Dealer Expo reflects the industry it serves

Mike Vaughan
Publish Date: 
Mar 19, 2013
By Mike Vaughan

IF YOU DIDN'T go to Dealer Expo in February, you missed a pretty good show.

I’ve been going to Expo steadily since 1991 — actually, I think I’ve been to all of them since then, but I may have missed a year.

Attending Expo the past few years has often made me feel like 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick trying to run through the Ravens’ defensive line. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean: bumping and thumping through overcrowded aisles, thousands of dealers, dealer staff, hangers-on, baby carriages and wheelie bags, all competing for the same aisle space. More often than not it’s been a show almost too big to take in.

It seems logical to assume that if you have 54 percent fewer sales and 36 percent fewer dealers in the industry, you’re also going to have fewer vendors as well.

Frankly, I don’t miss the days when the show sprawled from one end of the convention center to the other with exhibitors tucked into every room, cranny and closet space. Some even spilled into a couple of the adjacent hotels. It was difficult if not impossible to cover it all. At the end of the day, your feet hurt, your head ached, and you knew you didn’t get to see everything and had a nagging suspicion that you missed something you really needed to see.

Attendance and exhibitors at this year’s Expo were noticeably down. Adding up the companies listed on the exhibitor map, and only counting as one booth the multi-booth displays for large distributors like Tucker Rocky and WPS, there were about 600 exhibitors at Dealer Expo.

I’m told about 10,000 people were in Indianapolis, which would include exhibitors, staff, dealers and others allied to the field. Of that total, about 5,400 registered as attendees, and roughly 3,700 of that number identified themselves as franchised or independent dealers.

Most of the exhibitors I spoke with were generally pleased with the quality of the traffic, but all voiced some concern of the fact that traffic wasn’t what it was a “few years ago.”

Well, that’s true, and there’s a good reason: 2007 was the industry’s last retail “up” year. Sales of motorcycles, scooters and ATVs hit just about 1.5 million units. There were, at that time, according to the 2008 MIC Statistical Annual, 13,333 retail outlets in the United States, split about 50/50 between authorized new vehicle dealers and the independents and service and accessory outlets. (Oddly enough, in 2009, as the industry’s sales began to fall, the number of dealers rose by almost a thousand to 14,127 with an 8 percent uptick in independents and a corresponding fall for authorized new vehicle dealers.) (Continued)