In the intervening years, as we all know, there were a few radical changes. In 2008, the economy made a trip to the basement and took our industry along with it. According to the most recent MIC statistics, 2012 retail sales of motorcycles, scooters and ATVs were at 677,630, a drop of about 54 percent from peak. During the same time the U.S. dealer base winnowed from the 14,127 dealers we saw back in ’09 to 8,985 in 2012 — a 36 percent reduction.
It seems logical to assume that if you have 54 percent fewer sales and 36 percent fewer dealers, you’re also going to have fewer vendors as well. Dealer Expo’s peak number of exhibitors a few years ago was at about 1,000. This year’s 600 exhibitors represent a 40 percent reduction. Not a bad number in light of sales and dealer declines.
So where’d they go?
Well, some just chose not to be there. Others financially couldn’t make it. Still others had gone out of business. And then some brands left the display and sales of their products to their exhibiting distributors.
What did this mean for the dealers that attended? There actually were some benefits. First, the show was more manageable; you could take your time traversing the aisles and didn’t have to put up with the tsunami of people you’ve had to deal with in the past. You could actually see all the exhibits. Second, you could spend quality time with those vendors whose products sparked your interest. Third, you were able to take the time to attend the seminars and group discussions that you previously wanted to attend but never found the time.
I spoke to Wally Harrison, a sales rep with EMGO, a longtime Dealer Expo exhibitor. I asked him what he thought of the show; he told me that it wasn’t the busiest one they’ve attended over the years, but it was the most productive. Later on, I was talking with Skip Van Leeuween when he was snatched away by his son, Karl, to help process orders — and this was on Sunday morning, the final day.
My point is that while the show was smaller, enthusiasm for new and existing products was high. The people attending the show wanted to do business and had ample opportunity to do so.
The lesson I walked away with was similar to my experience at Kawasaki in the ‘70s, when KHI declared that market share (numbers) wasn’t as important as profitability. In this case, numbers aren’t as important as the attendees’ desire to see new products, speak directly to vendors and colleagues, and listen to and offer up new ideas. Both dealers and vendors benefit from that kind of dialogue, and Dealer Expo provided the forum to do exactly that.
This column originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Dealernews.