Why do you attend Dealer Expo, and what are your expectations?
We go looking for new stuff. Primarily we seek out first- or second-year exhibitors because we want the things nobody has yet. We do this because by meeting those companies first we get a chance at better margins, exclusive resell for our region, and if they do sell out to the big guys we can continue to buy direct. Many times we will succeed at negotiating our territory for the first couple of years.
We also come to the show to see what’s coming to the market in the next several years. Dealer Expo usually has trends surface a year or two in advance. In many cases we have found trends before they surfaced and that allowed us time to test the market, so when it did become a big trend we were already servicing it. A great example of this was the women’s market; we knew this was an area that was going to grow but we saw a handful of woman-specific companies pop up at the show before it exploded.
What goes into your planning process before the show?
The last two years have made planning for the show a little harder. We’ve scaled back on staff so everybody is doing more. So we have a late start in December and January. When we are at the show we try not to commit to seeing people we already do business with first. I like to save those for when I’m tired of walking. We ask ourselves, “What are we looking for new this year?” Then we start the research. In some cases we take time to contact companies in advance, but only if they are doing a new release and we know it will require a meeting. Otherwise they get put on the list of who we want to see and we make our way to their booth.
We also have a structure to how we walk the show. What’s worked best for us is to start on the second floor of the convention center. We conquer that area then we move our way downstairs and work the outskirts of the building. We leave the main hall for last. The reality is once you get on the main floor you’re going to see people you know and that’s going to take up valuable time, we’d prefer to spend finding new companies. Another part of planning is seeking out companies that can influence our strategic goals and we work to enhance our relationships with them at the show. In many cases, the show is the only time we see these individuals. It may take a year or two to get the deal we want, but Dealer Expo is a great platform for helping those deals come alive.
What do you do differently than other dealers at the show?
I have to wonder if most of the dealers who come are putting a lot of energy into their parts and accessories division. If it wasn’t for our parts and accessories department we wouldn’t be where we are today. That area of our business has really helped carry us the last six months. This means we took the time to think about our business strategy. Last year we brought on a new vehicle line and had to give up space to accommodate the new models. This required us to shrink our accessories department. We knew we would need to rethink how we laid it out, and we had to really think about what we were going to carry as we no longer had the luxury to carry it all. That challenged us to pull away from the big-box store feel … and bring things back down to the customer’s level.
What advantages of attending Dealer Expo or planning in advance can you share?
We want to make sure that the companies we are talking to are going to be here the through the next year. The show gives us an ability to ask questions about their strategic plans, allowing us to make the best decisions for our business. It doesn’t help us if they don’t have a solid game plan or don’t carry it out the way they say they will. We don’t want to be carrying those product; we want to carry the good stuff. Attending the show gives us a chance to check out those companies, see their product first hand and get a feel for where they are as a business. In some cases, we will wait until the next year to see if they return, and assess their progress.