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Dealer support part of new strategy for UTV distributor

Sportsman Country, the Texas-based distributor of Massimo, Bennche and Linhai off-road vehicles, held its dealer meeting last month. Powersports Business accepted an invitation to attend to learn more about the company’s 2016 formation. Sportsman Country CEO Johnny Tai shared his thoughts about the state of the company with PSB staff reporter Jimmy Gilligan.

Powersports Business: What was behind the decision to change your go-to-market format. You recently decided to add geographically dispersed district sales managers (DSMs) in place of the previous method of outbound phone calls to dealers from your Texas headquarters.

Johnny Tai: In this country, this market is too big. Each state, each area has a different market type. We live in Dallas, so we don’t really know what’s going on in New York, or in South Carolina or Illinois, not to even mention if our dealers have questions or issues. To have a local representative there that can quickly go there to solve the problem before it gets worse, is why we changed. We used to have a few DSMs, so it’s not something new for us, but we’re so glad we have these DSMs on board with us have better experience and better knowledge.

Sportsman Country CEO Johnny Tai shows off a snow plow accessory at the company’s inaugural dealer meeting. Photos by Jimmy Gilligan/Powersports Business

PSB: Tell us about the formation of Sportsman Country, and how the decision to add Linhai to your offering of brands play into the development of the group. 

JT: Sportsman Country was formed in December of 2016; it was owned by myself and my partner, David Shen. We both come from different backgrounds, but we’ve all been in this industry for awhile. David is still the owner of Massimo, and I am still the owner for Bennche, so we formed Sportsman Country because we see that running a business in this industry is very costly. First, you have to have a big warehouse so you can have space for inventory, assembly and parts. Also, it takes a lot of capital for inventory, and it also takes a lot of expenses to have good insurance, and also you have to have a sales force, a marketing force, an assembly crew, parts team and a technical support team. So that’s why we were thinking if we could consolidate our resources, we’re able to not just cut our costs, but we can also compliment each other and have a very strong team to support dealers. That’s the driver behind the formation of Sportsman Country; we created it as an umbrella platform where we want to work with good vendors from overseas to utilize this platform. And then we have an existing dealer network that we’re expanding everyday, and with the support we have and the financing tools we have, it’s kind of one-stop shopping for them. From the dealer side, I know they complain about these products from overseas that they don’t have support or parts or people who can speak English, they don’t have the financing tools, and oftentimes they complain. But they like the products, they know they can make money from these products, so with Sportsman Country’s location in Dallas, Texas, we have real people here, and with our DSMs, we can have people work locally with them.

PSB: It’s in its early stages, but how has the Linhai distribution agreement worked out so far?

JT: Linhai is a very big ATV and UTV manufacturer in China, and they are known to have a joint venture with Yamaha there. So in China, people always combine them and say “Linhai Yamaha.” So even a company like Linhai that has a very strong manufacturing and financial background, when they came here to set up their own distribution in the U.S., it was a lot of spending and overhead expenses. They need to spend before they can even start to sell to dealers, not to mention there’s a culture difference, there’s a language barrier, there’s a different time zone, so it’s really hard for them to manage the company here. That’s why Linhai actually approached us, and we like their products and have known them for a long time. We exchanged some ideas and agreed that if we work together, we can better sell the products, represent their brand and products. It’s much easier for all of us to complement each other.

Newly assembled side-by-sides sit on the Sportsman Country assembly floor, awaiting final testing.

PSB: What can dealers who currently sell the three brands expect to see from Sportsman Country in 2018 in terms of customer service? What about future dealers — what are they going to get excited about with Sportsman Country?

JT: I think as we continue to expand our team, compared with before, we are able to provide not just local sales representatives, but we can also offer them real-time support if they call us here. Our dealers all have been assigned their own technical support rep so that we can better service then, and we have a very good parts ordering system at Sportsmancountry.com. Our dealers are able to order parts 24/7 so we don’t need someone to pick up the phone. We streamlined the process because we understand that dealerships are busy during the day. We don’t have any complications. Our parts department receives it in real time and they start to process the order. I know we cannot have everything in stock but we have a team in China with access to our system. Every day we generate a back order report, which will tell our team in China ‘We need a CVT belt,’ then they will start to process this order. Every week we have two or three FedEx air shipments to Dallas, so we are able to provide quicker support to dealers. We understand that the customer’s unit is there, and it needs to be serviced. They want that service to be done right now, so that’s why we want to provide extensive support to all the brands we carry and all the dealers we have. 

PSB: How do you feel the ATV/UTV market is shaping up for 2018 as it relates to your models?

JT: If you look at the trends, I think the UTV market is still growing, however, I think it’s more competitive. Overall the market is still growing, but it has constant competition. We are able to be more flexible with our dealers and provide unique models like our Warrior 800 and 700, this military style UTV. Nobody really has that. So we are able to be more flexible and that’s why I think dealers, when they sell our products, it doesn’t matter which brand, they can not only have some conditional type of model, they can also have something very unique. We just want to make sure we can provide them with the best quality, and that’s why we do assembly here.

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