Indy Update No. 8

Lucas Oil Stadium Dealer Expo motorcycle show motorcycle convention Indianapolis

We've been having a lot of internal discussions regarding what makes a trade show such a valuable tool for buyers. You might be asking yourself, Didn't these Bozos talk about this stuff before? The short answer is yes ... and no.

Tough times seem to trigger lots of reflection; we ask ourselves a lot of questions about why we do what we do, when we do it, and if we should be doing it at all. It's kind of like spring cleaning, only it doesn't involve dust rags and trips to the dump. (OK, people who know me will say that I generally tell it pretty bluntly. Pussyfooting around and sugar-coating things aren't really my style. This can be good ... and bad.)

Back to those internal discussions. I was usually the person in the group saying things like, "Seriously, who wouldn't use Dealer Expo as the opportunity to get a lot done in a short period of time?" Or, "Isn't it obvious to a buyer that they can spend four days at the show, talk to an almost unlimited supply of vendors who are showcasing tens of thousands of products, and negotiate some smoking deals?" There was always someone in the group pointing out that there is a cost associated with attending the show — and that many buyers can't justify the cost versus the benefit. "Get outta here – that's insane!" (That would be Blunt Me, responding.)

I'm not insensitive to the reality that there is a cost to travel to the show, either by car or airplane, plus the cost of a hotel room. And I realize people need to eat. But let's break this down. You run a business that's open pretty much year-round, and it's dependent on customer needs and desires to shop at your store. You only succeed if you can meet customers' needs repeatedly, if customers continue to shop at your store, and if they tell friends and family to shop there as well.

Most of you wear many hats in order to run your dealerships, and I'm guessing that on any given day you don't have a lot of time to research new products and evaluate new trends, styles and technology. You're probably managing a very tight cash-flow, which means your buying decisions are more important than ever. To a degree you've got to shoot from the hip, but you're probably doing more of it than you'd like to.

I think about my Mom. I grew up in a large family (seven children), and there wasn't any spare cash lying around. When I was I kid I would join my mother and my sister on my family's biweekly grocery journey around town to find the best possible prices for everything — and I mean everything. Tulsa, Okla., in the early '70s wasn't huge but it wasn't a small town, either. So shopping usually was a two-day process on the weekend (since Mom worked weekdays). Two days, twice a month, for the sole purpose of finding the least expensive bread, milk, meat and vegetables — that's a lot of days in the life of one person. Today, Mom could spend Saturday morning planning her meals and making her list, and off to Walmart or Costco she would go.

So do you spend days out of every month buying for your store? If you could cut that time in half, would it be worth the cost of a trip to Dealer Expo? That's a lot of days you could use to focus on your customers and improving their experience in your store to keep them coming and keep them coming back, again and again.

Call me a nut, but I don't think I am on this particular issue. Dealer Expo will save you countless hours and days during the course of your year. It will give you the platform to negotiate the very best deals for your business, and the arena to forge strong relationships with vendors and your peers that will pay off all year long in more ways than I can count. And it affords you the time and place to step back and look at your business in a more strategic fashion.

More than 10,600 of the powersports industry's smartest retail buyers have already made the commitment to be at Dealer Expo 2009. Will you be one of them?

Tracy Harris ( ) is vice president of the Advanstar Powersports Group, parent of Dealer Expo and Dealernews.