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Nothing But Good Vibes at Santa Barbara Motorsports

Santa Barbara Motorsports is working to make every door swing count.

What do you do if you are running a comparatively small dealership in a comparatively small town surrounded by larger cities with much bigger dealerships? How do you effectively compete with those mega dealerships? By offering a clubhouse atmosphere, reasonable deals and top-of-the-line customer service.

Santa Barbara Motorsports

Just take Santa Barbara Motorsports as a perfect example. The town of Santa Barbara, California, is medium-sized, an hour and a half north of Los Angeles and right on the ocean. The weather is balmy most of the year, and there are good beaches. Wilderness starts east of the town, with many opportunities for both on and off-road riding.

“It’s much easier to convince people to come to Santa Barbara than many other cities,” admits Jared Straub, manager of Santa Barbara Motorsports, a multiline dealer in Goleta, a nearby suburb. “We are a destination location.”

Santa Barbara Motorsports has been around in one form or another for 55 years. The original family started the dealership in 1963. Over the years, both the brands sold, and the owners have changed multiple times. The dealership currently sells 4x4s and ATVs for wilderness exploration and ranch management, dirt bikes for racing and trail riding, and road-going motorcycles for commuting during the week and fun on weekends. The current manager is Straub, who has jumped around over his career but has always been involved with motorsports in one form or another. He was involved in the tech industry immediately before he started with the dealership but also ran an online site for side-by-side accessories.

Straub’s background, both as an enthusiast and as a techie, has informed his approach to business. He not only loves what he does but says, “I get to spend every day in a fun shop with awesome vehicles and good people.” He also analyzes problems, collects data and looks for out-of-the-box solutions. He bought into the business in 2021. The prior owner had not coped well with the pandemic, and Straub had to build up customer confidence and product allocation from OEMs. He did it by keeping key people; promoting a customer-centric mindset among his staff; and getting involved in many of the motorcycle and off-road clubs, races, events or bike nights in the area.

Santa Barbara Motorsports Parts Dept

“We wanted to show the riding public in our area that motorcycles, ATVs and side-by-sides were things that we were passionate about,” he says. “We wanted the shop to be a fun place to hang out. Everyone here rides and is passionate about the sport.”

This effort has gone well. People will often head for the big city dealership, become annoyed at the car sales atmosphere and the quality of service, turn around and head for Santa Barbara. The big dealership can afford to lose a few customers, because another one will show up shortly. At Santa Barbara Motorsports, every door swing counts.

Making customers happy also gets additional customers in the door. Good experiences lead to referrals and repeat business. Rave reviews on Google and Yelp (4.3 rating on Google) are an important source of new customers. The dealership capitalizes on repeats and referrals. One item that helps spread the news locally is cool Santa Barbara Motorsports T-shirts and other regalia, which have become popular with customers and friends of customers.

Santa Barbara’s location doesn’t hurt either. The shop is about a mile from a scenic beach and a short distance from equally scenic off-road riding areas. People who come to the area to ride often stop off at Santa Barbara to pick up parts and kick tires. Straub says, “People meet here and decide to go for rides together.”

Keeping customers happy has to be done with a wary eye on the balance sheet. “You want people to have a good time and you want to work with people,” he says. “We are trying to find the line between a club atmosphere and the bottom line.” One thing Straub has found that improves customer relations is transparency.

“We are honest about the price and real-world costs of a deal,” he says. “I have found that attracts people. We have a small selling area here, and we have to attract people from out of town to make it. We have found that it is not always price but service that brings people in. There is no silver bullet to marketing. We try a varied approach and try to be creative. Locally, we continue to sponsor races, events and bike nights. We do buy ads in certain locations. We do research on where our customers are coming from and target those areas. We have also found that the best ways to reach customers changes over time.

“It also helps to know the area. We are right next to the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California. However, while other campuses are good markets for scooters, the Santa Barbara campus is laid out so that it is actually faster to get around on a bicycle or a skateboard than a motorcycle or a car. The university students are not as big of a market for us as we would like them to be.”

On the other hand, Santa Barbara is the only dealership within their selling area, and, with the number of local and visiting riders, accessories and apparel have become a major source of revenue. One of the first things that Straub did when he took over was to put in a dressing room and stock more women’s and youth gear. As a result, the numbers of women riders and parents of moto riding children walking in the door have increased. Stacyc e-bikes are popular with young families.

Here again, research and knowing the local market helps. “We try to stock what people want,” Straub points out. “We are always looking for feedback. We have also found that people who have good experiences here want to come in to buy things from us, instead of ordering online. For example, we sell a lot of tires. Since people can ride year-round here, they wear out a lot of tires, and the good prices on tires that we offer are a great way to get people in the door.” 

The dealership has dabbled in electric motorcycles and e-bikes. However, they have not caught on like many people thought they would. “The power is there, but the battery life and value are not,” he says. “We are seeing more people interested in them, and we have sold a few; it’s just not a large part of the market. There isn’t the same visceral experience as with an internal combustion engine. I think it will be a while before electric motorcycles become a more attractive mainstream option.”

Santa Barbara Motorsports stocks small electric motorcycles for the youth market. Selling points for parents are that there is no noise to annoy neighbors and a lot less maintenance and mess.

Straub is optimistic about the next five years. “We are optimistic because we are flexible and work on reading the market. We will probably sell more electric in the near future. If we continue to do well, we may expand the store and take on another brand. The main thing is to continue to help people have good experiences.”

Santa Barbara Motorsports

6466 Hollister Ave,
Goleta, CA 93117
https://santabarbaramotorsports.com
(805) 568-7644

  • OEMs: Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki, Yamaha, Stacyc, Greenger Powersports, Intense Cycles e-bikes
  • Aftermarket: Graves Motorsports, Baja Designs, Acerbis, Fox, Fasthouse, Akrapovic, FMF, Sicass, Leatt, Motominded and more.
  • Number of employees: 13

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