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The Job Interview: National Powersports revving up its motorcycle selling capabilities with new facility in Pembroke

  • Nate Sanel, the owner of National Powersports Distributors, shows off a Kawasaki KLX250SF motorcycle for the camera at his store in Pembroke on Saturday, December 28, 2013. <br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

    Nate Sanel, the owner of National Powersports Distributors, shows off a Kawasaki KLX250SF motorcycle for the camera at his store in Pembroke on Saturday, December 28, 2013.

    (WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

  • Nate Sanel, the owner of National Powersports Distributors, poses at his store in Pembroke on Saturday, December 28, 2013. <br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

    Nate Sanel, the owner of National Powersports Distributors, poses at his store in Pembroke on Saturday, December 28, 2013.

    (WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

  • Nate Sanel, the owner of National Powersports Distributors, shows off a Kawasaki KLX250SF motorcycle for the camera at his store in Pembroke on Saturday, December 28, 2013. <br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
  • Nate Sanel, the owner of National Powersports Distributors, poses at his store in Pembroke on Saturday, December 28, 2013. <br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

He had an idea, a plan that would ensure him a little extra money, something that would give him greater returns than his mutual funds were providing. Nathan Sanel decided that he would fix up old motorcycles in his garage and sell them on eBay as a side gig, just for some extra security.

The plan, formulated in early 2002, quickly took off. And so Sanel decided to pursue it further and to get into the business full time.

“I had always wanted to own my own business,” he said. “And when the company I was working for at the time folded, I said, okay, I’m going to turn this thing into a real business.”

He soon gave his business a name, National Powersports Distributors, and moved it out of his garage and into its own building. And then into a bigger one. And then an even bigger one.

This past October, he bought a 62,000-square-foot facility on Commerce Way in Pembroke, just off Route 106. He now employs 35 people, and has an inventory of about 700 motorcycles, mostly used with a few new ones sprinkled in. He sells them in-person as well as online, where he ships to locations around the world.

Sanel, 45, who’s the grandson of the founder of Sanel Auto Parts Co., said his own company is constantly growing. He took some time last week to talk business.

How far back does your interest in bikes date?

I was into bicycles as a kid. I was into BMX. I was super into bikes. And the natural progression from that is that two wheels is good, and two wheels with a motor is even better.

So you’ve always had bikes?

Yeah, I’ve always been into motorcycles. I probably got my first one at 15 or 16, and I’ve always had motorcycles since then.

You started out selling on eBay. Is that where most of your sales still come from?

It’s still a big part of my strategy. We’re actually the largest seller in the world of motorcycles on eBay right now. We have been for years. There’s a lot of online places to sell motorcycles – and we

pretty much have a presence anywhere you can buy motorcycles online.

And word of mouth online works the same way word of mouth in person does. We gained a good reputation early on. And whether it’s online or whether someone buys a bike here and tells their family about it, it’s the same thing. Word of mouth is word of mouth. We just happen to have it globally.

How much of your sales do you do in-person now? Is it significant?

Yeah, it’s significant. It’s tough to define, though, because people will find us initially online and then come here. So on the weekend we’ll have people drive up from New Jersey, from Connecticut – that’s very common.

But we still do a substantial number of sales to somebody that the first time they actual see the motorcycle is when they open their crate. So they’ve talked to us, they’ve sent a deposit, they’ve paid the bike in full, we’ve shipped it. And the first time they’ve ever seen that bike after sending us $3,000 or $4,000 or $10,000 or $15,000 is when they open that crate.

So it takes a lot of confidence, you’ve got to work really hard and you have to give better customer service than normal.

Are most of your online sales shipped within the United States?

The majority is the U.S., but we absolutely do ship all over the world. We have dealers in, let’s say, Malaysia that will buy container loads of motorcycles from me and we’ll ship those, as well as single bikes that will go to places like Canada. We work with an exporter, too, so if someone in Germany or something wants a particular motorcycle, we can ship a single bike.

How many bikes would you say you ship out a day? Is there an average?

Not really, it changes by the season. But it’s pretty typical for us to ship out four to five motorcycles a day.

What’s your busiest season?

Probably March through June would be some of the biggest months. But we stay fairly busy all year round. I kid around that we have a busy season and a busier season.

What are the price ranges on your bikes? Do they run the gamut?

Everywhere you can imagine. Right now my least expensive bike is probably $499, and my most expensive bike is probably in the $20,000 range.

There’s an audience for an inexpensive bike, there’s an audience for a very expensive bike, and everything in between. So it doesn’t really limit what I carry here, I don’t really specialize in one thing. If it’s got two wheels and a motor or if it’s in powersports category, chances are we’ll have it.

Where do you acquire your bikes from?

Everywhere. . . . We have buyers, and I have a driver on the road full time. We go from Maine to New York. We service other dealers and we travel all over. And we’ll probably be adding another driver this summer because we can’t keep up with just one driver.

So your business has grown every year?

Yes, we’ve never had a year that we didn’t see an increase.

How were you able to do that during the Great Recession?

During that time, you have to be really sharp, you really have to be paying attention. I work on a smaller margin as it is, so if you’re looking for a motorcycle, something here should be pretty darn competitive with what you’re going to see across the nation.

So when times get tough like that . . . people still want to have fun. And sometimes it makes more sense to buy a nice, clean used bike than a new one, and at least you feel a little bit better about your decision to spend money on something that is recreational. . . . During times of recession and when things are tight economically, the company that has the best value is going to win. And that’s how I approach it – if things get tight like that, I have to make sure I have the best value.

Will this current facility handle your needs for the future?

Yeah, because my needs down the road call for continued expansion.

We just bought this place, and we’re already pretty full. We have the appropriate space for the amount of bikes we have.

But my plan is to start opening some stores. And so if I open a store, I can take a couple hundred motorcycles out of here.

What do you attribute your growth and success to?

What I think probably the biggest reason I’ve been successful is, I’m honest with myself. I know what I’m good at, and I know what I’m not good at. And I make sure I put people who are good in the areas where I’m not good around me and in this company.

Having people strong where I’m weak has been a huge factor.

(William Perkins can be reached at wperkins@cmonitor.com.)

Legacy Comments1

Great article Nate! You're killin' it buddy!

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