Nobody knows what 2010 is going to bring to our industry. I’d love to be able to tell you that I looked into the future and saw that our industry is going to bottom out and begin rising in March, but the reality is I don’t know — nor does anyone else as far as I can tell. One thing I do know, however, is that a number of people will buy new motorcycles. A greater number will probably buy used motorcycles. And lots of people will buy tires, oil and batteries, and others will be making cosmetic, performance, comfort and functional improvements to their existing rides.
So, while it may not be 2006 all over again, it won’t be 1906, either. Some dealers will thrive, some will struggle, and some will fail. To a large degree, your business plan will determine into which category you’ll fall, and part of that plan should include a visit to Dealer Expo.
I can think of at least four good reasons why attending Dealer Expo makes sense. The No. 1 reason to attend is new products. Dealer Expo is the place that entrepreneurs and start-ups go to expose their new ideas to dealers. You’re not going to find many new ideas in distributor catalogs, because distributors usually aren’t willing to take a risk on an unproven product. Typically, they wait until a product has a proven track record before they add it to their inventory. Maybe you’ll read about it in Dealernews. But that is one thing; being able to touch and examine it, and talk directly to the inventor or vendor, is another. New products give customers another reason to visit your store, and that gives you another shot at making a sale. If you’re hawking the same old stuff, there’s no reason to visit.
In addition to new products, there’s the opportunity to talk to the vendors that you’re already dealing with, to get a better deal. After all, vendors don’t want to warehouse product, they want to move it along the retail chain and get it on display where someone can see it and buy it. Given the current situation, it’s possible to get a much better deal, co-op, merchandising displays, or terms — something added that will make it worthwhile for you to buy, and the vendor to sell.
No. 2, the show allows for the opportunity to compare products firsthand. Maybe the line of tires that you carry needs to be supplemented by something a bit less expensive, or perhaps the exhaust systems you sell have fallen out of favor or fashion and you need to supplement or replace the systems with something different. In any case, Dealer Expo is a place you can do this with ease.
No. 3, there are seminars. There may be some morsel of knowledge that you pick up that can make a difference in how well your business thrives in the coming year. They’re there, they’re free, and you may learn something new. At the very least, you just got some solid reinforcement for what you’ve been doing.
Finally, there’s the opportunity to network with other dealers. This is valuable in a number of ways. Most dealers are in the same boat: They’re dealing with overhead, personnel, payroll, attracting customers, financing and OE demands to order product. All dealers cope with these problems, but not everyone does it in the same way. Maybe some dealer in New Hampshire has a better idea about financing, marketing or handling OEM demands. There’s a wealth of experience out there in the dealer world, and most are willing to share their ideas. There are a few who’ve suffered through a down-market before and came out stronger on the other end. If you make enough contacts, you can get ideas on just about every aspect of your business, but you can’t do it if you stay home.
Going to a show can be expensive, I know, but there are ways to mitigate your expenses. First of all, send the best person. It may be you, or maybe it’s your accessories manager. But it needs to be someone with a feel for what will be most attractive to your customer. Remember, he or she needs authority to make deals, and with cell phones it shouldn’t be too hard to advise you of an opportunity and for you to give it a thumbs up or down.
While a lot of people would love to have seen Dealer Expo relocate, the fact is that 75 percent of U.S. dealerships are within 500 miles of Indy. So for those on the periphery, it’s a very long day’s drive. For many others it’s not too bad a drive. Talk to some of your fellow dealers. Maybe you can carpool and split up the travel expenses. Same thing goes for when you get to Indy: Share a room. While it’s nice to go to a fancy restaurant or bar, it’s not necessary; there are plenty of reasonably priced restaurants in Indianapolis.
Make a plan. Without a plan you needlessly burn up time and energy on the chance that you might stumble into something. Dealer Expo has set up a planning program on its website at www.dealerexpo.com that allows you to locate products by vendor and type, set up appointments, schedule seminars and so on and it’s simple to use. Check it out. See you at the show!
This story originally appeared in the Dealernews February 2010 issue.