‘Side-by-Side’ in Business

Tyler Spry, left, and his parents Amy, center, and Jack, right, pose for a portrait inside Watertown Power Sports located along Route 11 in Watertown.

BY: Matthew McClusky
Watertown Power Sports has a simple rule about doing business on Sundays: don’t. The family owned and operated dealership and service center perched on the hill of outer Washington Street in Watertown is closed on the seventh day because, as is stated on its website, everyone there has “gone riding.”

    “We ride bikes (motorcycles), four-wheelers, and side-by-sides,” said sales manager Tyler Spry. “We ride them all and we love them all. So yeah, we’re probably out there.” 

    Tyler should know because both riding and the business itself are in his blood. His father, Jack, took over as owner of the dealership back in 1987. About three years later Tyler’s mother, Amy, joined her husband and the rest of the staff. And after helping out in various unofficial capacities growing up, Tyler, 25, officially joined the family fold at Watertown Power Sports seven years ago. 

    “It can get interesting,” Tyler explained about what it’s like to work day in and day out with both mom and dad. “It has its moments, but overall, it has been great.” 

    Which is either the company line, the family line, or both. Either way, though, mother echoes a similar sentiment as son. 

    “Some days, I don’t feel like an office manager, I feel like a mediator,” Amy said. “But overall, we just work well together, and we all don’t take it home. It has its days, but it works.” 

    Through it all, the Sprys have been able to balance family relationships as well as meeting supply with demand, a tricky act to pull off in the world of power sports. Adapting, though, is one of the skills they attribute to their now three decades of success.  

    “It’s constantly changing, almost daily,” Tyler explained. “The trends change all of the time. What’s popular right now might not be the case come next year.” 

    Utility task vehicles (UTVs), which are commonly referred to as side-by-sides and are larger than all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and “naked street fighter motorcycles,” a sport-style bike with modifications done to give it a more aggressive look, are popular right now. Tyler said those two vehicles are part of the reason for an overall uptick in business compared to three or four years ago when the local industry was experiencing a “slower economy.” 

    With nearly 200 vehicles on sale at the dealership, stocking the right product is essential to avoiding those revenue roadblocks. Like with any store, having a surplus of an unnecessary product hurts the bottom line. Making matters a little more complicated is the potential pressure put on by manufacturers to carry certain models and makes. The Sprys, however, have learned that if something doesn’t fit the market, or the key demographics, then Watertown Power Sports won’t bother to house it. 

    “Being smart about what we order is very important,” said Amy. “Not letting the reps and the manufacturers tell us what to put in the store has been key. If it won’t sell here, or if a product doesn’t make sense, we won’t have it.” 

    Case in point: Watertown Power Sports stopped selling snowmobiles years ago. A move that might make some readers question how a power sports dealership in the north country, one located in a city fondly known as “Snowtown, USA,” could not have snow sleds for the seemingly endless winters. 

    “We just don’t get the season (winter) like we used to have,” Amy said. “The snowmobile business just wasn’t productive. Times have changed and you just have to change with the times. Four-wheelers are not just for recreational use anymore. People are now using four-wheelers to plow snow and do other jobs and work.” 

    Even without offering snowmobiles, both Amy and son Tyler claim that their line of work is still dependent on the weather. Motorcycles, like the “street fighter” style, are usually in favor from April through the end of June. Meanwhile, ATVs and UTVs seem to be popular no matter the month.  

    “We do really good with ATVs, like four-wheelers and side-by-sides, pretty much all year long; there isn’t a real ‘season’ for them,” Tyler stated. 

    The UTVs have become a source of controversy in New York in recent years. That’s because the state does not allow anyone to register UTVs weighing over 1,000 pounds. However, manufacturers routinely make the heavier versions of the UTVs, and dealerships in New York can legally sell them. Furthermore, other areas, even neighboring states like Pennsylvania, allow them to be registered. Yet, even with pressure from riders and some legislators, New York has not relented on its stance regarding allowing bigger UTVs to be registered.  

    Red tape or not, Tyler said that side-by-sides remain a commodity for farmers, hunters and anyone looking to roam in something other than a typical ATV. And as long as they’re legal to sell and popular with customers, Watertown Power Sports will continue to carry them. 

    Which fits in line with another business rule at Watertown Power Sports: the customer is always right. So long as the customer knows where the Sprys will and won’t be on Sundays.