Breaking boundaries

Businessmen have unique vision for sports store

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Randall Reed and Michael Graves have plans to transform an ordinary commercial center on Steamboat Springs' west side into a destination retail experience. Based on their past projects, don't be surprised if they pull it off.

"We're going to call it a moto-tainment mall," Reed said about the Riverside Center in west Steamboat. "You cannot comprehend what it's going to be like. It's all about emotion. We conduct many focus groups with customers and ask them what they want. We have to try and match that desire. We expect to attract people from a 150-mile radius."

Reed purchased Action Motorsports in July 2005 and also acquired other motorcycle/ATV/snowmobile dealerships in the Yampa Valley. During the next month, he and Graves expect to close on the purchase of Riverside Center, where the former True Value Hardware building has stood empty for almost two years.

Reed owns six Ford dealerships in Texas, most of them in the Houston and Dallas areas.

Graves is a retail designer who has worked on projects for Disney, Star Trek the Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton and helped to create themed restaurants such as the Hard Rock Cafe. Among the projects on which Graves has worked are Reed's automotive dealerships in Texas.

Stop and smile

Planet Ford in Houston plays on the major presence the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has in Houston -- the entire dealership is designed around an outer space theme. For a taste of how far Reed and Graves have taken the concept, the dealership's in-house radio station broadcasts weather forecasts and sports results purporting to have come from other planets.

What does that have to do with selling cars?

"It makes people stop and smile," Reed said. "You have to find out what makes people comfortable. Anything we can do to create a seamless experience for the consumer is what we're all about."

Entertaining customers and making them feel comfortable translates into high volume and high margins, Reed said.

At Planet Ford, all customers enter

through a single access point and are confronted by a wall of fountains in front of their vehicle. A uniformed "navigator" steps out to meet them and direct them to the appropriate color code zone depending upon the kind of service they are seeking.

"It's just like Disney," Reed said.

That initial contact with the greeter allows Planet Ford to build its database and understand more about its customers and the performance of each unit of the business.

Visitors to the dealership also are guided by carefully designed signage that is reminiscent of a theme park.

When a customer purchases a vehicle, it is carefully parked on a launch pad and the in-house video programming is interrupted with a pretend rocket launch sequence announcing the new owner.

"Again, it's highly emotional," Reed said. New owners are given photographs of themselves with their vehicle and have a genuine star registered in their name. They are presented with an access card that offers them thousands of dollars in value for services at the dealership, right down to mocha lattes at the coffee shop. The access card also gives them entrance to the plush Planet Citizens Lounge, where they have access to free high speed Internet and long-distance calling while waiting for vehicle service.

Children have their own place to hang out -- Starbase One. Parents can keep track of them on video monitors scattered throughout the dealership. There's also a Henry Ford Museum at the 9-acre dealership.

At night, Planet Ford is recognizable by the downcast blue lighting that evokes a flying saucer and the laser light that emanates from the top of the showroom.

Motorsports mania

There won't be any laser lights at the new Action Motorsports in Steamboat, Reed promised.

"We promise we'll fit in with the community," he said.

He has retained architect Eric Smith of Eric Smith and Associates to design an extensive refurbishing of the commercial center. Exterior building materials probably will incorporate log and stone, he said. In addition to remodeling the old hardware store building for Action Motorsports, the new owners plan to remodel the larger building across the parking lot, which houses multiple tenants.

In the process of acquiring other motor sports dealers in the Yampa Valley, Reed has acquired a dominant list of brand manufacturers of motorcycles, snowmobiles and ATVs. His stores carry Honda, Yamaha, Polaris, Suzuki, KTM, Artic Cat and BRP. In the new 14,000-square-foot store, each brand will have a portion of the showroom devoted to it. Customers will be informed, entertained and dazzled by displays, music and video feeds on flat panel monitors, Reed said.

Reed said he intends to sell more than machines -- he will feature motor sports as a lifestyle, offering clothing lines by associated manufacturers. He also plans to host events that will draw people to Steamboat.

At his Ford dealerships, Reed stresses employee training, and he said he will create new training facilities for his staff in Steamboat. He intends to build up inventories of new machines and parts to boost the level of service he can offer customers.

Reed said he's grateful for the loyal tenants in the second building and anticipates building their sales by remodeling and attracting new, high-volume tenants for the 50 percent of the space that is vacant.

Reed also is making plans to triple the size of Action Motorsports in Craig.

After closing on the purchase of the commercial center in June, Reed anticipates Smith will take the project into the city planning process, during which he anticipates he'll need a zone change for the Action Motorsports building and a permit for the exterior modifications to the building.

When the remodel to the Action Motorsports building is complete and the business has moved in -- perhaps as early as September -- Reed thinks people will be impressed.

"I think Steamboat is hungry for something like this," Reed said. "I know that if we do this right, and we build it right, we'll improve business for everyone."

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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