Dirtbike Sales Slipping? Get Over It

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OK, YES, DIRTBIKE SALES ARE DOWN. Just last month our own Don J. Brown's ATV/dirtbike state-by-state forecast showed negative numbers in all but three states.

Brown's sales forecast for the year puts total dirtbike sales down by almost 20 percent, with some individual OEMs experiencing drop-offs ranging from 17 percent to 23 percent. These aren't healthy numbers by anybody's take. (For DJB's newest forecast turn.)

There could be any number of causes behind the sales slump, but Brown attributes most of it to the flood of cheap Chinese machines on the market. "The is a major, major industry change," Brown says. "What's happening is the Chinese are taking over the small and big dirtbike side." Add to this a faltering economy that has more people buying less stuff —?especially items like new motorcycles —? and you have a dirtbike market that is a shadow of its former self.

But just because new units aren't moving doesn't mean people aren't riding. Your customers might be resurrecting old rides or squeezing more hours out of their current bikes. If they're doing either, they're going to need parts, accessories and service.

So how do you and your staff get the most out of aftermarket sales? We talked with some of the players in the dirt aftermarket to find out. Each maintains there's still a way to make a buck in the dirt business, even if no one is buying those new models.

Participating in our roundtable were: Erick "Big E" Bartoldus, director of marketing Sixsixone and Sunline; Chris Bollinger, market segment manager at Wiseco Performance Products; Dave Gowland, general manager of Thor; Todd Lentz, director of sales for EVS Sports; Doug Muellner, national sales manager for FMF Racing; and Shawn Norfolk, director of marketing at Tag Metals.

DEALERNEWS: What are the trends in the aftermarket, and how are you addressing them?

MUELLNER: Four strokes — polarization to high-end and price point. Intermediate priced items are falling off somewhat. Two strokes — older models (late '90s, early '00s) are actually picking up. People are still riding, just not racing as much due to fees and distance. People are also riding or repairing existing machines vs. buying new ones.

BIG E: From a brand perspective and a dealer perspective, we need to focus on the fact that there are a lot of consumers out there still riding. Maybe they are getting another ride or two from those grips or tires, but they are eventually going to need to spend money on their existing machine ... let's be there for them to make their ride more enjoyable, and get that sale.

BOLLINGER: Continual growth in demand for four-strokes and aftermarket parts. Demand for two-strokes and aftermarket parts is slowing, but not nearly at the rate anticipated a few years ago. Joe Customer is still scared to work on his four-stroke, but shouldn't be. Joe Customer also doesn't fully understand how high-strung a modern four-stroke motor is. They still think it's their dad's old XR and treat it with similar (inadequate) maintenance schedules. For example, pistons need to be changed around 20 hours, but many guys still think they can still get 200 hours on their stock piston. They fail to realize it turns into a live grenade after too many hours in service, and then complain about how expensive it is to rebuild the entire motor when it blows.

LENTZ: It's no secret that the economy has made a serious impact on the motorcycling industry. However, high-level protective gear is on the minds of more parents, teams and riders than ever. Because of that we are continuing to innovate, grow our brand, and deliver new products to the folks who need them most.

GOWLAND: People are very conscious of what they are purchasing. They want good quality and responsible pricing. Quality is priority.

BIG E: Sixsixone and Sunline are in the process of developing a lot of new product. We want the consumer and dealer to realize we are moving forward and developing new product to keep the consumer wanting new product.

BOLLINGER: We're trying to find ways to save costs on making four-stroke pistons since the demand is less overall compared to how many pistons are used in the two-stroke market. We're also trying to find ways to make all pistons contain more value-added features to offer a competitive advantage over the OEM and competitors (features like dedicated forgings, high quality components, better shapes, and skirt coating). We're expanding into other non-core product lines such as clutches, cams, valves and cranks. We continue to prune old product lines so we don't carry obsolete inventory on the shelves.

DN: What aftermarket products are selling the best at your companies?

GOWLAND: The staples — pants, jerseys, helmets, goggles and boots.

BIG E: The Sixsixone Flight helmet and our under-the-jersey Core Saver move the best. For Sunline, our sprockets and our grip kits are our best sellers.

MUELLNER: It varies across the board. It seems as though people are [finally] getting it and are repacking mufflers and silencers as part of their maintenance program.

BOLLINGER: Pistons and crankshaft kits.

LENTZ: Knee braces have always been our bread and butter, and that trend continues today. More and more riders are thinking of them as preventive pieces instead of something for the post-operative or injured. Also, our neck protection devices have received a ton of attention this season. In edition to our tried-and-true race collars, our new RC EVO has really raised the bar in terms of protection and value.

DN: How can dealers capitalize on the aftermarket?

LENTZ: Push what sells. Put products in front of their customers, and make them think long and hard before they pass on it. Start looking toward value-based items that turn in high volume instead of stocking a full run of top-of-the-line items that take the entire season to move.

NORFOLK: Racers Race. Instead of spending $7,000 on a new bike, they will spend $500 for a new pipe, $200 for new graphics, and $79 on a new sprocket. I speak from experience as I would do this when times got tough back in the '80s.

MUELLNER: People are still riding. Dealers need to make sure their stores portray a supportive look to this. For example, a pipe or two on display, packing, quiet inserts, spark arrestor inserts, oils and inner tubes in stock for the weekend.

BOLLINGER: Promote aftermarket products as higher quality products with better value — more bang for the buck. Offer package deals and discounts to compete with Internet retailers. Promote the value added of buying locally instead of online, but you have to be reasonable on price, as many products are sold on price-point alone

GOWLAND: Your products are what riders are looking for each year. When they look good they feel good. And when they feel good they ride well. Our line is a staple that dealers need to carry because while bike sales are soft, apparel continues to stay stable. Guys need and want good gear.

NORFOLK: The core-racers will continue to go racing, and will continue to spend money on their current bike. Just because new unit sales are down does not mean that aftermarket sales are down. I suggest that dealers maintain good inventory of quality aftermarket products and have what the consumers want in stock.

DN: So what profit centers should dealers focus on?

GOWLAND: Service and accessories.

BOLLINGER: Service — make it affordable for guys to have their bikes serviced. This would grow parts and aftermarket sales, and customers would be happier to pay less in maintenance costs than replace an entire engine when it blows. Run promotions to change oil, check valve clearance, clean air filters, change pistons and cam chains. Set up to service four-stroke heads. Invest in the training and equipment to do a good job servicing heads, valve jobs, porting, etc.

NORFOLK: Parts. In order for a dealer to take advantage of these tough economic times, they need to be prepared by having quality aftermarket parts in stock so their customers can upgrade their current bikes.

LENTZ: Chances are if you own a motorcycle, you will continue to ride it. Just because unit sales drop doesn't mean that your entire business is in the tank. Riders still need parts, will still purchase accessories, and still wear out gear each season.

DN: What are dirtbike consumers telling you?

BIG E: The price of fuel sucks.

LENTZ: We hear that times are hard for a lot of customers and that riding and racing has been put to the back burner for a lot of families. But the motocross community is die-hard and will do almost anything to keep riding.

BOLLINGER: Kits sell great. Anytime you can put everything you need in single box and price it as a good value, they will sell well. Customers like ordering a single part number instead of having to order all the different numbers — for example, a top-end piston kit with a piston, rings, pin, clips, and complete gasket kit. Or a bottom end kit with a crank, main bearings, all seals and gaskets.

NORFOLK: Everyone seems a bit tentative to go out and buy a new bike. But most of those same people are asking about upgrades for their current bikes. So for us, it's looking quite good, actually.

DN: Let's talk about race sponsorships. Any tips?

LENTZ: Local races are a great way for dealers to get involved. Not only can they achieve brand and consumer loyalty from local riders, they can really get their name out there and possibly boost their business. Whether they have a tent set up with product and dealer information or they give out holeshot awards on behalf of their dealership, it's very important for dealers to get involved in the sport that they support.

GOWLAND: See what is available through OEM contingency programs. Know your market. Don't overextend yourself. It's quality, not quantity, in rider selection. Stay local, and focus on meeting your consumers each weekend with a positive message. No doom and gloom. Sponsorship is tricky; make sure everyone knows what to expect from both parties, and live up to or exceed one's expectation.

BIG E: If you do want to get involved at the local level, hire people that are involved. Don't try and guess what is going on out at the local track or off-road park. If you do it right, you will be where the racers come to get the product and service they need, not that other shop or mail order.

MUELLNER: Make sure the racers and tracks reciprocate, and the dealership becomes known as a "racer's destination" store.

NORFOLK: At my old dealership, when times would get tough, we would load up the trailer and head out to the races. We would have tires, grips, bars, numbers, graphics, etc., and we would be there for the racers. This increased our customer base, and the customers loved the fact that we were supporting them on the local level.

DN: How do you suggest dealers address land-use issues?

BOLLINGER: Promote treading lightly. Sound and erosion are killing public riding areas. Preach that louder is not better for off-road racing. Noise pollution turns a lot of people off to motorsports. Promote quieter pipes if guys want to continue to have places to ride.

GOWLAND: Attend town hall meetings and meet with the community to see how much revenue local dollars bring to your area. In slow times people should not be running off potential sales. Hope for the best and fight for your right to ride.?

MUELLNER: Educate and evangelize to some degree that we must be quiet. Offer incentives for buying quiet products. Sponsor a "quiet" ride.

BOLLINGER: Sponsor work days at trails and riding areas. Maybe the dealer could somehow sponsor the event and round up locals to help clean up the local trails and riding areas. There would have to be a hook to attending, like a free T-shirt, lunch or getting to ride for free that day.

BIG E: Get involved. Understand the issues and spread the word. We need to keep open land open. The BlueRibbon Coalition (www.blueribbon.org) is a good place to understand what the issues are. Then dig in and find out where your local land areas are being shut down. Your sales may depend on it.