Although there are plenty of bike dealers out there who pride themselves on delivering excellent customer service, few dealerships can boast of having established a tradition of customer service like Paulson’s Motorsports. That’s because roots grow deep at this Lacey, Wash., motorsports store; they’ve been at the same location on 6th Avenue since 1975, and before that they were located in nearby Tacoma for some 69 years. All told, the dealership has been in business for 103 years, and according to owner Bob Paulson, it is the company’s tradition of customer service that has allowed the dealership to survive through thick and thin.
Founded in Tacoma in 1906 by brothers Bert and Tom Paulson, the business originally sold and repaired both jewelry and bicycles. However, it wasn’t long before the growing popularity of motorcycles convinced the brothers to become a Thor dealership, with Henderson, Pope and Theim being added shortly thereafter. Those brands, of course, are long gone from the marketplace, as are many of the other brands Paulson’s has carried over the years, including some non-motorcycle brands. During WWII, when manufacturers were allocating output for the war effort, Paulson’s also sold appliances and other products to survive, but bikes were always in their hearts.
“We realized long ago that we are motorcycle people,” says Bob. “Selling bikes is a lot more fun than selling appliances!”
“We’ve certainly sold numerous brands and products over the years,” adds Chris Paulson, sales manager and great grandson of Bert, “and we’ve been a Suzuki dealer since 1969, but we also sell Kawasaki, Polaris, Arctic Cat, Bombardier, Kymco and Husaberg.”
When you talk with Bob and Chris they almost undersell the fact that Paulson’s is a Suzuki dealer; but in truth, the store sells tons of them. Paulson’s has been rated as one of the top ten Suzuki dealers in the nation and the number one dealer in the Pacific Northwest for years. New unit Suzuki sales (bikes and ATVs) account for 50 percent of their business, with snowmobile, other ATV brands, scooters, dirt bikes and accessories accounting for the rest.
While there are hundreds of bikes, ATVs and snowmobiles crammed onto the lot and in the showroom, Paulson’s is not a flashy dealership. There is no fancy boutique atmosphere or espresso bar, and the staff isn’t wearing matching attire. Instead, what you see in the showroom is scads of bikes, racks of helmets and loads of accessories. No pretense, just friendly people with a good attitude. It is all part of Bob’s philosophy.
“I certainly considered the boutique approach,” says Bob, “but that kind of marketing is predominately a Harley thing, and it just isn’t our style. We’ve found that by being casual — just being ourselves — the customers are more relaxed. They only have to look around to see that we don’t have a high-pressure sales environment.”
“We work hard to avoid the drama, pressure and hype you see at other dealerships,” adds Chris. “We like to be friendly and our customers know that a handshake actually means something to us.”
Of course, one reason the store is so relaxed is that they have built up their customer base over generations. According to Chris, it is not unusual for them to sell multiple products to three generations of the same family, sometimes from the same salesperson. Employee turnover at the store is low, and the customers keep coming back because everyone at the dealership works hard to ensure that the customer is completely happy with the sale.
Another reason for return business is the fact the dealership always has a large selection of models on hand. The 125,000-square-foot facility (including offices, showroom, and parts and service departments) holds more than 100 machines on the showroom floor and the company keeps a large, stocked warehouse nearby.
“We have a lot of products available for a quick delivery,” says Bob, “but if we haven’t got the color or exact model you want on the showroom floor, we probably have it at our warehouse and can get it for you within an hour. This really helps us to close sales because we can finish a deal on the spot.”
Although a hundred-plus years’ of word-of-mouth and repeat business keeps customers coming back, Paulson’s still goes after new business the same way they keep existing customers, with service. According to Chris Paulson, they work hard to keep positive word-of-mouth going and keep their name out there. To that end, the store supports a variety of local bike, ATV and snowmobile clubs with fun events and imaginative promotions. At local motocross races, for example, someone from Paulson’s will stand in the first turn and hold up a helmet that is awarded to the first bike into that corner. Plus, the store offers some sponsorships to hard working local teams.
With the current downturn in the economy hurting everyone, I thought some sage advice from a motorcycle dealer with over a century of experience might be in order, so I asked Bob Paulson what wisdom he could pass on to other dealers during these tough times.
“You can’t do business as usual in today’s marketplace,” says Bob. “You have to keep expenses in line with how much business you have, which can be difficult. Times are tough and financing is difficult. Make sure you are doing everything you can to make sure the customer is satisfied with their purchase. That is what leads to more sales.”