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Written by JOHN MORTON   
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 18:47

Port Yamaha readies to celebrate half a century of business, family style


Ask the Eidenbergers about the perks of growing up the children of a motor-sports  dealer, and they’re all grins.
“It was a lot of fun. Enough fun that you didn’t want to grow up,” said John Eidenberger, whose father, Virgil, owned and operated Port Yamaha. “We’d take off on our dirt bikes from our back yard and wouldn’t stop until we got to Oostburg. It was a straight shot on the old trolley line.”
His sister Margaret Eidenberger-Hopkins chuckled at the memory of watching John and her other brother Mike in action back in the day.
“What I remember most is you two racing through the apple orchards, all day long,” she said.
The boys loved it so much they became competitive motocross devotees, with John even going professional for a time.
Today, the Eidenberger siblings — Mike, who is sales manager; John, who’s in charge of service; Margaret, who keeps the books; and Ames, who they like to say is in charge of morale — live the serious side of the fun life, as together they run the family business their late parents built.
On Saturday, Sept. 16, they will celebrate the business’ 50th anniversary with a sale and party at their location at 540 W. Grand Ave.
“We’ve got a 48-foot trailer of stuff coming in,” Margaret said of the truckload  of accessories and clothing that will be on sale from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Then, a cookout organized by the Sno-runners snowmobile club will follow from 1 to 4 p.m. Vintage snowmobiles will be on display, manufacturing reps from Yamaha and Klim will be on hand, a DJ will provide the tunes, and giveaways and raffles will take place.
As always, the company’s product line will also be front and center. It is comprised of snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, utility-terrain vehicles, wave runners, motorcycles and scooters.
They bring out the oohs and ahhs as people travel toward downtown Port, seeing them lined up and shining at the adjacent lot that used to be the site of a Clark gas station. The Eidenbergers bought the land two years ago, and it has paid off.
“Yes, quite often we get people who pull over because they saw something that caught their eye,” Margaret said.
Added Mike, “It’s definitely good advertising. And then people will realize there’s more than meets the eye. They’ll say, ‘Wow, those guys have a lot of stuff.’ It’s deceiving when you consider we only have a 30-foot storefront and about 2,000 square feet here to work with.”
Space limitations notwithstanding, the Port business has ranked as the country’s top Yamaha dealer in snowmobile sales five of the last six years, Mike said.
“When the manufacturer brings in an executive to visit us, they’re amazed such a small place can do so much volume,” he said. “They’re blown away.”
Off-site storage space has allowed for a large inventory. Two years ago, the Eidenbergers purchased the old Toro building at 123 Park St., around the corner from their storefront. It’s conveniently across the street from Yamaha’s previous location at 110 Park St. where only its service department still operates.
“We usually have a couple hundred units in stock — right now, 50 of them are sitting in a warehouse in Jackson,” Mike said. “When you add it all up, we’re operating with as much as 20,000 square feet at times.”
The Eidenbergers also hit the road with their products in order to reach their audience. Mike just returned from Minnesota, home to the world’s largest snowmobile expo, and attends other events as far away as upstate New York.
“We’ve built a strong relationship with both our customers and the other dealers,” he said. “Reputation is a big thing in this business.”
Cyberspace is another frontier they’ve embraced.
“We’ve built a very strong Internet presence,” John said. “That goes a long way for a small business.”
It’s a business that started with Yamaha sales and service in 1967, when Virgil Eidenberger owned Eidenberger Oil Co. and Virgil’s Spur Station at 1557 N. Wisconsin St. on Port’s north side (which is now where Tires Unlimited is located). In 1971, he leased the oil business to Murphy Oil and relocated to Park Street.
That building was eventually sold and partially demolished, leaving room for the Yamaha service shop to stay put while the store moved to its current Grand Avenue site in 1973.
Being scattered is actually a blessing, Margaret said, when you consider that the business came close to constructing a new building in an effort to consolidate everything about 10 years ago — right before the economic downturn.
“We own some property at Ulao Parkway and (Highway) 32, but in hindsight I’m glad we didn’t go through with it,” she said of the land, where potential building hit a snag because the Department of Natural Resources fought to protect endangered snakes in the area. “It would have meant more employees and more costs at a time when a lot of people built new and then sat empty.
“I guess we can thank the snakes.”
Said Mike, “During that time 70 Yamaha dealers in Chicagoland alone went under.”
Weathering the economic dips of the mid-1980s and late 2000s were keys to the Eidenberbers’ longevity, and they point to two key factors.
“We have always been efficient. Being a family operation, we have low overhead with the need for so few employees,” he said.
Then there’s the service department, featuring John and his gold technician certification, which is rare in the industry.
“Every five years or so the vehicles evolve so much and we see so many technical advancements, across the product line,” John said.
Added Margaret, “It’s usually too difficult for customers to work on their own vehicle. The service department has sustained us and the gold certification proved to be essential.”
The structure the Eidenbergers established, with all of them having distinct roles, has benefitted the operation.
“It’s nice to know you can focus on what you need to accomplish, to rely on the others to do their part,” John said. “It makes everything much easier.”
Mostly, the bond of family has carried the Eidenbergers. All of them dabbled in the business growing up, but when Virgil died in 1984, Mike left college and came on board full time. When their mother Grace died in 1999, Margaret came on full time as well, taking over her mother’s accounting duties.
“We have our moments for sure, but overall it’s pretty smooth here,” Mike said. “At the end of the day we’re still family and love each other.
“We’re not a big family — this is what we have, one another. People are amazed at how collective we are. We work together, we hang out together.”

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