From the time he was barely knee high, Paul Veracka wanted to ride. He was racing dirt bikes at the age of five, which led to three years of pro competition on supercross and motocross circuits. “I had a street bike right when I got my permit at age 16,” said Paul.
Now, as partner of Grand Rapids Harley-Davidson, it might be easier to catch Paul in the showroom than it was on the track, but his competitive spirit isn’t even a bit diminished. And that’s a good thing, because every racer knows it’s better to be in the front of the pack.
Grand Rapids H-D is owned by David, Paul and Michael Veracka — a father and his two sons, respectively. David has been a motorcycle dealer for decades as owner of L-A H-D and Central Maine Powersports in Lewiston, Maine. Grand Rapids is a fairly new addition to the family business. “We recently expanded to include Rawhide H-D in Olathe, Kan.,” said Paul.
What’s that, you say? They recently expanded? That’s right, and considering the Verackas’ success, it’s not a concept you should question. Among other things, Drag Specialties named Grand Rapids H-D Dealer of the Year at the company’s 2010 dealer ride. But as nice as it is to be recognized, that’s not what motivates the Verackas.
“You have to be a warrior these days,” said David. “You gotta go out there and battle it out to be better than everyone else, not hunker down. The problem we have with this business now is that we have too many people in the bunker, hoping their supplies will last and sticking their heads out now and then to take a look around. But the warriors are out there making it happen.”
These may sound like surprising words in current times, but as I talked with Paul and David, their attitude became contagious, and I began to think they had it right.
“Too many shops have shortened up their hours, their staff and their offerings,” said David. “They’re pulling back, providing less of everything, and they wonder why their business is reduced. Seems to me, that would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“We stay positive,” said David. “My thing is ‘excellent!’ What you put out is what you get back. We’re having one of our best years overall as a company, so when I say ‘excellent,’ I think wow, if this is a bad year, just imagine how good a good year will be.”
How do you stay excellent? You turn detriments into opportunity, that’s how. Making the best of a cold climate, Grand Rapids H-D has turned winter storage of custom bikes into an art form.
“If you spend a certain amount on parts and accessories, we handle it for free. Your bike is ready and waiting when the weather breaks,” said David. This also keeps the shop’s service department busy with installs through the winter. For those customers distressed over being separated from their bikes for several months, “We do allow conjugal visits,” David quips. The dealership has storage space for 250 customer bikes and also makes room for 200 used and new motorcycles in inventory. They’ve been known to rent additional space if needed. “If it has a VIN number, we’ll take it on trade. If someone wants to buy a bike, we make it easy,” said Paul.
The dealership offers garage workshops every month. “We just had a Harley-Davidson representative come in and talk about the 120R motor,” said David. Or they’ll have a tech visit from Baker transmission to discuss the merits of an aftermarket swap. “We keep it informative, but we’re hopeful that riders won’t just get informed, they’ll also get excited and enthused about making some of these changes to their own bikes.”
There’s fun on the roster, too. Even in the cold months, there’s a minimum of two or three monthly happenings. The Hooters girls come in and serve up wings, the demo truck rolls in, and they host garage parties for the ladies. “We want people to stay in touch with us and have a reason to come in to the dealership,” said David. January brings the anniversary luau complete with palm trees, Hawaiian shirts and a roasted pig. “The idea is to keep people interested in going to the motorcycle shop, thinking about their motorcycle and having regular contact with us,” David said.
Charity events are important, too. “We work every year with the MDA. Our HOG chapter is very involved with the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and we host numerous charity rides at the dealership,” said Paul.
A typical winter event might draw from 100 to 150 people, quite different from the dealership’s major summer events with a crowd upward of 1,500. Not surprisingly, the Verackas see a benefit in these smaller gatherings. “It gives you more one-on-one time with customers, and you have time to get to know them better. It’s a much more relaxed climate and helps you form better relationships with your customers,” David said. And as any successful businessperson will tell you, it’s all about relationships.
In fact, Paul identifies this as the secret ingredient in Grand Rapids H-D’s success. “We provide the best customer experience, putting on ‘the show’ for everyone that walks through the door,” he said. “This requires an excellent staff that is well-trained in our sales process. We try to treat everyone walking through the door like they’re the President of the United States.”
Keeping up relationships applies to staff as well. Paul and David know that the people who work for them are their best ambassadors, and they go the extra mile to train them well and keep them engaged. “If your staff feels that their contributions count and they can see the results of their actions, it makes for good company culture and an effective team,” said David.
Naturally, Paul agrees. “The culture of the dealership is important, and our employees, with their knowledge and customer service skills, are what make us unique. Every Harley-Davidson dealership has the same product. It’s the employees in the dealership that make the difference between our dealership and others. They are the ones interacting with the customers and provide the customer experience we strive for,” he said.
The Verackas state their business philosophy simply. “We use the acronym C.A.R.E.,” says Paul.
Commitment: Be committed to do what is best for the customer and the company, willing to go the extra mile.
Attitude: Have a positive attitude at all times.
Reliability: Be counted on to exceed our customers’ expectations and be held accountable.
Excellence: Be the best dealership that we can be.
And there’s no doubt about it: when you care, it shows.