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As a small business owner, you may never see the need to grow your company so that you have more than a few employees. Even if you never hire a single employee, at some point you may need to hire a contractor to take over a few tasks or to help with a project. If you do plan to hire employees, the fact of the matter is that you will probably have to train them more than once, on more than one process or topic. A plan for training an employee or contractor is a necessary part of successfully integrating the person or agency into your workflow.
If you have a broad set of training programs that are going to be administered by several people, you will likely need to train your trainers on how you want them to train. Prerequisites – providing a list of reading or other resources trainees need to review before attending the meeting.
Lectures – standing in front of a classroom and walking the group through a presentation. Simulation – putting the trainees in a situation similar to one they will experience. Once you know how you will deliver the content, you can then develop the in-class and out-of-class resources. Ideally, you can test participants both before and after training to see how well they absorbed the material. Evaluate the final tests to see if there is a pattern where trainees consistently did not grasp the important issues. A final point to make about training is that it does not always have to be conducted in person. Bplans is owned and operated by Palo Alto Software, Inc., as a free resource to help entrepreneurs start and run better businesses.
When I would take my annual inventory I would spend too much time on all the things I liked and too much time hurting over the big mistakes I had made. What I needed was a divorce from my inventory and I didn’t want to continue to make support payments.
Clothing is even more critical because, in my opinion you need to have all the sizes even though most of my customers were extra large.
Service parts don’t necessarily go by the same numbers because if you have to pull a bike off the rack for the lack of a part, you have lost money on the job.
As I got more sophisticated I began to study the history of parts and the margin and soon realized that I would rather sell something with good turns or a good margin than something that is really cool.
About the time things seemed to be going well emotionally, I hired a person to work the counter and they didn’t share my pain and returned my inventory to emotional chaos. Here is the rub, I may have been the better salesman than the new counterman, but I learned that I needed to spend more of my time away from the counter in order to keep my head around the inventory. Early on, I tended to do all business the same way when I was actually running many different businesses under one roof. Selling motorcycles seems simple enough: Have some motorcycles on the floor and people will come in and buy them. When you only have 15 or 20 percent gross profit, the motorcycles had better turn over, and you need to be efficient.
It’s easy to believe that you’re making money when you’re not because of the costs that go into getting a used motorcycle ready to sell. Although we didn’t concentrate much on selling jewelry, I learned that sometimes a man could get permission to buy something he wanted by buying jewelry for his lady. I love the complexity and variety of being in the motorcycle business, but it sometimes wears me out. It seems fundamental to me that the point of a motorcycle store is to make the customer feel better.
I’m not sure he heard me when I told him it was his responsibility to have fun and his job to make sure that his customers had fun.
The person who had owned the store before me looked like a Harley dealer and was at the shop every morning at 8:30. He had come to this small town with a lot more money than I had, and nine years later, he was leaving town with next to nothing.
The previous owner had been lulled into a sense of inaction by the success of his friends in the late ’60s, a good time to have a Harley-Davidson shop.
I hired a painter to paint the building, and he used the money to make a down payment on a motorcycle.
I started asking my customers what they would like to see in their shop, and they not only gave me good suggestions, but helped me turn their ideas into reality. I found that growth costs money, so I made friends with one of my customers who was a banker. We made it a matter of company policy that each customer was to be greeted as soon as he came in the front door, before turning left or right. We tried to answer the phone before the third ring so that we made a good first impression.
If one of our customers was considering buying a used motorcycle, we would perform a thorough inspection and provide him with a detailed quote on what it would cost to bring the motorcycle up to snuff.
We changed the look of the store every few months so that it made a new first impression of our customers. When I had a motorcycle shop, I was in a small town that had not had a successful Harley-Davidson dealer for at least 10 years.
I believe that the most fundamental part of a motorcycle business is to have customers ride their motorcycles. All my capital was being applied toward the store’s growth, so I had a real challenge to find a way to carry a selection of used motorcycles. It didn’t take me long to realize that it cost me around 14 percent to process a motorcycle sale. My justification was that the old customer would appreciate what I was doing, and the new customer was more likely to ride and accessorize his new toy. In-house financing is a wonderful thing, so I found several people who would finance used motorcycles, including a local bank. As my business became more established, I worked out a deal with my bank to floor my used motorcycles. I did quite well with classic motorcycles, and I also found that I could make money by leaving a ratty motorcycle ratty and offering a 10 percent discount on any parts the new owner purchased within 90 days. I learned early on not to discount the bikes themselves because there was so little profit in them.
When I sold the store, used motorcycles accounted for about 10 percent of my gross profit and often outperformed the service department in net profit. How can you use your limited promotional budget most effectively to increase foot traffic and sales? To help get the thought process started, we offer a new feature called Brainstorming Session, presenting personal tips on important issues from knowledgeable sources. Industry guru Vance Breese, who’s been involved in motorcycling as a racer, dealer, and, most recently, founder of Santa Maria Software, which produces the Counterman point-of-sale system used by more than 600 motorcycle shops, traces the development of his thinking on the subject. In my early, struggling days as the new owner of a shop that had not been profitable for 11 of the 12 years it had been in business, I used to get caught up in the minutia of the shop, and I didn’t have time to teach my customers to have fun. I have a poor work ethic, so I always try to move tasks off my desk and into someone else’s hands. And each time, several local people would say to me, “I didn’t know there was a bike shop in town.” I found this particularly painful, because I was spending 3 percent of the gross on advertising. I was whining about this to a friend who had a shop that had been successful for a long time, and he told me that 80 percent of my advertising budget was wasted. I always try to learn, especially from those who are doing better at chasing their dreams than I am, so I asked him to tell me more. In the beginning, I found that I had a tendency to want to go too far, too fast, so I had to learn to look at motorcycling through my customers’ eyes.
John would write about them in the newsletter, using people’s names and making it sound like it was even more fun than it was. The whole thing ended up costing me around $600, and about three times my customer base showed up. I never did a ladies’ night, but my friend, in a much bigger city, had great success with them.
All of these things had a return on investment that was easy to justify on a strictly monetary basis. The idea behind putting on an event is to make money for the business, and you do that by bringing people into the store.
The way to make a three-day event work is to make sure there are reasons for people to come back each day. While you’re thinking ahead, be sure you set aside plenty of room for parking all the bikes that will show up, and talk to your city’s special events department about any permits you need to hold an event, put up tents, host live music, or serve alcohol. Once you get your event going, it will take on a life of its own and people will come back every year. Even if you only plan to train once, a plan will ensure a much smoother training session with less time involved. Once you know your goals, you can put in place the controls you need to make sure you’re actually getting the job done. Are these new employees who may need a thorough orientation or seasoned veterans who simply need a refresher course or a bullet point version?
Getting in front of a classroom full of peers is not necessarily something that everyone will be good at doing right away. When building a training program, identify what parts of training may be able to be completed by trainees on their own.
These instructions should be clearly written so that trainees can walk through the process easily using the document to guide them. With a proper program in place, you can measure the effectiveness of your training and look for ways to make it more efficient and effective. Online business planning software makes it easier than ever before to put together a business plan for your business.


It’s a knowledgable guide combined with a professional designer coupled with a financial wizard. I was in a small town, and I had real limits on how many motorcycles I could sell, so I needed more businesses making money under my roof. At the same time, we don’t want to overlook the effect on the industry when someone important in the motorcycle community buys an accessory, and we need to be ready to respond to the demand that creates. We have the traditional biker jacket, and having all the sizes at a few different price levels is important. It also gave women visiting the shop something to look at and talk about so they wouldn’t be in such a rush to leave. It occurred to me that instead of dropping by because they knew they would feel better after spending time in the motorcycle dealership, they, too, were visiting because they felt an obligation. I had been around the industry for 40 years, but I had been clever enough never to depend on it for my income. As I sat behind my desk in the shop I had just purchased, the dark reality of the situation closed in around me. The paint wasn’t good, the place still had an AMF Harley-Davidson sign in front that you couldn’t see from the street because it had a tree in front of it. But I had bet everything on this place, so I had to take action to turn the business around. This was a farming community, so we had to wash the dirt off it often, but it worked better than any sign I have ever had.
I quickly discovered that there was a lot of talent in my customer base, and I was careful to mention the names of all my volunteers in our monthly newsletter.?We started having weekly rides at night and a monthly shop ride.
He loaned me the money to buy a computer to manage the ever-changing inventory and keep track of my customers’ needs.
Once people found out all the work that was involved in a service, they were happy to pay our new, higher labor prices.
We offered a free 21-point safety check to identify the things the customer needed to buy to be safe.
We set aside one area for new products, with information on all kinds of seasonally appropriate accessories. Some, I came up with on my own, and many others I got from customers or from looking at successful stores. If they don’t have motorcycles, they can’t ride them, accessorize them, and get them serviced.
Don’t be afraid to ask, and remember that each “No” gets you closer to a “Yes.” I discovered that I could usually get around two percent of the financed amount, and the financier would send me the money as soon as I had the paper work properly filled out. It was wonderful because I didn’t need to buy inventory, I always had the correct policy in stock, and I could “install” it the same day. Now I could buy them out of town, make a little money fixing them up, and make money on finance and insurance. I always sold my parts to the used bike department at full list and paid the full shop rate so that I wouldn’t fool myself into thinking that I was making more money than I really was. I would go out of state to where there was bad winter weather, and buy motorcycles in January and February. It seems that everyone thinks that he’s going to ride 10,000-15,000 miles per year even though my customer average was around 5,700. If someone really wanted a deal, I’d throw in $100 worth of accessories or an even bigger discount for a prepaid service package. The answer may require you to look beyond traditional newspaper, radio, and TV advertising to creative ideas like dealer rides, bike nights, open houses, charity events, maintenance seminars, and more. And Rick Fairless, who left behind a highly successful career as a sales rep for a major corporation to open an Easyriders store in Dallas that has since become the Strokers Dallas empire, offers his personal take on dealer events.
After the church gathering, they shake the hand of all those in the congregation to make them feel welcome.
And one of the most important lessons I had to learn is that not everyone knows how much fun a motorcycle can be. At the time, you could get a motorcycle license at 14 there, and I would ride through the night to see my sweetheart. And I have to teach them how to enjoy their motorcycles if they are going to stay involved in the sport. As the owner of the dealership, I was responsible for making sure there was a gross profit and creating a situation where something was left over to fund my lifestyle. Once I hired enough people and learned to delegate, I could stay focused on what I can now see is the most important task. I would show up with some of my racing motorcycles, along with some T-shirts and leather jackets to sell. I would advertise on the radio around Christmas, and I would run ads in the photo-trader magazines.
He said that events are the key to getting customers involved with their motorcycles and your shop. I paid the editor, John, low wages to make it happen, and it came out on time, every month. I would write the destination and the time on a chalkboard in the shop, add it to the message on our invoices, and put it on our answering machine with the shop hours and directions.
After about six months, John put a notice in the newsletter that we would meet at the shop and ride to a toy run together. Among the most effective were the night classes to teach people how to service their motorcycles.
They didn’t realize how much stuff got serviced or adjusted, and how carefully we would check over their motorcycles. But they were even more effective because, from the beginning, I got so much help from the customers. I would like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley PTA … wait a minute, wrong speech.
If people can drink a beer while they’re here, they stick around longer and come back the next day. Having live music is important to create that party atmosphere, and you can usually find local bands to play for free or cheap just to get their name out there. Inviting all these people is the easiest way to publicize the event and get lots of people to your shop without spending a lot of money. I also work with the Dallas Police Department to provide security — not that you’re likely to need it, but better safe than sorry. Bring in the reps — Huge dealerships can get the manufacturers to show up at their open houses.
Everything must go — Put your own clearance pricing on last year’s merchandise that’s cluttering up your display shelves. Get it on — Offer special “buy-it-now, install-it-free” deals on select items to spur sales and introduce customers to your service department. Make it yours — Work with local airbrush artists or painters to offer discounts on customizing newly purchased items. Show it off (part one) — Hold bike shows in various categories: customs, everyday riders, vintage bikes, etc.
Choose a partner — Many local radio stations are eager to do remote broadcasts from locations that allow them to come into direct contact with listeners. For instance, if you hire a student to help you design and print materials for a large marketing campaign, you may need to train him or her on how to collaborate with you, how to send final projects to your online printing company, and how to distribute the materials. If you jump straight into training, you may find that your training program ends up leaving certain trainees behind or missing critical steps, which will then require more training and more valuable time that you could be using to keep the money flowing in.
Once you know the level of knowledge of the trainees, you are going to be much better prepared to build or revamp the training.
So giving your trainers some instruction on how to lead a program is a critical step in the process. As they stumble through the test prior to training they’ll realize what areas they need to focus on as they go. More and more companies are shifting towards pre-built training programs for day-to-day word processing and other tasks that are not company-dependent.
As with other training programs, you can evaluate the effectiveness of your instructions based on how well trainees were able to complete the task without your help. Fill out some paperwork, establish working relationships with some people, and you can make some money.
If a motorcycle is financed, it needs to have collision and theft insurance to protect the lender. We need to watch the freight costs for oil, and it’s a price-sensitive item because people buy it regularly enough to know how much it should cost.
People love to have something that none of their friends have, so it would be difficult to stock everything that they might want.
And since the shop was located on a state highway, city officials told me they couldn’t get rid of the tree or change the regulations that kept people from parking in front of the store.
Together, we painted the inside and realized how dark the place was, so I bought used fixtures from several stores in town that were going out of business, and installed them.
I had a customer who was a bookkeeper, and he helped me understand business on a much higher level and provide reports that the banker needed to justify loans. But more than raising the hourly rate, we worked at making sure we were actually charging people for the time we spent on their motorcycles.
All of them contributed to creating a different outcome from the one experienced by the shop owner who preceded me.
I bought my agency April Fools’ Day, 1987, and at the beginning, I could get all the new motorcycles I could sell.
This was not going to expand my customer base, and in my town saving money is a major sport, so people balked at the 10 percent I charged to sell their motorcycles. The seller would feel that I should have gotten more money, and that any repairs should come out of my 10 percent. Usually if I called the customer a couple of months before his policy expired, he’d renew and I’d receive another check.


The money cost me about 1 percent per month so I needed to get around 20 percent gross margin on each motorcycle to make it work.
I discovered that if I accessorized a bike and gave it a custom paint job, it would sell more quickly and I would have to pay the bank less flooring. I had to pay for the buying trips, which cost 30 cents per mile and $200 dollars per day plus expenses, which I added to the end price of the motorcycle.
Whenever I could, I’d take a picture of the bike with the shop sign in the background and use it in the ad. I found over time that only about half of my prepaid service got used, so I could give people a 20 percent discount at the time of purchase and still come out ahead.
I found that if the buyer’s wife objected to the purchase, finding a way to include clothing for her would help grease the wheels. I didn’t get my margin on every deal, but overall, learning about used motorcycles and taking the plunge paid for a lot of my toys. Yeah, it’s work, but you could find that the return on your investment is much greater than what you’re getting now.
He said he put on charity events, rides, open houses, maintenance classes, and a ladies’ night to bring in customers.
I had to buy him a word-processing program and pay for the printing and mailing, but the newsletter was very effective. A remarkable number of customers showed up, and within in a few years, people just assumed I was involved in running the event. We donated a little more money to the burn camp each year, and we got a write-up about it in the local paper, as though it was a news item. Whether it’s an open house, anniversary party, or Marilyn Monroe’s birthday (June 1), having an event will give them that reason to visit and hang out all day. We have our Spring Fling party every year around the end of March or the beginning of April, so people always know when it’s going to be. We also make sure that we have plenty of gals around for atmosphere.?If you’re trying to create a family-friendly event, think about activities for kids.
Just give them special parking to show off their machines, and these guys will eat it up and talk it up. Load up on T-shirts, sunglasses, bandannas, caps, gloves, belt buckles, and all those quick-impulse items. You probably can’t match that, but do you have some close contacts with a distributor, an aftermarket company or custom builder in your area? While you may need to test comprehensive knowledge, likely you just need to make sure they got the main points. This frees your staff up to handle their normal activities and lets the trainees engage directly with their training. Too many small businesses do not perform a quick test of their training programs to evaluate how well they’ve trained their new staff. There’s always growth, and as I learn more, I find that money I’d left on the table now finds a way into my pocket.
Getting an insurance license is relatively easy, and I still get checks from renewals even though I sold my shop in 2002.
If you’re not price competitive on oil, it gives people the impression that everything in your store is overpriced. There’s no substitute for instant gratification, so it’s important to have a selection of accessories properly displayed.
The customer should try on the next bigger and the next smaller size because apparel can be expensive, and he will probably have it for a long time. Each morning when I walked in, I would stop at the front door and imagine what a customer’s first impression would be.
It seemed they all wanted to be in the motorcycle business, but they were too accustomed to money to do it. There are approximately 2,000 working hours in a year, and it turned out that we were only charging for about 600 for each mechanic.? And together, these ideas meant I was able to make a living out of a store where he’d been losing money. There were many parts of being in the motorcycle business that I didn’t understand in spite of being connected with the industry for more than 20 years. At that time, though, the median annual household income was $25,000, so not everyone could afford a new motorcycle. At the time Harleys were getting stolen at an amazing rate, and I would not hesitate to remind them that advertising to potential customers was also advertising to potential thieves. Most times, I stood behind the customer if he had a problem that we probably should have known about. Like most small towns, there are lots of small used-car lots and a few new car dealerships.
I would see them purchase a motorcycle in June and not have their 500-mile service until the next summer.
But no one seemed to know when the shop had originally opened, so we just made up a date that became the shop’s birthday.?
If people feel like the whole family is welcome, they’ll be likely to spend the day.?We’ve brought in motorcycle daredevils to perform, including a trials rider who climbs over everything on his bike, and sportbike guys doing wheelies and donuts. They will tell their buddies that they’ll be there and that their friends should come hang out as well. Decorate your store with banners, pictures, or anything else that will encourage your customers to walk around and not just stand in one spot. See if they’d be willing to display their products at your event, and offer expert advice or tech tips to your customers. Let your visitors choose the winner by placing quarters in buckets in front of each machine, with the proceeds going to charity. People love to look over exotic?racing machines, particularly stretched-out drag racers, and talk to the?athletes who ride them. You may need to provide extensive support materials, or even pre-test participants to determine who is qualified to take the training. A little effort in the testing arena can go a long way to a dramatically improved, more efficient training program.
I love looking at the numbers because that’s how I learn about what works and what doesn’t. All I had to do was to ask “Would you like insurance with that motorcycle?” I had to let people know that I could help them with their insurance needs, fill out some paperwork, and make bank deposits. Compare that to what really comes in and it’ll help you understand how much money you’re leaving on the table.
Crash jobs are wonderful because you have the time to order all the parts so you can do a lot of business without a big inventory. During the summer, I would hire a lot kid to wipe the fingerprints off the motorcycles and make sure that when a customer picked up his bike it always looked better than when he dropped it off. I spent more than a little time trying to understand where the costs were and what parts supported other parts.
I insured the motor-cycles, had a sophisticated alarm system, and I could accompany the buyer on a test ride.
Managing everything under my own roof made it easier for the customer and more profitable for me. Many were too busy being responsible to learn about chasing dreams, so I had to teach that also. You get a great addition to your event, more customer involvement, and thanks from a charitable organization, all for the price of a few trophies. Cables and electrical parts are something we stock to get people back on the road, so we have to invest some of our inventory dollars in these parts. Don’t be afraid to discount the ones that aren’t selling so you can invest in ones that do. I walked to all of the used car dealers I could find and listened to the people that would help. The more stuff you have to look at, the longer people hang around, and the more money they spend. When we got a new shipment of T-shirts, I’d mention it in our newsletter, and I was always amazed at how many people responded. I called all the usual suspects to help, but when it came down to it, it was my money, my customers, and my shop. I’ve found that most good business people are happy to explain the things they know, if they know that I won’t compete with them and that I’ll truly listen.
Most of my customers who were firemen were happy to get involved, and some of my shop-ride regulars agreed to do a barbecue. If there is a big-name bike builder in your neck of the woods, then invite him out to show off his work. We need to charge enough to provide a margin that’ll support the expense of having these things in stock. In the motorcycle world, the biggest reason is we don’t do a good job of selling service, so we don’t charge enough. Seals and gadgets are critical items to complete a job, and we have to learn what ones to carry and how many. I was never able to get past 85 percent efficiency, and if I didn’t work at it all the time it was easy to slip to 65 percent.
I’ve found that it usually takes at least 20 minutes, and on a two-hour job, that’s 16 percent.
I’ve never been able to take home more than 12 percent of the gross sales, so you can see that this is going backward. Stocking too many service parts can use up capital that could be used for other profitable businesses operated under the same roof.



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