Joel Martin, president of Martin Racing Products, on what he learned from 2010.
"I think dealers need to stop spreading themselves too thin, with too many suppliers or buying from too many people who undercut them. Maybe they should get smarter about this. If the small dealer only thinks about the short term, that’s what their business is going to be. Don’t get on the phone and tell people that you buy from whoever is the cheapest, because you will never build up loyalty points or volume with any distributor.
"I’m still the smallest guy in the business, but what people fail to realize is in terms of volume, a company like United Motors of America sold more units than Carter, TGB, CPI, and Genuine combined. They were around for 15 years, and at one point, had 400 dealerships. There are more UM-branded products in the U.S. floating around than all the SYMs and PGOs out there, and now we have the parts.
"2010 showed us that big and small companies can fail. Every day we are open I consider a gift. I’m thankful for 2010, and I have a feeling that 2011 will be about service — this whole industry is about the last man standing right now.
"We have a huge opportunity ahead of us, and I’m probably the only guy that goes to sleep praying for $5 gas."
Dealernews: What is your gameplan for taking on 2011? What specific changes are you making?
Martin: To grow without having to resort to retail the way our main competitors have had to.
DN: What missteps, if any, did you make in 2010?
Martin:In terms of growth as a business, 2009 and 2010 have been the best years for MRP. We have been able to restructure the business and watched as several competitors folded as they attempted to copy our every move. Imitation is the best form of flattery; there is nothing more powerful than to watch someone who runs a business that is twice your size in volume and staff come to your booth and write ideas down on a notepad, because it tells you that you’re doing something right.
DN: Based on those experiences, what are you going to do differently in 2011?
Martin: Our main focus is to organize the assets we have acquired and catalog every single part. We also will determine which factories we will continue to work with moving into the future, should they find new importers in the U.S. market.
DN: 2010 wasn’t a great year for most of our industry, but how did the market or economic conditions specifically affect you or your business?
Martin: I think 2010 was an extension of 2009, and the worst is over. It leveled the playing field. We are back to 2001 and the game is more manageable.
DN: What would you have done differently in 2010 if you had possessed a crystal ball?
Martin: I would have promoted Armadillo from day one. All of our competitors sell retail in this market, and we don’t. I should have done a better job of letting the industry know that. You don’t see us selling on Amazon or Dennis Kirk like the other guys.
DN: What did you do right in 2010?
Martin: Education, my effort to educate certain dealers has worked out great. Also, Armadillo Scooter Wear did 100 times better than I predicted.
Something else to consider is that in terms of generics, we’ve positioned ourselves in a good spot because we have generic parts, and now we're the only source for not one but eight distributors' worth of brand-specific OEM parts. This is a game of simple numbers for long-term growth. That, and balls of steel, as we stare at each other like in an old Western playing last man standing.
You can’t go to cheap Chinese competitors for CPI, TNG, Hyosung, Diamo and Malaguti parts since the parts from the Chinese don’t do brand-specific items — they just do generics and whatever they find cheap out there. Plus, when you take over the distributor, the factories themselves ask us to help them with warranty issues (all except for Hyosung ).
I know respect doesn’t pay the bills, but being respected by reputable stores still opens some doors. Right now, from everything I understand, I’m sitting on more Hyosung parts in some cases than Hyosung North America. Also, some UM Hyosung units had different parts. When all the those 3,000 NPA units need parts where will they turn?
I do know several more scooter distributors are on the verge of collapsing, but we’re not buying anyone. I think the story to be told is what happens to Carter and what happens to all the dealers with GE bikes in 2011. Maybe were all wrong and the market doesn’t come back — which I think is everyones fear.