Western Power Sports is flying high, literally. Starting in 2019 the Boise-based business will become the official and exclusive Power Sports Parts & Accessories Distributor for Monster Energy Supercross, the most competitive and highest-profile motorcycle racing championship in the world. The FLY Racing brand will also become the official and exclusive gear sponsor, including helmet, gloves, jersey, pants and boots. Craig Shoemaker, president and CEO of Western Power Sports, sat down with MPN during the company’s national sales meeting. He shared some very candid thoughts on the current state of the industry and some of the secret sauce that makes WPS grow by double digits nearly every year. In the past year alone, WPS has been on the gas scoring big deals like Alpinestars and Scorpion brands as well as making key personnel moves to keep the wheels moving.
MPN: How have you been able to maintain growth in such challenging times?
CS: We’ve been blessed. Have you ever noticed that you can be in the same town with another dealer that’s been there for 30 years or so and is struggling and maybe even loses his franchise and goes out of business? But the other guy two miles down the road is growing and has plenty of customers? You wonder if it is the market or maybe one dealer is just doing it differently than the other? In retail, you know things like that happen. It doesn’t have to be the motorcycle business… it could be any retail operation.
Shoemaker compares the motorcycle business loosely to the restaurant business. Most towns have multiple restaurants, and success usually comes down to personal taste and customer service.
CS: One restaurant can be thriving, but you go one block away and there’s almost no one in another restaurant. Well, take a clue, either you’re selling the wrong food, or you don’t have the right cook, or you don’t have the right atmosphere for people to come in and enjoy. Something’s not right. You can’t blame it on the town. You can’t blame it on the economy; you can’t blame them. I get it if the market is off by 2 or 3 percent industry-wide, then we’re all going to share 2 or 3 percent less than what was there.
Continuing to use the restaurant analogy, Shoemaker says that since he bought the company from his in-laws in 2000, WPS has experienced steady growth. That’s because he knows how to cook and has the right staff in the front and back as well as the right location and pleasant atmosphere.
CS: We’ve pretty much seen double-digit increases for all but one year in the past 18. We will probably see growth again this year, judging by the fact that we’re already three months into the fiscal year that started in October.
MPN: Where do you think the market is going to be for the rest of this year?
CS: It’s fascinating. I don’t want to give President Trump all the credit, but it would be pretty easy to do. I know half the people love him, half the people hate him. But I think there’s a lot of us in the middle that appreciate what he’s doing.
MPN: Do you feel any of the effects of things like the lack of new riders, Boomers aging out, Harley-Davidson’s issues, etc.?
CS: All of that concerns us. We’re working on ways to support and expand the number of riders. Safety is a big issue. It used to drive me nuts to see these kids get on these bikes without any training. I think they need training.
MPN: How many years have you been doing the National Sales Meeting?
CS: I remember we bought Sierra Motorcycle Company in ’86 and our first sales meeting was in ’87. I remember our first one was in Cobby’s Sandwich Shop, which is like a Subway except it’s a local brand. We took over the back room… all 12 of us were in there, including four people from the office and eight or 10 reps. That was our first one, and we were in there a whole day going through the catalog. We just went page by page and talked. We didn’t have one vendor.
MPN: It has grown since then!
CS: Since then we’ve had something that resembles more of a sales meeting would have been back in the ’90s where we bring in all 25 guys. We’d sit in a classroom setting for three days, and bring in vendors to set up for 45 minutes to two hours to get up there and talk in front of everybody. We did that for several days, and it was around the early 2000s when we went into more of a format like we have now. We thought, let’s spread it all out. Break it up. Initially, we gathered in hotels. Then we had to get into the convention center and hotels.
MPN: Warehouses are the key to any distributor’s success and to that end, WPS has added some incentives to keep the staff motivated and is still staffing up.
CS: We’ve added 100 new warehouse positions this winter. That’s about 18-22 people per warehouse, spread out among the six we have.
MPN: Do you have a lot of turnover?
CS: Everybody has turnover in the bottom half of the warehouse. We can’t pay 17 bucks an hour. So you know you’re paying in the price range that competes with (industries) like construction.
MPN: You recently added some awards for your warehouse people, right?
CS: We initially did a program where we had a “Warehouse of the Year” award, a second-place and third-place prize, along with bonuses for people who have been with us for a while. Then we changed it to double the amount, and it pays out every six months instead of once a year. So the guys were very excited about it, and I heard a lot of stories about what they were going to do with their bonus money.
MPN: What do you think 2018 will have in store?
CS: We think the opportunities are there. That’s why we’re here training and adding warehouse staff. We’re not planning to shrink. Our biggest thing is we work hard to sell not only the pride for our vendors, but we try to teach the dealers how to sell the product. Some reps do it way better than others. I get that. But at the end of the day if we’re not selling out of the store to the consumer, then we don’t get to sell it again. It’s always a constant battle. We keep teaching it and preaching it. If we can get 10 more guys to buy into it and get it right, then it will be a successful year.
And the Supercross deal for 2019?
CS: Teaming up with Monster Energy Supercross is a proud day in our company’s history. Our goal at WPS is to always provide the highest quality service to our dealers and the very best products to their customers. WPS has a passion for the powersport industry, and this is another way to show our long-term commitment to the growth of the sport.