Happy Birthday! Dealer Expo Turns 40


This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Dealer Expo. It all started in the mid-1960s when Tom Heininger, who was then with aftermarket distribution company Webco, contacted Motorcycle Dealernews founders Bill Bagnall and Larry Hester and told them that it was time to produce a specialty aftermarket trade show for the motorcycle industry. The first show was held in 1967 at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif. That show, along with sister shows across the country, eventually combined into the largest powersports aftermarket trade show in the world, Dealer Expo.My first Dealer Expo, when I didn't know any of my customers and ended up inviting what turned out to be a bunch of booth builders to an expensive dinner at Ruth's Chris. — Angela Gibbs, Dealernews

It was my first Dealer Expo, I think the year was 1977. I was working for Recreational Dimensions and we had just acquired Bar-med, the importer for the French-branded Jolbert bungee cords. I had a 10x10 booth and all I was selling was bungee cords. Taiwanese bungee cords were just hitting the market and were still inferior at the time — the hooks would just pop off. Even back then bungee cords were not the big draw for dealers. What was I going to do to get people interested? What I did was stand in the middle of the aisle in front of my booth stretching and snapping bungee cords all weekend, pointing out how secure our hooks were and that we even had a new clip-lock-style hook. I know a lot of people thought I was crazy, but I picked up a couple of wholesale accounts and a few dealers by the time the weekend was over. This has been one of my favorite stories to tell when reps say they don't have a big enough product offering. — Bob Kay, Ridley Motorcycle Co.

I attended my first Expo with my dad at Cincinnati in 1975. We drove down from Chicago. We were so excited! In those days the Japanese OEs actually had their new models on display and took orders from their dealers there instead of having their own conventions as they do today, so we had our first chance to see the new bikes. There weren't many hotels near the Convention hall back then and we had to stay at the Hotel Cincinnatian, which was a transient hotel. The elevator was an old-cage style with an operator who wore a uniform and a hat. They gutted the place in the '90s and now it's a five-star, but what a dive it was back then — the price of the room was $15 a night. — Scott Wallenberg, Racer