Meet the Attendee: Bob Lanphere's Beaverton Honda Yamaha Suzuki Kawasaki
Bob Lanphere's Beaverton Honda Yamaha Suzuki Kawasaki Tigard, OR
Jerry Lenz, General Manager
16 + years Attending, 5 Attended Last year
Why do you currently attend Dealer Expo and what are your expectations?
We go looking for new stuff; primarily we seek out first or second year exhibitors because we want the things nobody has yet. We do this because by meeting those companies first we get a chance at better margins, exclusive resell for our region and if they do sell out to the big guys we can continue to buy direct. Many times we will succeed at negotiating our territory for the first couple of years.
We also come to the show to see what's coming to the market in the next several years. Dealer Expo usually has trends surface a year or two in advance. In many cases we have found trends before they surfaced and that allowed us time to test the market, so when it did become a big trend we were already servicing it. A great example of this was the women's market; we knew this was an area that was going to grow but we saw a handful of woman-specific companies pop up at the show before it exploded. Because of that we had already forged relationships with companies that help get product we knew would sell to our customers in advance.
So it's obvious you research your needs before attending; what all goes into the planning process before the show?
I'll be honest; the last two years have made planning for the show a little harder. We've scaled back on staff so everybody is doing more so we have got a late start in December and January. When we are at the show we try not to commit to seeing people we already do business with first, meetings can take up a lot of time so we do our best to be prepared to search the floor before have any meetings... I like to save those for when I'm tired of walking.
We ask ourselves, "What are we looking for new this year?" Then we start the research. In some cases we take time to contact companies in advance, but only if they are doing a new release and we know it will require a meeting. Otherwise they get put on the list of who we want to see and we make our way to their booth.
We also have a structure to how we walk the show. What's worked best for us the last few years is to start on the second floor of the convention center. We conquer that area then we move our way downstairs and work the outskirts of the building. We leave the main hall for last, the reality is once you get on the main floor you're going to see people you know and that's going to take up valuable time we'd prefer to spend finding new companies.
Another part of planning is seeking out companies that can influence our strategic goals and we work to enhance our relationships with them at the show. In many cases, the show is the only time we see these individuals. It may take a year or two to get the deal we want, but Dealer Expo is a great platform for helping those deals come alive. Our customers are important to us so we want product that will serve their exact need.
So what do you think you do different than other dealers at the show?
I have to wonder if most of the dealers who come are putting a lot of energy into their parts and accessories division. If it wasn't for our parts and accessories department we wouldn't be where we are today, that area of our business has really helped carry us the last six months. This means we took the time to think about our business strategy. Last year we brought on a new vehicle line and had to give up space to accommodate the new models, this required us to shrink our accessories department. So we knew we would need to rethink how we laid it out, and we had to really think about what we were going to carry and no longer had the luxury to carry it all. So that challenged us to pull away from the big box store feel, by not stack products so high and bring things back down to the customer's level.
So this year we came to the show and check out different types of displays, looked to see what others were doing to maximize space. We took a lot of feedback from the show to make that happen and we are seeing the results of that in our sales.
Are there any other real advantages of attending Dealer Expo or planning in advance that you'd like to share?
Yes, we want to make sure that the companies we are talking to are going to be here the through the next year. The show gives us an ability to ask questions about their strategic plans, allowing us to make the best decisions for our business. It doesn't help us if they don't have a solid game plan or carry out the way they say they will. We don't want to be carrying those product; we want to carry the good stuff. By attending the show that gives us a chance to check those companies out, see their product first hand and get a feel for where they are as a business. In some cases, we will wait until the next year to see if they return and assess their progress.
When you are planning do you think about how many people you bring or how many days you'll spend at the show?
We always register anybody we might want to bring. Pre-registration is free and much easier to have it done in advance than having to do it onsite. We usually bring most everybody we register and on average have brought between 3 and 5 people every year. We try to stick together at the show so we can bounce ideas off each other. You'll always have somebody think a product is a complete waste of time when other might think it's a golden opportunity. More importantly, you cannot explain to those who did not come what you saw, experience or heard. Sometimes to get the feedback you need from your staff they need to be at the show with you, let alone get the instant feedback you need to make qualified decisions.
As far as planning for time, we always plan for three days minimum. There have been times when we got things done quicker, but there have been times where we didn't have enough time. The value of planning for three days is it allows you an extra day to go back through and see those vendors you might have missed or revisit a vendor to make an order or possibly reassess whether you want to work with them. I personally use the show to recharge my batter, the energy level is so high and we try to bring that back to the store.
What type of advice would you give another dealership on the fence about spending the time and money to attend Dealer Expo?
The reality is you need to attend the stuff that has to do with your industry, period. You have to support it in good times and bad. If we don't support it, you may lose it. You may not have the best times or the best budget but ultimately the show is here to support us. It's taken the show a long time to grow to where it is now, and our support is important to keeping it as a valuable resource to our business. You have to make the time even if you question your return on investment today, because more often than not it's a better return on your investment for tomorrow and positive results you see down the road.