July 31, 2007
Ronel Jones, Sales Manager, Downtown Harley-Davidson
After 15 years of working in shipping and receiving for Costco, Ronel Jones decided it was time he changed gears. So in 2002, this Harley-Davidson enthusiast took a job selling motorcycles at Downtown Harley-Davidson in Tukwila, blending his passion with a paycheck. By 2006, he'd worked his way up to assistant sales manager. By 2007, he'd become the store's sales manager, supervising a staff of seven, overseeing sales of the store's new and used inventory and ensuring that his hundreds of daily customers receive the royal treatment.
Q: How did you make the leap from working in distribution at Costco to the Harley-Davidson sales floor?
A: Initially, I bought my motorcycle for inexpensive transportation. But when you own a Harley, suddenly everyone who owns a Harley starts to introduce themselves to you. You get involved in this community, a family, so to speak. In 1993, I ended up getting really involved in the local Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.), which is sponsored by our dealership, and I became the [volunteer] director of that.
One day I woke up and decided it was going to be more beneficial for me to do something that I enjoyed [for work]. So that's why I sought out a job at the Harley-Davidson dealership. I was familiar with this dealership because I bought my first Harley here back in 1992.
At Costco, I was a supervisor for about seven years. Depending on where I was – because I worked in five different buildings over the years – I was managing about five to 20 people. [At Harley-Davidson] I started as an entry-level salesperson. I had to work my way up. They sent me to school to learn F&I – finance and insurance – and that put me in a position to move up to assistant sales manager.
Q: Did you have any prior sales experience?
A: I really didn't. I sold Kirby vacuum cleaners back in 1982 for two weeks. But I had a good knowledge of the bikes, their features. Also, Harley-Davidson has a great university. It's online training. And anybody that works for the dealership I work for has the opportunity to get involved in the online training [on the company's dime]. So that's how I picked up a lot of my sales knowledge. I really learned on the job, in many ways, by picking up tips from other salespeople.
Tip for aspiring Harley technicians:
"If you want to be a mechanic, they do have schools out there that teach you how to be a Harley-Davidson mechanic. The Motorcycle Mechanics Institute is where the techs learn how to be techs. There are only two of those in the U.S., in Arizona and Florida."
Q: What does being a sales manager entail?
A: Basically it entails setting the employees' work schedule, which rotates. Also hiring – interviews, reviewing resumes. There's also the reprimanding, and the annual reviews of job performance. I look at whether someone's [performing] under their potential and then I will focus on them to increase their numbers, so to speak, or just have a one-on-one with them to try to figure out what's going on: Is there something in their personal life or are they just screwing off? So it's constant checks and balances. A lot of people want to call it babysitting, but I don't like that term.
Another thing I'm in charge of is some of the events that are held at the dealership: We have bands in the parking lot about once a month, from spring to fall. And last week we had a 60-mile motorcycle ride down to Auburn. I also order the bikes from the factory and make sure the showroom's clean and as presentable as possible. I coordinate all the advertising for vehicle sales. And like any other sales manager in the automotive or boating industry, I help negotiate the final pricing.
Q: Do you ever get to take the Harleys in the store for a test ride?
A: I get to ride anything that I want and share those experiences with the customers. I just take [the bikes] for a quick spin, maybe five miles. And every once in a while I get a used bike in and I might take it home and see how it rides.
Q: What skills does someone looking to work the Harley-Davidson sales floor need?
A: A general knowledge of the motorcycle industry is probably the biggest part – that and great customer service skills. Each bike has its own personality and you have to be able to share that with customers.
Another thing that you need is passion for the product and the lifestyle and everything else that goes with Harley-Davidson. I recently hired someone who was a chef but didn't have any sales experience. I hired him because of that one reason: his excitement and passion for the product
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