expansion is focused on off-road products, with about two-dozen Polaris ATVs and UTVs front and center. Also, a couple of Kawasaki units are tucked in. It’s an impressive look — and a welcome change for a dealership that operates in an off-road-friendly area.
“The hottest thing, of course, is Polaris off-road, specifically side-by-sides. We still sell a ton of ATVs, but the side-by-side business just keeps increasing,” Richardson explained.
He added, “We’re right in that transition from kind of a metro dealer to a rural dealer, and believe it or not, people with 5-10 acres think that they need a side-by-side to justify it. A lot of people out here have a little bit of acreage, so that’s where we’re seeing the side-by-side business pick up. Some of them want to trail ride a little bit, especially all the RZR customers, but my Ranger customers are mostly just local people that want to use it in their yard.”
After starting construction on the new space in December, Richardson learned in January that Polaris was discontinuing Victory Motorcycles. As a dealer who had done well with the brand, he was disappointed. But he has adjusted. As Victory bikes have filtered out of the showroom, Richardson has transitioned the old showroom to now hold four Slingshots (rather than the two he previously housed indoors) in addition to Polaris snowmobiles year-round, Kawasaki street and off-road bikes and pre-owned motorcycles.
Polaris Retail Experience
In addition to more units, Northway Sports’s expansion also houses the new Polaris Retail Experience, recently launched by the OEM at select dealerships.
The display was designed to help dealers sell more OEM PG&A by allowing customers to see and touch anything from doors and windshields to bumpers and roofs. A lighting section offers customers the chance to push a button and see the lights work live, and speakers can also be turned on and listened to in the showroom.
The centerpiece is a touchscreen TV that allows customers to flip through the Polaris lineup, price out accessories and, for some units, build their own vehicle on the screen.
After the expansion was complete, Polaris sent sub-contractors to the dealership to install the Polaris Retail Experience, and Northway Sports introduced it to customers in June.
“The little bit of experience we’ve had with customers coming in, they love it,” Richardson reported. “They like to put their hands on it, touch it. The interactive display, that’s huge, too, especially if we’re busy, and we’re trying to take a little pressure off the salesman.”
Richardson expects that as customers are able to inspect vehicle accessories in person, and see and feel the difference between the less expensive and more expensive options, accessory sales will grow.
“Our hope is that our accessory sales will be up at least 30 percent with just adding this experience center. And we already do well with accessories. We have a pretty high attachment rate, so I can only see it getting better,” he said.
Dealership built on customer service
Sales have been growing steadily over the past three years, which allowed Northway Sports to push forward with the expansion. The store does healthy sales with UTVs and ATVs, as well as dirt bikes, but Richardson said what brings people back is the customer service his 12-member team provides.
“The Twin Cities powersports market is very competitive, so I think our No. 1 thing is customer service,” he said. “I have two of the best techs in the Twin Cities. One has been with me for 12 years; both are certified. So on the service tech side of it, I have great customer service. But also my parts guys are very, very knowledgeable, so our customer service is top notch.”
Because of this, and the passion Richardson has for the powersports industry, Northway Sports has earned many long-time customers who return time and again.