5 Questions: Rick Campbell, Mary Slepicka

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Earlier this year Rick Campbell, publisher of Motorcycle Industry, announced he was shuttering the magazine and retiring. Many will remember the days when MI and Dealernews competed neck and neck for late-breaking stories, exclusive news, and (of course) advertising sales. Good competition keeps magazines honest and reporters energized to do good work. We enjoyed competing against MI and Rick Campbell, and while we wish him all the best with his new venture (see below), we’re sorry to see him go. — Mary Slepicka

Mary Slepicka: After running MI for 30 years, what is your fondest or most satisfying moment?

RICK CAMPBELL: Fondest memories are many. Having advertisers practically beg to get back in, in our first year, after they started actually selling product, via then Motorcycle Industry Shopper, ranks right up there. Helping a multitude of companies enter the market successfully over the years makes me feel as though we accomplished a bunch. Developing lifelong friendships is a highlight, and, of course, being successful at our venture for 28 of those 30 years makes me proud and able to eke through a “forced retirement.” (You probably won’t want to print one of my happiest moments: when we beat Dealernews in paid ad pages, way back when. Of course, that changed for reasons beyond my control.)

MS: What was working in the industry like then, when you started the magazine, versus now?

RC: Working in the industry in the 1980s was far simpler than today. All ships were rising with the tide of growth. People were happy with what they were doing, the government wasn’t intruding on everything and everybody, and deep relationships were developed. Today it is all about price and, perceptively, how one company can screw another out of something. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and our industry is no different from any other. No matter the consequences of our actions, we are doing what we believe we need to do to survive. It is almost a panic to cut costs, overhead, employees, expenditures, etc. We can’t help it, though. If we intend to survive, we must adjust to the market.

MS: What challenges do dealers face?

RC: Running a vehicle dealership/retail outlet is foreign to what it used to be. The OEMs have had to adjust, completely changing the way they do business with their dealers/customers. Aftermarket distributors also have been forced to change. The Internet has forced every business, of any sort, to change the way it conducts its business. That will continue to be the case.

Distributors are between the proverbial dog and fire hydrant: They are damned if they sell to Web resellers and damned if they don’t. The president of a very large distributorship recently told me he doesn’t know what business he is in any more. He holds inventory for brick-and-mortar retailers because they can’t afford to inventory product that might not turn reasonably. He holds inventory for Internet sellers because they don’t have warehouse capacity and don’t want to purchase anything before it is ordered. All the while, the consumer will buy from the Internet because of price or the fact that the retailer doesn’t have the product on the floor. Most likely the reason is price.

What appears to be the biggest single challenging factor, however, is our current government. I don’t care which side of the aisle your philosophies lie on, the government seems hell-bent on destroying capitalism with new taxes, new health-care mandates, new regulations, and more intrusion on how you conduct your business. It has become almost impossible to make a living as a business owner. We must do everything within our power to effect change in this regard, or stand to lose the best country on Earth.

MS: What advice would you give anyone starting up a magazine, a website or a conference in this industry?

RC: The Web has replaced print as the ultimate news source. An enthusiast can get far more information on the Web than in any single magazine or newspaper, no matter what product, sport or industry. Conferences and shows are another story. The Web is the future for such. Why spend scarce dollars for travel to a show when you can accomplish the same goals at home or the office, on your time, at your leisure, without spending time away from the business or family?

An annual conference, to discuss issues facing the industry, is a must, however. We need the opportunity to press the flesh, build relationships and discuss solutions to problems and challenges.

MS: What’s next for Rick Campbell, then?

RC: Wish I knew. I intend to devote full time to finishing a novel I started years ago. I have six chapters roughed. I need to create about 30 more. Then I have to dedicate full time to finding a publisher and/or literary agent. The novel is a period-specific, historically correct fiction piece that requires hours and hours of research. Luckily, we enjoyed some prosperous years, and I can semi-enjoy retardedment — I can’t afford retirement, so I am settling for retardedment (thanks, Butch, for the play on words).

I would like to thank the hundreds of advertisers we enjoyed relationships with over the years (save the anal cavities that decided to not pay for their obligations), the thousands of dealers that supported us by reading our tome and using it as a guide to operate their business, and the many friends that have invested faith and found comfort in conducting mutually beneficial business with us. The powersports industry is like none other, and I feel extremely rewarded for my decades of association.

This story originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Dealernews.