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How I Built a $200M Company in 8 Years

by Clark Vitulli | Posted on August 13, 2018

When we founded America’s PowerSports in 1998, I had no idea that in just 8 years it would grow from scratch into a $200M company. In 2006, when I transitioned out of my role as Chairman, President and CEO, America’s PowerSports represented 63 brands, in 17 dealerships, across 9 states, with 635 employees. I never could have predicted the kind of success that America’s PowerSports would achieve. But make no mistake, the brand’s growth was no fluke.

I believe that whether you’re growing a plant, a puppy, a child or a management team, it’s all about the principles of growth.

So, from the very beginning I made it my mission to embed a culture of growth that would permeate throughout the company. Every function and division of America’s PowerSports needed to champion growth. Contentment was the enemy, and each business decision had to work hard towards being better, faster and more productive than ever before. Customers would demand it. With all my investment and savings on the line, status-quo was not an option.

Of course, there’s never a precise, step-by-step plan an organization can follow to guarantee growth; actions that make sense for your competitors — or businesses in other industries — may not make sense for your company.

But here’s the good news: there are 4 growth maxims that apply universally to almost any business in any industry. And these are the same 4 guiding principles that were so powerfully instrumental to the growth of my new company.

Begin With the End in Mind

If you’ve been in the business world for longer than a minute, then you’ve probably heard this phrase before. The truth is that this principle was instilled in me by my parents long before business author Stephen Covey made it famous; who knew my parents’ wise advice was so applicable to growing a company?

My objective from the very beginning was to take my company to the national level. With this end goal in mind, I realized that my branding needed to completely align with my vision. So, after kicking a few ideas around for our business name, we ultimately landed on America’s PowerSports, because it made a clear, bold statement: this is a national company.

Except of course in the beginning I didn’t even have a single dealership. But using “America” in my branding held me accountable to the original vision. Baking the goal into my branding pushed me to grow the company so that it would live up to its national name.

In business, you’ll never be more than you say you are. You set your own ceiling. So, start each new venture, project, and task with the same question my parents taught me to ask myself: where do I want to be (when I grow up?). And I still ask myself that same question today.

Stay Stupid

During my time at Chrysler, in the late 80’s I had the privilege of working with Lee Iacocca, the man who famously orchestrated a miraculous turnaround for the failing auto company. I gleaned plenty of valuable insights under his tutelage, but none more powerful as this short motto: stay stupid.

Despite Lee’s vast knowledge of the industry, he recognized that he still had blind spots. So Lee prioritized curiosity, experimentation, and learning to avoid making the mistake of drawing false conclusions. This approach played an important part in Lee’s ability to resurrect a huge corporation on the brink of extinction.

When I started America’s PowerSports I already had quite a bit of high-level auto industry experience under my belt, but staying stupid forced me to actively challenge my own assumptions. For the first 9 months of the company’s existence, I called and visited 200+ motorcycle dealers all across the country to learn the ins and outs of the power sports business.

I asked questions. I learned the language. I even bought my first motorcycle: a Harley Sportster.

This 9-month trial by fire training was pivotal to the success of America’s PowerSports; I had to discover first-hand what a well-run motorcycle dealership looked like. Empowered with this information, I acquired my first dealership (in Texas) within 6 months. And I had my second dealership (in California) after another 4 months. Setting aside my own untested instincts in favor of proven methods helped put America’s PowerSports on the map in less than 2 years.

Staying stupid” requires you to always be a student of the game, which is key to fostering a culture of growth.

No Man is an Island

I launched America’s PowerSports during one of the most trying times of my life. I had just been let go from Outboard Marine Corporation, which had just been purchased, where I served as President of its $500M Boat Group. I was going through a divorce. I had two young boys. And I was studying to earn my MBA in Organizational Management. Needless to say, life was hectic.

Around the same time, I got to know some folks involved in the local Vistage Peer Advisory Group (called TEC at that time), and they invited me to become a member. Little did I know the indelible impact joining this Vistage group would have on my new business venture and me.

My 12 fellow Vistage group members quickly became an invaluable source of encouragement and support in a very safe environment. I continually leaned on the advice and expertise of those in my group who had lifetimes of experience in successfully growing companies from scratch. We called in “carefrontational.” Without their help, I could never have built America’s PowerSports into a $200M company.

If you want to be a successful business leader or entrepreneur, you simply cannot do it alone. You need candid feedback from your peers who know what you’re going through. You need mentors to follow. You need encouragement to keep going when you feel like giving up. Having so many knowledgeable outside perspectives expanded the way I thought and behaved … and ultimately made me a better entrepreneur.

The best business growth hack is relationships. Surrounding myself with people who took a real interest in helping me succeed kept me on track in my efforts to grow America’s PowerSports. So, if you want to build relationships that can change your business (and your personal life!), then give me a call because I’ve got a group you need to join.

Stay the Course

As America’s PowerSports was developing its plan to acquire dealerships, and I was traveling around the country visiting prospective acquisitions, it became increasingly difficult to push full steam ahead with expansion efforts. If I continued to juggle both jobs on my own, I knew growth could very well come to a screeching halt.

Giving up control is never easy (especially for entrepreneurs!), but growth requires delegation. It was time to hire my first employee.

I needed someone who could handle the sometimes menial, time-consuming tasks that were distracting me from building the company. I didn’t need a tenured COO, CFO or a flashy salesperson at this point – those would come later. What I needed was an efficient, effective, bullet-proof executive assistant who could also communicate effectively with potential Board members and prospects.

Offloading important administrative tasks freed me up to focus on what mattered most: growth. And my first hire served as a benchmark to follow for future hires. Do we need this position to grow the company? Do they get it, want it and are they capable? Ultimately, will this person help us grow?

Even with the right people in place, I knew how easily complacency could creep in. And growing America’s PowerSports solely by acquiring dealerships wasn’t enough. A growth mentality had to spread to all ends of the company in order to expand organically from within.

I used the vision of being a nationally known brand to galvanize our sprawling network of dealerships and gave them something to rally behind. The prospect of making our mark on the national stage made employees eager to reach (and surpass) our growth milestones. Growth became an innate part of the culture and engendered a sense of pride and camaraderie amongst the employees.

And the result? Sales skyrocketed, and profit figures rose to 2.5 times the national average!

Don’t let all the shiny stuff distract you. Stay focused on the ultimate goal of growing the brand. And use that to inform and model the way you hire, who you hire, and how you motivate employees. If you do these, then growth will follow.

Have you subscribed to these same philosophies to create a culture of growth? Tell your story! Or maybe you have your own set of growth principles you follow? Drop a quick comment below and share your tips!