How did your career path lead you to Spader?
I’ve always been a motorcycle enthusiast. I came from a very poor family, and when I turned 17, I had $820 in the bank. It wasn’t enough to buy a car, but it was enough to buy a motorcycle. So I bought my first motorcycle and put about 25,000 miles on the bike in the first two years. When I graduated high school, I joined the military and traveled the world for a few years. When I came back, I spent so much time at the motorcycle dealership that the owner of that store ended up offering me a job. It was a small store; I think I was employee number four. I just worked my way up through the industry from there.
I’ve been in the powersports industry for about 25 years and was always in 20 Groups. During the recession in 2009, we ended up exiting our 20 Group. It wasn’t a good fit for us anymore. A friend of ours happened to be in a Spader 20 Group and said that he thought that this would be something good for us. I came up to Sioux Falls and sat through Total Management 1. I’m a very data-driven guy and I really liked the process, so I ended up joining and was in a Spader 20 Group for about 10 years.
When I stepped back from the business five years ago, John Spader asked if I wanted to facilitate some 20 Groups. I told him I’d need about six months of vacation after I left the dealership, and I think three weeks later I was at my first 20 Group meeting. So I never got my six months off.
How has your experience has helped you as a facilitator and what makes Spader’s approach so adaptable?
Having spent time in the dealership, as I got in front of 20 Groups, I was able to take their situations, personalize them, and then turn them back around and go, “Not only here’s how I think you should deal with that, but here’s how I dealt with that when that problem happened with us.” Whether you’re talking about marine, powersports, or RV, we’re all selling a product. We’re all selling a service. We’ve all got parts and accessories departments. We’ve all got finance departments. The ratio guidelines might change a little bit, but the business is exactly the same.
I think that based on what I’ve learned at Spader, we could start a 20 Group in the shoe industry or the furniture industry or any industry that has parts, service, and sales. It would take us a little while to figure out what those ratio guidelines are, but the process is pretty much the same for any industry that has a product to sell and a customer to take care of.
A lot of dealers don’t have somebody to talk to about the situations that arise in their dealerships. Because I’m still involved with my dealership, not only am I still learning from those experiences, but I also get to take things that I learned from 20 Group back and forth as well. So I can take ideas and concepts, try them in our own dealership, fine-tune them, then bring them back to the 20 Groups as well and say, “Here’s what we tried. Here’s what we found worked. And here’s what we think makes that process better.”
I’m a nerd at heart. I could spend all day working on Excel spreadsheets and ratios. I learned a whole lot more from Spader and we incorporated a lot of that into our business. I’ve always been of the mindset that I don’t want to hire a bunch of managers who think like I do to tell me what I already know. As I hired new managers and new employees, I really looked at what their skill sets were and made sure that I hired people that fit the job, not just that weren’t aligned exactly with the way that I thought. I tried to leverage my skills and the way that I wanted to run the business, strong processes, strong procedures, consistency in the manner that we operate at the dealership, and make sure that the people that I hired were aligned with that way of thinking.
What was different about Spader was that every 20 Group we were in before was always very sales-oriented, and that worked well while business was good. What we found out during the recession in 2009 was that you can be the best salesperson in the world, but you still can’t stay in the black when business falls apart that fast. As we came out of the recession, we had to make a lot of cuts with personnel during the downturn. As we learned more and more about how Spader recommended you structure and build a dealership, we incorporated all of that and reformed our store. Everything was a lot different: how we looked at expenses, how we looked at individual deals.
There’s a fallacy in our industry that if you’re not growing, you’re in slow motion liquidation and anyone who says that just really doesn’t understand business. You need to have a good solid foundation. You need to be profitable at the level that you’re at. You need to understand what comes in and goes out of the business. And then once you have a good, solid foundation, you grow. That’s one of the things we learned with Spader is that you need that good solid foundation.
How does the Spader team add value to your experience?
One of the things I learned early on was that if I had a problem or a situation was to just send an email out to the professional services group and ask the question, “Hey, I’ve got this situation that’s come up, what would you do?” And we have a lot of good minds with a lot of history that can help you. There are a number of people that have come in after me at this point in time. And it’s interesting now that I can also be that resource for some of those new people that come on board as well.